ARTHUR’S WAR – A story of survival
I can rarely talk about the books I write. Like most ghost-writers I am bound by tough publisher’s contracts to keep my mouth shut about the people for whom I write a book.
But not in this case.
From the outset, when Penguin (www.penguin.com.au) approached me as a possible writer for the book about Arthur Bancroft’s remarkable story of survival, they were happy to put my name on the book. When that happens the writer’s name usually appears on the book jacket in smaller type than the subject’s name and often with the preposition ‘with’. (Check out the picture of the book’s jacket).
What that means (at least it does in this case) is that although it’s Arthur’s story, it’s told in my words. George, my agent, was also able to negotiate with the publishers a small percentage of the royalties for me, which is unusual and very nice, but what made this a special commission was visiting Arthur and his wonderful wife, Mirla, for eight months while I was writing the book.
At least once a week I went to their apartment where I spent an hour or so interviewing Arthur about his experiences on HMAS Perth, as well as his time in the Japanese POW camps and on the Burma Railway and about his six days and nights adrift in the South China Sea after the Japanese POW ship taking him and thirteen hundred other POWs to Japan as slave labour was torpedoed by an American submarine wolf pack.
Arthur’s story was, and still is, incredible. His is a dying breed – a young man who went to war when he was nineteen and survived inconceivable cruelty and hardships. He is the epitome of the ordinary hero, while Mirla is equally heroic as his fiancé who, without news of his fate for almost a year, never gave up hope that he was alive. Just being with them and listening to their stories was a privilege; the fact that Penguin were paying me to write the story of their lives during those fateful years was icing on the cake.
This is the publicity blurb for the book…
In November 1940, compelled by patriotic duty and a sense of adventure, Arthur Bancroft kissed his sweetheart, Mirla, goodbye and signed up with the Royal Australian Navy. He was nineteen years old. ARTHUR’S WAR is the extraordinary story of his ordeal, and his survival.
Throughout his career with the navy, Arthur made a habit of cheating death. His first encounter was aboard the heroic but ill-fated HMAS Perth, which was sunk during the Battle of the Sunda Strait. Having defied death in the water, Arthur was captured by the Japanese and dispatched to the notoriously brutal Burma-Thailand Railway, where it is said a man died for every sleeper laid on the track. There he endured slave labour, brutality and disease.
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Hello John, congratulations on your excellent book authored with Arthur Bancroft.
My Father Ken Nicholls (now 83) just shared it with me. His elder brother Ron (nicknamed Horse) was also on the Perth and was delighted to see him get a mention on page 208. Ron Nicholls’ death from dysentery also appears in the log just inside the hardcover penguin copy I have in my hand. What Dad’s wondering is whether Arthur was in the group of servicemen who stayed at his house briefly with Horse before they shipped out? If you’re in touch with Arthur would you mind asking the question or put us in touch via email? These little insights into the experiences for Uncle Ron are to be cherished and passed on for our future generations.
Best regards, Ken and Pete Nicholls
Just found about abut this book – looks like I’ll be needing to get a copy!