HMS Prince of Wales


`The Prince of Wales' together with `The Repulse' formed a flotilla reluctantly dispatched to the east from the Atlantic to give substance to the rhetoric of `Fortress Singapore'. The carrier assigned to the task force ran aground in the Caribbean, and with all other carriers committed, the flotilla was sent out without air cover. When both these capital ships were lost to Japanese aerial bombardment in early 1942, Australians felt more naked than ever. Singapore was reinforced militarily by the Australian 8th Division, which arrived just in time to participate in the last defensive actions on the island, only to be taken prisoner and incarcerated in Changi prison before its calvary on the Burma railway under the leadership of Weary Dunlop. Among those who served with him were Tom Uren, later a leftist member of the Whitlam government, and Dr John Cade, the discoverer of the therapeutic properties of lithium. Cade had been convinced of the physiological nature of manic depression whilst treating psychotic comrades on the railway. The escape of Lieutenant General Gordon Bennet, who believed he had important tactical experience to bring home, incurred the ire of General Sir Thomas Blamey, a conservative associate of Robert Menzies by whom he had been appointed Commander in Chief of Australian forces, who looked upon Bennett as having practically deserted his men, exposing them to Japanese reprisals. The loss of the 8th Division gave rise to the recall of the 9th division from the Middle East in defiance of Churchill's objections, and their deployment to New Guinea.

 

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