06-18 Sarah Raplee – WHY PSYCHIC AGENTS?

Thursday, August 22, 2013



I wrote this as a tribute to my late father and his valiant comrades who bled and died for freedom. It inspired me to write my romantic novel, A Mortal Sin, which is out now from Books We Love.
My father always maintained he was ordinary.  Just the kind of man you would pass in the street and not really notice. Slightly stooped; bad posture interlaced with age most would say. Once blond hair was now grey, and his blue eyes were faded and a little watery.

Dad’s pastimes were following the football, growing tomatoes in the back garden, or amusing his grandsons. He considered his only claim to fame was that his tomatoes were the best in the neighbourhood.

In March 1940 Dad felt duty bound to answer his country’s call to war. When the Japanese poured into Malaya he was there as a member of the 2/29th Battalion of the Australian 8th Division. The letters he wrote home to his fiancĂ©e (later his wife), described the hordes of marauding mosquitoes, scorpions and other horrible, wriggly creatures, who inhabited the jungle.

He told of the pleasure in having real white sheets on the beds in one of their camps, and described the various native villages he had visited.

There was an ever continuing plea for news of home, cakes and other comforts to make life just a little more bearable in such an alien, inhospitable land. Yellowing letters, carefully kept by my mother, worn thin from having been read and re-read, unfolded a tale that the history books never told. Words of love more poignant than if they had been whispered in a romantic, fragrance filled garden, were beautiful in their simplicity as my father had left school after reaching the eighth grade.

Amongst his medals was a silver boomerang bearing the words “I go to return.” It was a good luck charm, and my father wore it throughout the war.  There was magic in the boomerang, the relation who gave it to him was convinced of it. Had not the original owner survived the carnage of the 1st World War?  Did the good luck charm live up to its name the second time around?

Wounded in action and transferred to the 113th Australian General Hospital in Singapore, this ordinary man from the country town of Wangaratta was blown out of bed, but survived the Japanese bombs which took the roof off his ward.  The British forces fell back across the causeway into Singapore. Day and night the fires burned.  The bombers came over spreading their destruction. Shattered shops were left to the mercy of looters, bodies rotted in the streets, and packs of marauding dogs gorged themselves with little resistance, as a pall of black smoke hung over Singapore. The bastion of the British Empire, the Gibraltar of the Far East teetered on the brink of surrender.  The giant British guns that might have saved them were embedded in concrete and pointing out to sea, useless to quell the invaders who came over land through the jungle.

All aircraft and ships had departed loaded with civilians, nurses and wounded, and after this desperate flotilla sailed off, those left behind could only await their fate.

In the last terrible days before Singapore capitulated in February 1942, trapping 80,000 Australian and British troops, a small junk braved the might of the Japanese air force and navy, and set off, crammed with wounded.  Only soldiers who were too incapacitated to fight yet could somehow mobilise themselves, were given the opportunity for this one last chance of escape.

With a piece of his back bone shot away, and weakened from attacks of malaria, Dad somehow made it to the wharf, with a rifle and the clothes he stood up in. As they wended their way out of the Singapore harbour, littered with the smouldering debris of dying ships, a Japanese bomber dived low over them, but the pilot obviously had more important targets on his mind than a small overcrowded boat.

They made it to safety, and were eventually transferred to a hospital ship. 

There were no scenes of mad revelry and jubilation when this ship arrived back in Australia.  This son of Wangaratta returned home, unhailed, except for those who loved him most. After his marriage, Dad shifted to the life of Melbourne suburbia and raised three children.

When he died the bugle played the last post, his coffin was draped with the Australian flag.  Old soldiers dropped red poppies into the open grave as a tribute to a fallen comrade.

There were some who wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, wasn’t he just an ordinary man?

My novel, A Mortal Sin, although fictional is well researched, and also has relied on information from my father’s letters and information given to me by my mother and her sisters, and the few things I remember Dad telling us when we were children. 


Paul Ashfield, an aristocratic Englishman, travels to Australia in search of the birth mother he thinks deserted him.  He meets and falls in love with Daphne Clarke, but after staying with her parents, Paul finds a diary and erroneously believes that he and Daphne share the same mother.  He beats a hasty retreat, believing he has slept with his sister.

Their paths eventually cross again in Singapore where Daphne is a nurse and Paul is in the army. They get married as Singapore teeters on the brink of invasion.  Wrenched apart by the war, each believes the other has died in the bombing. When they meet again, it is in church and, Paul is about to enter into an arranged marriage.





Paty Jager said...

Margaret, I believe you find more heroes in ordinary men than you do the ones toted as heroes all the time.

What an interesting part of history that I knew nothing about! I've focused most of my interest in history on the U.S. and particularly the West. I knew that Australia fought in many of the wars but never really paid that much attention. Even though I know this book will be a great romance, I need to read it for the history. Great post!

Sarah Raplee said...

You write so movingly and vividly about the war. Your father was a hero when he needed to be one. What an amazing story!

Like Paty, I want to learn more of Australian history by reading your books.

Judith Ashley said...

Your Dad is a real life hero. Thank you for sharing his story so we know more about him. Love the part about his tomatoes being the best in the neighborhood which is something my Dad strived for with his roses.

I've read several of Margaret's books and certainly know more now about Australia's history and how, in many ways, it mirrors the U.S.'s. When my TBR list on my Kobo shrinks a little, I'll be clicking on others...

Diana Mcc. said...

Great post, Margraet. How interesting! I really only know the American side of the world wars 1 & 2. I know other countries were involved on the side of good, but until your post, I didn't know the struggles! Thanks for sharing and good luck on sales!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Paty,
You are so right ordinary men are often more heroic than the lauded heroes, but they just don't get the recognition they deserve. Although, all men and women who fight in wars are heroes to me.



Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Diana,
Thank you. There are very few wars you Americans have been in that we haven't been in also. WW1, WWII, Korea, Vietnam,Iraq and Afghanistan.



Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Judith,
Thanks, Dad didn't think he was anything but ordinary, but even as kids we knew better.



Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Sarah,
Thanks. I am very interested in Australian history, and some of ours is so unique, I just can't help writing about it. We started out as a penal colonly but went on to bigger and greater things.