A BOOK about Australian guerrillas who operated behind enemy lines in Borneo during World War II will be launched next week by its author, former Canberra political journalist Paul Malone.
But unlike many Australian books about the former North Borneo, now Malaysian Sabah, Malone’s new book is not about the doomed Sandakan POWs, rather telling the story of a little-known part of this campaign – the “Semut [ant] 1” guerrilla operation behind enemy lines.
“Kill the Major”, Malone tells “CityNews”, is the true story of the most successful Allied guerrilla war in Borneo.
In 1945, he explains, the AIF moved to retake Borneo from the Japanese with the largest amphibious operation in Australia’s history, involving more than 75,000 troops.
Forty-two Australian, New Zealand and British guerrillas were dropped into the jungle to gather intelligence and mount anti-Japanese operations before the major AIF landings. There they recruited tribal head-hunting allies and by war’s end had taken control of 41,000 square kilometres of Borneo and killed more than 1000 Japanese — all 42 members of the team survived.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
After Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, two renegade companies of Japanese troops refused to surrender and headed into the Borneo mountains, pillaging villages and killing locals, many of whom had supported the Australian and New Zealand guerrillas.
Their leader, British Major Tom Harrisson would not hear of abandoning the locals and was eventually given permission to hunt down the renegades, as they did.
But rather than revere Harrisson, many of the “Z” Specials hated him and three wanted to kill him.
Malone provides an insight into why, recounting the harrowing personal stories of these soldiers and the native recruits they fought alongside in Borneo.
Launch of “Kill the Major”, at The Book Cow, Jardine Street, Kingston, 5.30pm, Thursday, April 29. Bookings here.
- Helen Musa, who speaks Malay, once collaborated with Malone by interviewing one of the locals who helped escapees from the Sandakan “death” camp for a joint feature.