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Writer offers to meet critics of her claims
Published on: Friday, August 23, 2019
By: David Thien

KOTA KINABALU: Critics of Lynette Silver’s revelation on how Australian POW Private Herman Reither was murdered as published in the Daily Express “Did One Australian POW kill another?” on Aug 4, can meet up with her in the state capital from Aug 27 to 30 for discussion. 

The term “White Japs” refers to Australian POWs who collaborated with the Japanese captors for better treatment over their fellow POWs. Lynette wants critics to read the second part of her article based on local account of what happened before commenting prematurely. It was her local source, Lynette said, that wanted Herman Reither’s kin to know.

In a book - “Fighting Monsters: An Intimate History of the Sandakan Tragedy,” by Prof Richard Braithwaite now re-published by Opus Publications, Private Herman Reither was mentioned by the late author who was the son of Dick Braithwaite, one of the six survivors of the Sandakan death marches.

Prof Richard Braithwaite writing for his father Richard “Dick” Braithwaite senior states in his book that, “To my knowledge, ‘white Jap’ was used in relation to only two people at Sandakan: Captain George Cook and Warrant Officer Bill Sticpewich. (Sticpewich was alleged to have a hand in the fate of Reither). He was killed in a traffic accident in Melbourne and one version was that it was suicidal.

“Both were very capable people, but not popular. They were known by name to the Japanese, whereas almost everyone else was known only by the number that they wore on a piece of wood in their hat band.

“The only letter I know of that survived the death marches was one written to Herman ‘Algie’ Reither by his mother in late June 1943. It came to survivor Bill Sticpewich when Algie died after the two escaped from Ranau together.”

“Bill Sticpewich and Driver Herman ‘Algie’ Reither escaped from Ranau on July 28.”

As stated in the book, according to Don Wall, another author of the Sandakan death marches, … “And Sticpewich wanted people to believe that Reither had killed himself. And two other natives who knew what had happened said it was very rare for anyone to kill himself. Reither couldn’t have done that, and they pointed the finger at Sticpewich.”

“I have seen the records – that there were witnesses of Reither’s death. And they pointed the finger at Sticpewich. He wanted to be the only survivor. He didn’t want witnesses around. He wanted to hide his friendship with the Japanese.”

At the time of his escape, Sticpewich knew of no other survivors. Don Wall during an interview by Tim Bowden also described how survivor Keith Botterill confessed to murdering Andy Anderson. Botterill died of old age and suspected mental illness.

“Sticpewich was much more of an opportunist who quickly read which way the wind was blowing.

“It was the Japanese who decided who were ‘white Japs’ by the way they treated individual people.

“This did not seem to be based on objective criteria such as some measure of helping the Japanese war effort.

“Somehow Cook and Sticpewich were found agreeable by the Japanese. He was intelligent and highly competent, but tended to play games and stretch the rules.”

Prof Richard’s father Dick Braithwaite died in 1986, still wanting the story to be properly told.

This led to a project that has lasted for much of the last forty years of the late author’s life, culminating in this book. With a scientific background, Richard worked for many years with CSIRO and universities in the biological and social sciences and in historical research.

His extensive and diverse research history and lifelong personal immersion in the story has given him a unique perspective in exploring the complexities of the Sandakan tragedy. It was the worst atrocity ever inflicted on Australian soldiers. 1,787 Australian and 641 British POWs died.

An unusual and extreme POW story, the Sandakan tragedy had four stages: active resistance in 1942–3, stubborn endurance in 1943–4, the collapse of civilized existence in 1945 and, finally, the postwar decades of torment for the six damaged survivors, the gradual assimilation of the story, the healing of the damage and the commemoration of the tragedy by the families and communities involved. 

As Tim Bowden puts it, “The healing from any war is a lengthy and laborious process. From Sandakan it has proven especially so, This book is biographical but not hagiography. It is war history but not glorification – it is both analytical and emotional. Its theme is survival, its tenor therapeutic. Fighting Monsters sheds new light on one of the darkest chapters of World War II, the toll it took on survivors, and the healing that continues to this day.”

In Fighting Monsters, published and launched just days before Richard’s death from cancer, he weaves his family’s story into a re-telling of and reflection on the prisoners’ ordeal, the origins, cause and course of the death marches and the way the episode has been understood, interpreted and remembered. 

It is a complex story, one that takes its time, but so thoughtful, well-structured and expressed is it that it never drags.

Having researched the story for decades – having looked into the abyss, as he quotes Nietzsche, fighting the monsters of memory of what he describes as a tragedy (and, remarkably, not so much as an atrocity) – Prof Richard Braithwaite’s book deserves a read.



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