Af­ter the shoot­ing, Pows found re­demp­tion in sport

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Gary Smith

AMID the hor­rors of Changi and other prisoner-of-war camps on the Malay Penin­sula in World War II, Aus­tralian sol­diers took refuge in sport. Even as their bod­ies were wast­ing, even af­ter be­ing sent to work on the Burma-thai­land Rail­way, they saw sport­ing con­test as a way to re­assert their mas­culin­ity fol­low­ing their hu­mil­i­at­ing sur­ren­der to the Ja­panese.

These games — of rugby league and union, cricket, soc­cer, Aussie rules, ten­nis, ath­let­ics, vol­ley­ball and even a Melbourne Cup with sol­diers as horses and jock­eys — were not al­ways grown-up ver­sions of picka-side con­tests from the school­yard. They were, par­tic­u­larly in the foot­ball codes, of­ten bru­tally phys­i­cal, es­pe­cially when the Dig­gers took on Bri­tish fel­low cap­tives in what were billed as Test matches.

Ge­orge Or­well wrote that ‘‘ se­ri­ous sport is war mi­nus the shoot­ing’’ and through the cen­turies mil­i­tary chiefs and dem­a­gogues have sent young men to the front-line clothed in the pro­pa­ganda that the fight was lit­tle more than a re­cre­ational pur­suit where

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