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Book launch of Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie, 29th October, 2016
A big thank you to all those who attended the book launch and bought a book.
Everyone had a wonderful night thanks to Star of the Sea parish.
Hazel Barker was a four-year-old living in Rangoon when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Until that time her father worked for the British establishment and the family was relatively well-to-do, but that all changed on Hazel’s birthday with the onset of bombing, causing the family to flee to Mandalay, then north again, until the invading Japanese army caught up with them. For the next four years the family’s fight for survival became ever-more desperate as the family savings dwindled to almost nothing and they were forced to live on the charity of relatives in the area of Mandalay.
The background of Hazel’s family is told incrementally; an Anglo-Indian mother, Burmese father, her two elder brothers, Rupert and Bertie, her elder sister, Jane, and the infants Rose and mentally-handicapped Herman. We are told of the tribulations suffered by her mother at the hands of her father who could be violent, and who, as the years progressed, became ever more isolated from his kin. This is doubly confronting when money is spent on liquor while the rest of the family are starving.
We learn of the bravery of Hazel’s brothers in the face of the enemy, of religious conflict between a Christian mother and her children pitted against a Muslim father and his relatives, of beriberi that afflicted all the children, of malaria that nearly claimed the life of her brother, Rupert, and of the death of her sister, Jane, following a vaccination given by the Japanese.
Adding to the story are insights gleaned from Hazel’s research into the war in Burma and from interviews with others who witnessed the invasion, or were involved in military action against the Japanese.
This is a compelling tale of courage, love and endurance, told largely from the perspective of a child. The book passes the critical test of compelling the reader to keep turning the page. After the Japanese were forced out of Burma Hazel’s father regains employment with the British and the family is required to return to Rangoon from the relative comfort of Mandalay. But at the close of the book the living conditions are desolate and only a sense of duty, or powerlessness, binds mother to father. What becomes of Hazel’s parents and siblings? How did she come to end up in Australia? This is all revealed in her next book, yet to be read by me. I look forward to it.
Review by Martin Line, retired academic and author of several publications in various disciplines.
A big thank you to the staff of Victoria Point Library for hosting my book launch of Heaven Tempers the Wind, to all my lovely friends – old and new – for attending this wonderful event and to Sarah Davies for her photos of this memorable day. Last but not least a big hug to my publisher Anne Hamilton of Armour Books for introducing me and my dear husband Colin for all his support. Without his help this book wouldn’t have eventuated.
Books are a powerful weapon. There have been many instances of book-burnings throughout history. Some of the better known conflagrations are the burning of Catholic theological works by Martin Luther in 1520, and the incinerating of English Monastic Libraries during the Dissolution of Monasteries from 1536-1541. Thousands of books were burned by the Communists in Russia. Books by Jewish authors and anti-Nazi books were burned by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. The latest burnings to date have been those by ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Fear of their influence on people led to such destruction.
Books open our minds to knowledge, to understanding and to joy. There are millions to choose from, and were we to spend our whole lives consuming book after book, we could only read a fraction of them. For this reason, we need to be selective in what we read.
I strongly recommend Writing Memoirs. Tips from an editor on writing life stories by Kathy Steward to all those who contemplate writing a memoir. Had I read Writing Memoirs before embarking on my memoirs, it would have saved me endless time and worry.
I enjoy reading memoirs and historical fiction. From memoirs I may learn how to avoid the mistakes others have made, or be encouraged to follow their examples. Reading historical fiction teaches me about the past, and I read them, bearing in mind the adage ‘History repeats itself.’
Books give me pleasure. Few joys give greater joy than relaxing with a good book. Ever since I learned to read from the age of four, I loved books. Later, even before I reached my teens, I longed to write – to be an author someday.
Now that dream has been fulfilled. Book One of my memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child is just hot off the press. Published by Armour Books it will be available in all good bookstores. I assure you that men and women of all ages will enjoy reading it and will look forward to the sequel. Happy reading!
Hazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.
Hazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier, will be released by Rhizza Press in 2016. Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind was released by Armour Books this year. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East; the latter in Burma.
Merrill’s Marauders had been officially designated as 5307th Composite Unit (provisional) with a code name Galahad. They were trained in long-range penetration tactics under Wingate, commander of the Chindits. General Stilwell appointed Brigadier General Frank Merrill to command them. American correspondents dubbed the unit Merrill’s Marauders.
Each battalion contained two Japanese-American soldiers, who were invaluable when fighting at close quarters with Japanese troops. They used tactics similar to the Chindits. On 7 February 1944, wearing green outfits, green under-clothing, green handkerchiefs and green matches for complete concealment in the jungle, the Marauders marched through the Hukawng Valley under the command of Brigadier General Frank Merrill. They marched down the Ledo Road that linked Ledo in India through to the Burma Road, and on to Yunnan in China. American engineers who had chiselled a track through swamps and mountains from late 1943 for twenty-seven months had constructed the road. It is one of the most forgotten routes today.
The Marauders were used as Stilwell’s Shock troops to slash the hamstrings of the Japanese armies in Burma. After engaging in fierce battles for three months, they were badly in need of rest and recuperation, but Stilwell pressed them on, commanding Merrill to take Myitkyina. Handicapped by the monsoons, disease and exhaustion, they suffered from malaria, black water fever, typhus and dysentery. Victims of dysentery resorted to cutting a hole in the seat of their pants to avoid unnecessary time loss when their bowels moved.
Merrill collapsed when they reached Myitkyina airfield.
After the Mauraders captured the airfield, enabling American and Chinese reinforcements to be flown in, Stilwell was compelled to withdraw them from the frontline trenches at Myitkyina.
Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child by Hazel Barker
The Chindits were an International Force that included servicemen from British and Indian Brigades, Burma Rifles, Hong Kong Volunteers, Gurkhas and West Africans. In 1942, when the Japanese invaded Burma, the British War Office offered the services of Lieutenant-Colonel Orde Wingate, DSO, to General Wavell, Commander-in-Chief India. Wingate had successfully carried out guerrilla operations in Palestine and Abyssinia. He was a relative of Lawrence of Arabia, to whom he bore a strong resemblance.
There were two Chindit expeditions into Burma, the first in February 1943, and the second in March 1944. Of the three thousand men who entered Burma in 1943, only two thousand one hundred and eighty-two returned. Of these only six hundred were fit for further active service, but the two Chindit expeditions had diverted six to eight Japanese divisions from other operations.
These brave men took part in the offensive to re-gain Burma in 1945.