LOCAL SOLDIER: James Leslie Kennedy was raised in Toowoomba and schooled in Warwick.
LOCAL SOLDIER: James Leslie Kennedy was raised in Toowoomba and schooled in Warwick. Contributed

Just a toss of a coin sent James Kennedy into battle

JAMES Leslie Kennedy was born at Dalby, Queensland, on April 29, 1917, the middle son of Robert and Ellen Kennedy of "Laurendel".

He was raised in Toowoomba and on his parent's property near the township of Tara.

As the Kennedy family had originally migrated from the Scottish Highlands to Australia in 1839, it was only natural that James' parents enrolled him at Scots College in 1932 after completing his early education in Toowoomba.

James settled into the college's sporting activities with dash and enthusiasm where he was recognised as an excellent fullback in the First VIII and a wily spin bowler with the cricket First XI.

After one year he returned home to his parents' property to help out during the depression years, before he and his younger brother took possession of Dridool, a sheep and cattle property in 1939.

James also kept up his love of sport and at the age of 23 he had gained selection in Roger Hartigan's Queensland cricket team, thus fulfilling the promise he showed in the Scots First XI.

He had grown into an extremely fit young man which was to hold him in good stead for the then unknown ordeal he would face in coming years.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, James and his younger brother Walter were keen to enlist as the Toowoomba-based 2/10 Battalion was calling for recruits, but they knew that one of them was needed at home to run the property, so they tossed a coin. James won.

James enlisted on June 28, 1940, as a gunner in the 2/10th and, after completing basic training at Grovely Military Camp in Brisbane, he was later deployed to Singapore on the Queen Mary and the battalion was sent to Malacca in Malaya for further jungle training and later to Mersing on the east coast of Johor.

He continued to play cricket and rugby with the battalion before December 28, 1942, when the Japanese invaded the Malay Peninsula.

James's unit was suddenly thrust into battle against battle-hardened Japanese forces and the 2/10 along with the 2/22 fought a very strong rear guard action against well-equipped Japanese troops.

At the battle of Nithsdale Rubber Plantation, the 2/10 Battalion fought a fierce battle that pushed the Japanese back to Mersing which allowed valuable time for other British and Australian troops retreating along the west coast.

However, after further strong resistance the Australians were completely over-run by the numerically superior Japanese and were forced to surrender, but only after staging a fierce hand-to-hand conflict in the 14-day defence of Malaya and Singapore.

The heroic stand against Japanese forces is rarely mentioned in Second World War history, but Australian troops fought valiantly against the odds before higher levels of military commanded negotiated a surrender.

The remnants of the 2/10 Battalion were rounded up and were initially incarcerated in Changi prison before being shipped off to be work parties in the construction of airstrips and the notorious Burma end of the Burma-Siam railway in Thailand.

James and his mates were to suffer the horrendous conditions of Japanese imprisonment for the next two years, but James's fitness was to be an asset to him in overcoming the disease and brutality that was to follow.

After two years of hell, James was selected with 28 members of the 2/10 and other British and Australian prisoners to be sent to Japan as forced labour in their factories and war machine.

In 1944, they embarked on the Japanese hell ship "Rakayo Maru".

En route to Japan, the Americans intercepted the unmarked ship and torpedoed it, unaware that it contained POWs.

James and his mates, Kitch Loughnan and Russell Savage (another former Scots student), survived the attacked and were floating in the water waiting to be picked up by American ships when they were subjected to machine gun fire from Japanese Corvettes which arrived before the Americans, and blasts from depth charges.

  •  See the rest of the story in tomorrow's Daily News.

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