Home' Navy News : September 2nd 2010 Contents Great War mystery
hard to put down
September 2, 2010
Death Between the Lines
Author: Ian Grant
Publisher: Triple D Books
THIS book has something for
There's heaps of blood-and-
guts action with an AIF battalion
in France's muddy trenches,
some unsolved murders in 1920s
Sydney, and a touch of romance --
but not enough to spoil the book
for those who buy it for the first
Rex Pymble, a Sydney detec-
tive, joins the AIF after the unex-
pected death of his wife. He men-
tions his former occupation on his
enlistment form hoping it will get
him into officer training.
His plan backfires and he is
posted to the Provost Corps where
he is sent into the trenches to
investigate money going missing
from a battalion's trust fund.
The gritty description of life
(and death) in the trenches shows
the author has done his home-
work. You can almost smell the
and Mirla Bancroft (fore-
ground) with HMAS
Stirling's CO, CAPT Brett
Dowsing (left) and John
Harman, author of Arthur's
War at the book launch at
Subiaco Oval in Perth.
Photo: LSIS Nadia Monteith
By LEUT Katey Mouritz
IN NOVEMBER 1940, compelled
by patriotic duty and a sense of
adventure, Arthur Bancroft kissed
his sweetheart, Mirla, goodbye and
signed up with the Royal Australian
Navy; he was 19 years old.
'Arthur's War' is a touching
account of the World War II experi-
ences of Ordinary Seaman Arthur
Bancroft, as a RAN sailor and POW
under the Japanese.
The account is made all the more
human by the parallel story-telling of
Arthur's then sweetheart, Mirla, and
now wife of 65 years.
Mirla shares her experience of life
back in Australia, waiting for Arthur to
return, alongside Arthur's story of war
'Arthur's War' is a truly amazing
Australian story: a captivating story of
a once ordinary bloke who has had an
'Arthur's War' was launched in
Subiaco, Western Australia -- Arthur
and Mirla's home town -- where CAPT
Brett Dowsing (CO HMAS Stirling)
spoke about the book and his experi-
ence with Arthur and Mirla Bancroft.
"Arthur is an extraordinary man
and, through his book, we get an
understanding of why he is extraordi-
nary," CAPT Dowsing said.
"This is a fascinating story and we
are privileged that Arthur and Mirla
have told it.
"History is so important to a tra-
dition-based organisation such as the
Navy. It is the history such as Arthur's
story that is their legacy and our herit-
age, which is our obligation to per-
petuate. Arthur's story in no small way
has forged a place in that history."
Throughout his career with the
Navy, Arthur made a habit of cheating
His first encounter was aboard
the heroic but ill-fated HMAS Perth,
which was sunk during the Battle of
the Sunda Strait.
Having defied death in the water,
Arthur was captured by the Japanese
and despatched to the notoriously bru-
tal Burma-Thai Railway, where it is
said a man died for every sleeper laid
on the track.
There he endured slave labour, bru-
tality, disease and severe deprivation.
Fellow POWs became his family,
and Arthur risked his life to keep a
secret diary written on scraps of paper
with stolen pencils recording the
agony and larrikin antics of life on the
After 15 months, though weak and
skeletal, Arthur was selected to sail to
Japan to work the coalmines.
In transiting to Japan in the middle
of the South China Sea the Japanese
fleet came under torpedo attack from
US submarines, and the vessel Arthur
was aboard -- the Rakuyo Maru -- was
Once again Arthur found himself
lost at sea, covered in oil, and clinging
to wreckage in water littered with the
bodies of his fellow POW's.
After six unimaginable days and
nights he was finally rescued by a US
Of the 717 POWs on the Rakuyo
Maru with Arthur, 543 were lost with
82 rescued by the Japanese and 92 by
Against all odds Arthur made it
back to Australia and to Mirla who,
throughout all those years he was
missing in action, never gave up hope
for his eventual return.
"Arthur's War" was launched just
one week after the release of Mike
Carlton's comprehensive account of
HMAS Perth I, entitled "Cruiser".
These two books are complemen-
tary to each other, in their ability to tell
a fascinating Navy story from two very
Touching account of WWII
different perspectives -- the historical
and the personal.
The writing of this book has been a
collaboration between Arthur Bancroft
and John Harman. John has worked as
a journalist in the UK and US, and has
written for film and television.
CAPT Dowsing said Arthur's book
went a long way to correcting the bal-
ance (between accounts of land and
maritime action) and providing insight
into war at sea.
"It is a powerful story of great
example and one that all current and
future naval personnel should aspire to
emulate. You are a legend; a true hero,
but still in all ways, a naval sailor. We
are incredibly proud of you."
Of the 681 ship's company in HMAS
Perth when she was lost off Sunda
Strait on March 1, 1942, only 218
lived through this action and sur-
vived their prisoner of war experi-
ence to return to Australia in 1944
Moving forward to 1930,
Pymble comes across a list of
unsolved murders. On closer
examination he finds the victims
are all blokes from the battalion he
visited in France.
Along the way he becomes
involved with a police inspector's
daughter and both the romance
and investigation move along fair-
ly quickly, taking them to Denman
in the Hunter Valley.
With the help of a switched-
on country cop, the murderer is
arrested after a brief shoot-out,
the whole mystery is cleverly
unravelled, and the hero and his
girl ride off into the sunset, so to
This is the author's first novel
and he hasn't done a bad job of it.
A very good read and at times
hard to put down.
-- SGT Dave Morley
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