Friday, 13 June 2014

"But Sir" The Autobiography of a Twentieth Century Australian

 "But Sir" is now being republished in paperback and as an ebook.  


Merv McRae was brought up as one of 14 children. His father was a farmer, and for most of his life, Merv was a farmer. He volunteered to join the army during World War 2, and was sent to Singapore. When a decision was made that Singapore could not hold against the Japanese, the Allied Forces were ordered to surrender. It could not have been realised at the time just how barbaric the Japanese were to be in the treatment of their prisoners.

His book was originally published in 1986, 
              with ISBN 1 86252 052 5.



A few individuals mentioned in this book:

Jimmy Burr,  teacher,  Ch 4.
Curly Kirk from Ballarat,  Ch 11, and a mention of his death in Ch. 13.
Sunda Singh,  Indian trader,  Ch 9.
Major Kidd, Ch 12
Tom Chowns, and Nora Chowns,  spoken of  in Ch 12.
Lew Lemke and Ted Burrage,  a  mention in Ch 13. 
Major Hunt, Ch 13
Frank Lebas,  Allan Scott, two who died, Ch 13.  Also Jock, a Scotsman.
Horace Roberts,  a  mention in Chapters 13 & 16.
Jimmy Andrews,  Ch 16
Lance Basset,  a mention in Ch 16 in relation to sheep breeding.
Rob Jamieson,  Stony Point station, a mention in Ch 16

 Significant events mentioned
The depression years, ch 7.
The Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  Ch 14. 
The beginnings of the breed of sheep known as the Zenith.  Ch 16.

See the crosses beside the names?  Those are the ones who died - not in battle, but from starvation, ill-treatment and disease.  That was  while they were prisoners of the Japanese.  Less than half of the unit survived the war.


Over half their numbers died.  Curly died, Merv survived. 
A letter home.   
There were very few letters that managed to arrive home.  Naturally, they could not say the truth - that they were dying like flies.  Not only would it have served no purpose, but they would not have been sent.
An excerpt from Chapter 13:
After that it was a night of despair for me;  I was alone, and if a tiger had got me I wouldn’t have cared.  I did a lot of thinking that night,  as I continued to shuffle along.  I decided that the mind and body are separate,  and the mind has to do the right thing by the body if it is to survive.  I saw many cases later on where I felt the mind had given up caring,  and allowed the body to die.  That night I decided I would make sure the mind would give the body every chance of survival.
That was on the long march to Burma to start on the infamous Burma/Thailand Railway.  

The Greatest March of All.

You may have seen this title
About some other march so grand

But they were just a picnic
To the one across Thailand.

It started dawn at Changi
In rice trucks by rail

For six days thro’ Malaya
Then at Banpong starts the tale.

The first three nights were not too bad
Along a main road grand

Then into swamps and jungle
Went our intrepid band.

There were three thousand A.I.F.
Three hundred British too

The good old British lion
The old Aussie kangaroo.

In parties of six hundred
We set out each night

To march about eighteen mile
The prospect wasn’t bright.

Feet soon were blistered raw and sore
Treatment hard to get

But the order ever onward
Ever onward yet.

The food we got was none too good
And what there was not nice

Two meals of dried radish
With each a plate of rice.

We left the swamp behind us
Then into jungles of bamboo

Poisonous snakes and scorpions

And many tigers too.

Then we hit the mountains
The road was pretty steep

The climbing it was bloody hard
Enough to make you weep.

But on and on we battled
Getting thin and gaunt

When we get relieved from here
This trek our dreams will haunt.

Men dropped by the roadside
Exhausted,  tired and sick

Unable to go another step
They played their final trick.

Hospitals were crowded
With weary footsore men

Dysentery took heavy toll
Cholera broke out then.

Now the march is over
After two hundred weary miles

Men worked on road and railway
Or maybe driving piles.

So when this war is over
And you hear of marches grand

Just dip your lid to the legions
Who tramped across Thailand.

Think of the men who paid the price
And rest in that far off land

We’ve gone through blood and battle
But died at disease’s hand.

But the reaper swung a heavy scythe
Upon that Thailand trail

With grisly bone he danced a jig
Told many a ghastly tale.

So we who were upon it
And saw the toll he took

Will sneer when we read of glory
In some great History book.

We stood and saw pals buried
Struck down in all their prime

Then staggered on another lap
In that God forsaken climb.

Although not killed in action
They were heroes all

At Reveille and Retreat
Their memories recall.

Tho’ you preach to us of glory
And tell us deeds so grand

Excuse us if we scorn you
For we marched across Thailand.

So when the price you tally
For God’s sake see it’s high

For the death of our marching comrades
Was a horrible one to die.

And when the talks of marches
And some hard trek recall

Just remember the unsung heroes
Of the greatest march of all.

                           (by an unknown author.)

The war draws to a close:
One day two hundred of us were sent out on a last working party, not far from Singapore city. There was another party of two hundred working not far away. Our task was to dig large holes, twelve feet deep by twelve feet square, and there were six men to dig each hole. What were they for? we wondered, and I remember one man saying that if the Allies landed we would be shot and buried in these holes. I didn’t like that idea at all, and I well remember telling him not to be stupid, but he was spot on. It was found after the war that if the Allies had landed in Malaya we were all to be shot and disposed of. There had also been a proposed date for a landing on Japan, so it was the Bomb which saved us and untold thousands of others from extinction. If the bombs hadn’t been dropped, who knows how long the war might have lasted? There wouldn’t have been one P.O.W. get home, and thousands of soldiers, and as many civilians again would have perished.

And the ending
We wondered how the actual change-over from the Japs to the Allies would take place, as it soon must. Finally, on 27th August 1945 British planes flew over Changi and dropped leaflets. I still have one of these, dropped that day from a plane flying low over the jail. The pamphlet contained (1) a warning to the guards to respect the prisoners and look after them, (2) part of a re-script issued by the Emperor on unconditional surrender of the Japanese, (3) a statement that soon an Allied staff officer would be dropped with a radio transmitter, that he would be in contact with, and under the guidance of the Occupation Forces, and was not to be interfered with, (4) supplies dropped (medical etc.) would be gathered and handed to the P.O.W.s and the guards were then to return to their quarters, after warning civilians not to loot these supplies. On 30th August four officers and two other ranks were dropped by parachute, with medical equipment and a transmitter. Other planes brought more medical gear.


Merv survived. But like every man who endures a great deal, there were scars.  
I will never forget the utter despair of the young men of F Force, nor the way they died quietly and without fuss. Neither will I ever forget the cruelty of the Japs, nor will I ever forgive them for their total disregard for the lives of the P.O.W.s and the dark races who also worked on the railway.

But bad things end.  He found a lovely young woman to marry,  he made his farm  and he raised a family. 


 Excerpt from chapter 20:
I was born in rural Victoria at a time when conditions had not really altered since the late nineteenth century,  and now seventy years on we are almost in the final decade of the twentieth.  In my lifetime I have fought in a major war,  started two farms virtually from scratch,  and travelled over much of my own country and the world.  Alison and I have raised four children and given them all a good start,  so I think I can say with all modesty I have lived a full and varied life.  Now,  although hopefully I have not reached the end of that life,  I have reached the end of this book,  a book in which I have tried to catalogue my life and times as I saw them.


The author of ‘But Sir’ is Mervyn Alexander McRae,  born 27th November, 1914,  died 2nd July, 1997.
To buy, look for it on Smashwords or on Amazon"

The paperback is not yet available, but will be by the end of July, 2014.