“The Lost Battalions” Book Review

“The Lost Battalions” covers the little-known story of two Australian battalions during World War Two. These battalions seemed doomed from the start, suffering from a lack of equipment and even further lack of direction. Thrown into a hopeless fight against an overwhelming enemy, they found themselves trapped and abandoned in Java. Tom Gilling’s retelling of their story, a story lost to the pages of history, is heart-wrenching, infuriating and certainly puts life into perspective.

Gilling draws on personal diaries, official records and interviews of survivors to tell the extraordinary story of these ‘lads from Java’ who trained in desert conditions to fight in a jungle and then were dumped, unarmed, onto an island that had already been evacuated of Allied troops.

This harrowing retelling follows the boys from training to travel across the seas, from surrender to capture and their lives as prisoners of war of the Japanese in Singapore, on the Thai-Burma Railway, Tawain and Japan.

No detail is left untold of their conditions and the troubles they faced, and yet, through it all, their humour and that Australian spirit remained.

Throughout this novel, we learn not just about the troops, but about their official leader, Adelaide lawyer Brigadier Arthur Blackburn VC, and their figurehead, the famous Weary Dunlop.

“The Lost Battalions” is difficult to read due to its graphic and emotional content, but it’s even more difficult to put down.

If Tom Gilling’s aim was to immortalise these men and do justice to their service, to tell their stories, he can rest assured knowing his mission is complete.

  • Ashayla Webster, RSLWA

“The Lost Battalions” is written by Tom Gilling and is published by Allen & Unwin Books.