Servicemen and women travel to distant, exotic locales during wartime, interacting with people—however fleetingly—they would never have otherwise met.
Perilous, uncertain times prime individuals for intense and personally transformative relationships.
Support could mean the difference between life and death...
British Army artillery officer, Lieutenant Fred Ransome-Smith, endured three and a half terrible years after being captured by the Japanese at Singapore in February 1942. He met Captain Walter Pollock, a Scottish-born colonial administrator who had lived in Malaya since the mid-1930s, at the Nakom Paton hospital camp on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. Pollock ran the camp canteen and his fluency in Malay, Thai and Chinese meant he was able to source supplies that kept hundreds of fellow British and Australian prisoners alive.
Strong attachments were common among prisoners who confronted malnutrition, disease and gross mistreatment daily. The material and psychological support each provided the other could mean the difference between life and death.
Smith emigrated to Australia in 1964. He raised a family in Melbourne and became a successful advertising executive and art teacher. Walter Pollock’s son, John, also emigrated to Australia in 1989 and met his father’s old friend in 2009. Smith died at age 99, in 2019. Pollock died in Scotland in 1972.
- Happy Xmas, 1944
- Malaya Command identity papers, 2 February 1942
Happy Xmas, 1944
by Fred Ransome Smith (1919–2019)ON LOAN COURTESY OF JOHN POLLOCK
Two prisoners of war, Captain Walter Pollock (left) and Lieutenant Fred Ransome Smith, dream of better days ahead. Pollock kept Smith’s handmade Christmas Card until his death in 1972.
Malaya Command identity papers, 2 February 1942
belonging to Captain Walter PollockON LOAN COURTESY OF JOHN POLLOCK
Scottish Idyll, 1942
by Colin Colahan (1897–1987)ON LOAN COURTESY OF THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL ART26224
An Australian soldier and a local woman overlook the River Nith at Dumfries, Scotland.
The mass movement of troops in wartime has profoundly affected the love lives of countless Australians. Over 12,000 Australian soldiers married while serving overseas during the First World War (1914–18) and they sponsored the passage of some 18,000 women and children to Australia at war’s end. Australian airmen, participating in the Empire Air Training scheme during the Second World War (1939–45), meanwhile, brought 4,027 wives and 878 fiancées to Australia in 1948. Fifteen thousand Australian women, in turn, left our shores in the postwar years—two thirds for the United States.
Soldier and woman, 1943
by Sidney Simon (1917–97)ON LOAN COURTESY OF THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL ART29393
The arrival of one million American servicemen in Australia during the Second World War (1939–45). stimulated much excitement. Wooing local women with nylon pantyhose and chocolates, the ‘Yanks’ were considered better dressed and mannered than their Australian counterparts and represented wealth, glamour and modernity for many Australian women.
A ‘moral panic’ arose among more traditionally minded Australians regarding women’s sexual agency and their enthusiasm for the Americans, prompting numerous op-eds including an Albany Advertiser article: ‘Now girls, go easy!’ (30 May 1942). Western Australian women were warned that they could be left ‘holding the baby’ and to ‘…look before you take the fatal leap’.
Balinese beauties, c 1940
photographer unknownSHRINE OF REMEMBRANCE COLLECTION
Travelling and encountering new people, cultures and experiences often serves as a powerful aphrodisiac. Australian servicepeople on deployment, like many other travellers, have often been guilty of viewing local people as the exotic ‘other’. This problematic objectification of people has been shaped by contemporary attitudes towards race, culture, power, and class.
The sexual politics notwithstanding, this nude postcard of a Balinese woman collected by Captain Lieutenant Jim Bryant MM and kept by him throughout his captivity at Changi prisoner of war camp, Singapore, served as a treasured beacon of hope during that dark time boosting his morale considerably.
Reviewed 11 February 2022