Peter's battle to remember POWs
MONDAY, February 15 will mark 65 years since Peter Wilkinson returned home to Australia, skinny and starving, after being held as a prisoner for three years during World War II.
If the Maryborough resident had his way, the nation would stop to recognise this significant anniversary and the 7000 Aussie soldiers who died while being held captive in Singapore by Japanese troops.
But, despite his repeated attempts over several years to make February 15 a national day of remembrance of the Fall of Singapore, this year will be like every other: Mr Wilkinson will travel to Brisbane for a small service, return home and life will ever so surely go on.
However, the ex-prisoner, who says it his dying wish that the anniversary be declared a national day of remembrance, vows to keep fighting.
“I have been trying for many years with the ex-POW associations and the Returned Serviceman’s League but I can’t get any co-operation,” he said.
“The figures speak for themselves. There were about 1600 casualties in 12 weeks of action and about 6800 casualties as prisoners of war.”
Mr Wilkinson was one of 30 from the 2nd/10th field regiment remaining from 800 who returned home to Australia in 1945. He was held captive from February 1942 to 1945.
“The treatment of the prisoners of war of the Japanese was very cruel,” he said. “I believe it’s very important we all stop to recognise those who paid the sacrifice.”
Cyril Gilbert, secretary and treasurer of the Queensland and Australian Ex-POW Association, has been helping Mr Wilkinson with his inquiries over the past few years.
He says that while “naturally there were more POWs captured in Singapore than anywhere else it doesn’t alter the fact they were also captured in other places”.
“It wouldn’t be fair to only mark the Fall of Singapore,” he said.
“We’ve put this to the national association and the government’s looked at it too but they’re not inclined to make it a national day.”
Chris McHugh, CEO of RSL Queensland, said because there were so many days of remembrance already existing, the RSL had to be careful.
“We understand where (Mr Wilkinson) comes from and the significance the anniversary has to him,” he said. “But it basically goes down to the biggest battles and the strength of the argument and the number of people who support it.
“In this case it doesn’t appear to have much public support.”