MY WAR: Life Is For Living (ABC Books) by Brian Walpole with David Levell
The devastating success of Z Special Unit – Australia’s undercover taskforce – behind Japanese lines in Southeast Asia has always been one of the great untold stories of the Second World War.
Aside from a handful of books about particular operations, Z’s activities have received comparatively little publicity. Most documentation was destroyed many years ago; it’s not generally known, for example, that Sea Dyak warriors were paid in cash for Japanese heads.
In 1944, 22-year-old Brian Walpole joined Z Special Unit under rather peculiar circumstances. He was no stranger to jungle warfare, having spent much of 1943 fighting with an Independent (commando) Company in New Guinea. Although he was removed from combat duty after contracting malaria, Brian managed to transfer to the airforce as medically fit for service. Before long, however, he accepted an offer to join Z Special Unit.
After months of top-secret training, including the use of one-man ‘Sleeping Beauty’ submarines, Brian was dropped behind enemy lines in Sarawak. Teaming up with headhunting Sea Dyak tribesmen, Brian found himself organising guerrilla-style raids on Japanese garrisons along the Rejang River, deep in the Borneo jungle.
I met Brian Walpole almost sixty years later, when I was filming and interviewing World War Two veterans for the Australians At War Film Archive. He’d just finished a 200,000-word manuscript about his war experiences and asked me if I knew any literary agents. I did, as it happened, and soon I found myself collaborating with Brian on finetuning his memoirs into publishable shape.
ABC Books published the result in 2004 – a very personal account of a very intense war, with frank insights into life on leave back in Australia and an aspect of the Pacific war in the 1940s that remains little known to this day.
Additional detail on Brian’s WWII experiences:
Brian was a commando with the Australian 2/3 Independent Company. He went to New Guinea in January 1943 and remained until the fall of the Japanese base at Salamaua in September. His commanding officer was the well-regarded George Warfe, whose portrait was sketched by war artist Ivor Hele. The famous documentary-maker Damien Parer was attached to Brian’s unit; Brian quite possibly appears in his film Assault On Salamaua.
Brian blazed a trail through the New Guinea jungle which appears on some maps as Walpole’s Track, discovering and naming the ambush site Goodview Junction. Soon afterwards (July 1943) Goodview Junction was the scene of a key campaign victory which contributed to George Warfe being awarded the Military Cross.
Brian’s Z Special Unit training mostly took place at Careening Bay (Western Australia) and Fraser Island (Queensland). He arrived in Borneo at the time of the 9th Division’s landing at Labuan Island, and took part in two Z operations – Colt and Semut 3.
Click here for a full transcript of a six-hour videotaped interview with Brian Walpole by David Levell and Simon Dikkenberg. Conducted for the Australians At War Film Archive in June, 2003.