‘Waiting in Silence’: POWs Honoured on 20th Anniversary

‘Waiting in Silence’: POWs Honoured on 20th Anniversary
A handmade poppy is seen alongside a bronze plaque listing Australians who lost their lives in WWII on the undercroft of the State War Memorial in Kings Park in Perth, Australia, on April 25, 2020. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

An inscribed mug, woollen blankets, and a makeshift Melbourne Cup trophy from prisoners of war remain as a symbol of their unimaginable sacrifice and courage in a story the prime minister says needs to keep being told.

Anthony Albanese addressed the 20th anniversary of the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat on Sunday, saying the stories of former prisoners of war came from a different chapter in the nation’s story.

“It tells of the sacrifice, courage and mateship of the men and women who served our country in war, and asks us to honour the POWs among them, for whom captivity meant waiting in silence,” Mr. Albanese said.

More than 35,000 names of soldiers, sailors and nurses are inscribed on the 130-metre granite wall covering both world wars, as well as the Boer War and Korean War.

One of them is former bombardier Tom Uren, a Labor Party icon and mentor to Mr. Albanese who was taken captive by Japanese forces in 1942 while serving in Timor.

“I will always think with wonder of how Tom endured years of such depravity and cruelty—and emerged as a tower of humanity,” Mr Albanese said.

“He knew that the very worst could bring out the very best in us. And I believe those values are at the heart of what it is to be an Australian.”

The memorial remained as an eloquent expression of the powerful spirit that helped prisoners endure their captivity and a testament to their patience, perseverance and humour, the prime minister said.

“While the breath of life remained, the spark of creativity enlivened their hands, shaping relics of a time and place no words could comprehend,” Mr. Albanese said.

War-time diaries and documents recounting life on and off the battlefield had made a valuable contribution to recording history, as well as the objects and artworks handcrafted by many POWs during their oppressive imprisonment.

A father’s inscription on a pottery mug praying for the protection of his family, a blanket crocheted from Red Cross-issued socks, and jumpers and a Melbourne Cup trophy fashioned from a can of corned beef were among those highlighted by Mr. Albanese.

“Heartbreakingly, these artefacts often came home without their creators.

“And for family and friends, they became a window onto the unimaginable—and a final, precious gift from their dear ones,” he said.

The memorial in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens was opened in 2004 by former army general Sir Peter Cosgrove.

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