Book Reviews

Review by Lt. Col. Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired) JP Inaugural President, Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association (Inc)  email

A very readable military history.

Much has been written about the fall of Singapore in World War II, but this carefully researched history of the 2/20th Battalion AIF is a very readable account of events with special insight into what it was like for a soldier’s family back home. It describes the pre-war conditions in New South Wales, pre-embarkation training, passage from Sydney to Singapore on the Queen Mary early in 1941 and their training in Malaya.

It follows the battalion’s disastrous battle for Singapore and their subsequent capture and imprisonment by the Japanese. As the author tells the story of the Battalion’s training in Malaya in 1941, she captivates the reader with her description of the unfolding war, woven together with the regular eloquent letters written between her father-in-law Capt Bill Gaden and his family. Bill’s letters tell of their living conditions, encounters with the local population and amusing experiences during periods of leave. They reveal little of the growing tension, as the soldiers’ excellent training and confident preparation give way to poor leadership and lack of support from mother England, as the Japanese eventually overwhelm Singapore.

The author draws on a variety of sources to build a picture of what it was also like for the family at home in war-time Sydney Bill and many others from the 2/20th became members of ‘D’ Force on the infamous Thai-Burma railway, but in contrast to others, this book does not dwell on this horrific period and it also shows the subsequent struggle faced by former POWs as they try and return to normal life.

This well-researched 320-page history is based on the Battalion’s routine orders and official war diary but is supplemented by hundreds of other sources, all carefully documented. The personal perspective is maintained by extensive reporting of the fate of hundreds of the soldiers mentioned.

The book is available at $25 plus $9.60 postage from the author


Review by James Keady
As the former long-term Secretary of 2/20 Bn Association I have been reading and studying the 8th Division but more particularly the 2/20th for about 25 years. I can’t tell you how many books I have read and how many returned men I have had private conversations with, but about ten years ago I started to question times and events that some books portrayed as history to find that they were incorrect or licence was used. Don Wall, author of ‘Singapore and Beyond’, was a stickler for accuracy … I am quite sure Don would have enjoyed your book and would have been proud of it. I don’t know what I was expecting but received a great surprise and couldn’t put it down. Bill’s letters to his mum put a different light on things for me. My uncle’s letters were not as frequent or as newsworthy as Bill’s. Referring to time and events was much simpler to understand for me than in ‘Singapore & Beyond’ and the emotions of the people involved was easier to grasp.

I think your book is one of the 8th division’s finest and your husband and family should be very proud of your achievement. Congratulations on a great book


Review from Peter Salter, former Chairman of the 2/20 Bn Association
I’ve now read the book and I am greatly impressed! I liked your very readable style and the way you’ve woven the letters into their historical times makes the book a great read. Loved all the references and indexing … I found the insights into wartime Sydney was very interesting too … Caroline I think your excellent book adds significantly to telling the stories, life and times of the 2/20th Battalion and so it is therefore a very significant work.


Review from Joy Lee, widow of Lieutenant Theo Lee, 2/20 Bn.

Have just finished reading your wonderful book. I wept often and also the last chapter which I loved. Most of all I was so proud of our men. I relived the home front and can see we all suffered the same anguish and despair. Bill and Theo were much alike and had similar health problems…. You gave us all the little details we wanted to know and throughout the fighting I had many goose pimples even though I know it all so well. The reader is left feeling satisfied. The whole family must be so proud of you Caroline and rightly so. Thank you Caroline for giving us all such a treasure.


And another is from one of the Original soldiers. He rang me to tell me that the troops had had so many questions left unanswered about the development of the war in Malaya, so many things the soldiers were not told and never knew, and they’d had so many questions about why the Allies surrendered. He said that at last, after reading my book, he understood the sequence of fighting and why it went so badly wrong. And of the things he did know he said “You got it so right. Well done!” As an author, you can’t ask for better than that!


And a local newspaper story is here  –


#Singapore  #2/20  #SecondWorldWar     #POW      #BurmaThailandRailway            #Gaden