WHEN Remembrance Day comes around on Sunday, the extended Hall family from Trundle will have a special reason to pause and reflect.
Last month Jack Hall, longtime Trundle farmer and one of the dwindling ranks of former Japanese prisoners of war from the 1942 fall of Singapore, died at the age of 94.
Although he died at a Central Coast nursing home where he had spent the past three years, his funeral was held at Trundle, where he grew up and spent his working life.
It was a life characterised by hard work, mateship, simple pleasures, a close-knit family, sheepdogs, horses and bowls. All that, and a burning will to survive.
Jack was a driver with the 8th Division AIF at the doomed Allied defence of Singapore, when the Japanese took the island by storm on January 15, 1942.
That day marked Britain’s biggest military defeat, and left the victorious (and incredulous) Japanese in command of some 85,000 British, Australian and Indian prisoners of war.
Of that number, just over 22,000 were Australian, some 8000 of whom died in captivity. Many others succumbed later to the ongoing effects of starvation, brutality and disease.
According to his eldest son Dave, it was Jack’s strong Catholic faith and his determination to return home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Lorrie Dunne, that pulled him through.
Many of his mates, reaching a point where they could take the maltreatment no more, died more or less of broken spirit, but Jack’s willpower and survival drive kept him going.
Not only did it keep him going, it kept him stronger than most, so much so he was able to help succour those less able to cope, often even taking an extra flogging on others’ behalf.
(He worked out that if a bout of flogging became hard to bear, he could usually bring it to an end by biting his lip or tongue so blood would run from his mouth.)
For all that, and much else, Jack returned to Australia and normal life without harbouring grudges against his former captors.
Dave tells a story about a particular day when he and Jack were sharefarming together on “Burrawang” at Condobolin, owned at the time by Japanese interests.
“The manager warned Jack there were Japanese visitors coming, in case he wanted to make himself scarce, but Jack was quite unconcerned,” he recalls.
“His attitude was ‘war’s war, but now it’s over’. He took the view there were good and bad (men) on both sides and a race of people can’t be judged by what happens in war.
“Jack also had a philosophy that sad people rarely lived to an old age, so wallowing in self-pity or recrimination was never on his agenda.”
Since the war, Jack had been back to Singapore, and also Japan, revisiting the locations of his former prison camps.
His forgiving attitude towards the Japanese – which received nationwide exposure from an ABC interview conducted with Dave when his father died – struck a chord even in Tokyo.
A letter received some days later by Dave from the Japanese Consul-General in Sydney, Masahiro Kahora, paid tribute to Jack’s “dedication to the promotion of mutual understanding”.
Jack Hall was born in 1919 the eldest of seven children of William and Beatrice Hall and grew up on “Glenowra”, the Trundle property drawn by his father in a ballot.
He attended the bush school built on the property (where a classmate was Lorrie Dunne, his future wife) until he was 15, then worked on the farm, driving 14-horse teams to plough and sow crop.
In 1939 he joined the 6th Light Horse Regiment, partly for the 13 shillings ($1.30) he would earn for each day’s training, but by March 1941 he decided there was no longer any sense in “just playing soldiers”, and enlisted in the AIF.
As part of the 2/19 Infantry Reinforcement Battalion he sailed in June for Singapore, and he was there six months later when Japan entered the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbour (and also Singapore, that same evening).
Transferred to the doomed 8th Division, which had been routed by the Japanese down the Malayan peninsular, he took part in the week-long battle for Singapore, before the Allies surrendered on February 15 and his unit was captured.
Interned for six weeks in semi-starvation conditions at the notorious Changi prison, Jack was later marched with others to another camp on the island, where they stole petrol from the Japanese to trade with locals for much-needed food.
In November he and other POWs were crammed onto a ship and taken to Japan, where they landed at Nagasaki in sleet and snow, half-starved and freezing in their tropical clothing.
From there they were taken by train to Kobe, where Jack spent the rest of the war as a slave labourer in the shipyards and working underground, near-naked, in deathtrap coalmines.
When news arrived at the camp in August 1945 that the Americans had dropped the atomic bombs and the war was over, Jack and his fellow miners at first refused to believe it.
Others were yahooing and making a row while Jack and his mates were trying to sleep: “We asked them to be quiet as we were on the night shift!”
But the news was correct. The Americans arrived shortly afterwards and the POWs were taken to Nagasaki, where tears rolled down their shrunken faces as a military band welcomed them with “Roll Out the Barrel”.
From there Jack travelled by air to the Philippines, by Royal Navy aircraft carrier to Sydney, tearful reunions at dockside and by train to Trundle, 28 days’ leave, and welcome-home parties.
Following his discharge in January 1946, Jack bought a tractor and went sharefarming and tank-sinking. Within two years he had bought his own farm, “Burando” at Trundle, married the love of his life, Lorrie, and put the war behind him.
The couple raised seven children including two sons, Dave and Ken, who later joined their father working on “Burando” and sharefarming, before Ken left to pursue an off-farm career.
Dave, who now lives in Condobolin with his wife Lindy and their family and sharefarms cotton on local properties, also pursued an off-farm career for 12 years.
Forced to leave school at 15 when hard times on the land in the early 1970s made it hard for many farms to support large families, he headed for Sydney to get a job.
There, he gained trade qualifications as a fitter and machinist and – more signifcantly – played grade football for eight years with Penrith Panthers.
After returning to “Burando” in 1983 to work with Jack, Dave recalls having had many a row with his father (as farming fathers and sons do) about “old ways versus new”.
“But once we’d had a row, it was over, and we moved on, just as Jack did with the war. He didn’t let things gnaw away at him, and I think that helped him to live a long life.”
As a farmer, Jack took a pride in his crops (he and Dave won several district crop competitions) and his sheep, and also his sheepdogs, which he would enter in local working dog trials.
For many years Jack donated and presented a trophy at this section of the Trundle Show in memory of his father.
He and Dave also established a sizeable piggery on “Burando”, which helped carry the property through periods of low sheep and grain prices.
After Lorrie died in 1992 from cancer at just 68, “Burando” was sold and Jack moved into Trundle, where he threw himself into town life, while retaining his farming and sporting interests.
He remained there, moving eventually into an aged care facility as immobility overtook him, until his final shift to the nursing home at Erina where he saw out his last three years.
There, as elsewhere, he inspired others with his enthusiasm for life, his appreciation of simple “treats” and his abiding optimism. His was a spirit no gaoler or logger could subdue.