This is a harrowing true story, told in journalistic style, and flair, by award-winning Ian Townsend. It could be called faction, not fiction. With scrupulous research, the historian in Townsend has gathered the few facts available about this tragic occurrence during the Second World War in Rabaul, adding his vivid imagination to the mix. Plus he has spoken to relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, weaving their recollections into the narrative in a seamless way. Caught behind the lines, surprised by the swiftness of the Japanese advance, “Ted Harvey, Marjorie a d Jimmy Manson and Bill Barker has been caught red-handed with a hidden radio transmitter; Marjorie had a concealed revolver.” They were all in serious trouble. Added to this was Marjorie’s son, Richard, always called Dickie. He was eleven years old, a very lively boy who at first thought war was a great adventure. The adults expected to become prisoners of war, and as they were civilians thought they would be handled in a sensitive manner. The very opposite was to happen. The Japanese did hold a trial, but the defendants were not allowed a lawyer, and the whole thing was seen as a fait accompli even before the sentence of death was announced. In May of 1942 they were executed as spies even Dickie. The story has been covered up, denied for over 75 years. To read of the tragedy is emotionally draining, but it should have been told, and obviously Ian Townsend was the writer/historian to do it justice.
The direct line from Adelaide to New Guinea includes the story of the lives of Marjorie and Dickie, and of Ted Harvey, until we reach that ghastly “line of fire”, and its heart-breaking conclusion. Not for the faint-hearted, but part of the extraordinary stories of World War 11, of ordinary families trapped by circumstances beyond their wildest nightmares, and beyond their control.
LINE OF FIRE by IAN TOWNSEND
PUBLISHED by FOURTH ESTATE for a recommended $29.99