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Jim 'Ringer' Edwards

EDITOR: Two of our members have a strong connection to Nevil Shute's classic Australian tale 'A Town like Alice'.

The book's hero, Joe Harman, was based on the exploits of Jim "Ringer'' Edwards, the husband of Pauline Edwards and father of Pauline AlIen. He was born in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1913 and left home before the age of 12 to join a droving team. He spent many years droving and horse-breaking in the Pilbara before moving to Queensland in the 1930s.

When war was declared he joined the ill fated 2/26th Battalion which was formed in Queensland and saw active service in the defence of Malaya and Singapore in 1941/42. The personnel of the "The Gallopers," as the 2/26th was nicknamed because of a weekly cross-country training run, were A.I.F. volunteers, not conscripts. The battalion was first camped near Changi village on the south-eastern tip of the island and later moved to Johore, on the western side of the peninsula. They conducted a fighting withdrawal to Yong Peng, Ayer Hitam, and a number of other locations as Westforce withdrew towards Singapore Island. Between 26 and 27 January they held the Simpang Rengam crossroads at 46-mile post, where they were shelled by Japanese artillery and strafed by Japanese aircraft. They proved to be particularly successful in fighting these rearguard actions and morale was high. But the inevitable happened and those of the 2/26th who were not killed during the war were taken prisoner at the surrender of Singapore. They were to spend the next 3 ½ years in deplorable conditions. The battalion was concentrated in Changi goal, where they were used as labour for various work parties. Jim was one of the prisoners who, along with many others was forced by the Japanese to work on the notorious Burma-Thailand railway. Edwards' bush skills came to the fore and with starvation racking the camp, he was renowned for castrating bulls in nearby paddocks to help feed the sick and injured.

When he was recaptured after an escape attempt, he was effectively crucified by being tied up to a tree with wire and beaten with a baseball bat. After 60 hours he was considered finished and was allowed to be cut down by his mates who eventually nursed him back to health. His two mates who were crucified along with him did not survive. On another occasion he was sentenced to death but released when his last meal request of beer and chicken was unobtainable.

Jim 'Ringer' Edwards

A POW friend of Mr. Edwards, N.S.W. businessman Mr. Peter Larsen had vivid memories of "Ringer" sitting crossed-legged in a hut in Burma, chanting in an Aboriginal dialect and pointing a bone at the Japs. “I used to wonder whether he did that to cheer us up or whether he really believed in the bloody thing,” he said. His POW treatment received much media attention when he was repatriated to Australia after the war. He returned to Queensland where he met and married Pauline Munro who was a matron at Normanton Hospital.

In the UK, author Nevil Shute heard of Edwards' wartime exploits and flew to North Queensland to speak with the former POW. They met in 1948 at Glenmore Station, about 20km from Normanton where Jim was the station manager. It is quite a coincidence that Jim married a nurse for Nevil Shute wrote A Town Like Alice based on the true story of a Dutch nurse he had met and greatly admired, mixing her wartime tale with Jim Edwards's anecdotes. He took the two stories and combined them to create his famous story. He found part of A Town like Alice in Kuala Selangor, another part of it at Kota Bharu, and a great hunk of it at Palembang in Sumatra. Most of the rest of it was found at Normanton in the Gulf country of North Queensland; the prototype for Willstown was a little place called Burketown. As you will know, the book was turned into a film and television series. Jim watched the TV series and enjoyed it but he said that he wouldn't be jogging on a horse with “his ass in the air” like Brian Brown did. “He can't ride,” said Jim.

Jim "Ringer" Edwards later returned to Gingin, WA where, acknowledged as the legendary bushman of the Pilbara, he died in 2000.

(Our two Paulines accepted an invitation to attend the Nevil Shute Society conference in Alice Springs in 2007.)