After the shooting, Pows found redemption in sport
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