BARRABA will honour one of its lost sons this weekend with a commemorative ceremony designed to preserve James Darlington’s name in local folklore and its military history.
It is another point in the historical quest by some in the local community to preserve their history.
Mr Darlington was a war hero but survived brutal atrocities to die in a tragic fire in 1976 with his wife after he’d escaped and endured some of the worst war could throw at him.
He was a Sandakan survivor and despite a distinguished war record and an astonishing physical ability and fighting spirit, in more ways than one, he is remembered as Gentleman Jim.
One of the key organisers of the quest to see Jim Darlington’s life preserved for the public, Rob Sweeney, says Mr Darlington was an exceptional man, known and admired by fellow prisoners of war for his toughness and defiance to the Japanese.
His brutal treatment at the hands of his enemies as a prisoner of war at Sandakan in Borneo and the events that followed bear a testament to his courage, mateship and will to survive.
Stories of his wartime exploits and the torture he endured with his mates have been the stuff of plenty of accounts and books.
The Story of Billy Young, by Anthony Hill, told of a teenager who spent time in Changi, Sandakan and Outram Rd. Billy the Kid’s story, related how Jimmy had been beaten almost senseless while trying to protect other mates in Sandakan and then subjected to another one brutal act.
Billy told of how Jimmy was forced to kneel on a platform of rubber trees cut to sharp edges, splinters digging into his flesh. A split log was forced behind his knees, another over his arms which were bound with cord, soaked in water. He was lashed and tied, trussed like a bird, and left to roast in the Borneo sun. As the cord dried, it dug great weals into him and constricted the blood flow. They thought he would die but he
In his book Stories from Sandakan, an account of the 2/18th Australian Infantry Battalion sent as prisoners of war to Borneo, by Armidale author Kevin Smith, Jimmy Darlington’s torture is also recounted, along with illustrations. He was one of the 174 imprisoned there. Only one in 10 of them survived to come home in late 1945.
Today Saturday at 3pm a special ceremony in Barraba will pay tribute to Darlington’s memory and honour. His daughter Betty Costigan from the Gold Coast and Jimmy’s granddaughter will be there to do the honours.
Darlington was born in 1914 and was part Aboriginal and had enlisted in Tamworth in 1940.
Rob Sweeney is just one local impressed by the legacy of Jimmy Darlington, the integrity of his war service and his modesty regarding his achievements. He is also dogged and determined that Barraba will be a lasting living testament to his life.
He has organised for Richard Braithwaite to come from Lismore to be a special guest at the unveiling of Jimmy Darlington’s plaque. Braithwaite is the son of one of the six Aussie survivors of the Sandakan death march. Mr Braithwaite is a keen historian and a keeper of the most sensitive of the stories.
“Jimmy Darlington was a man we need to remember,” says Sweeney.
“Everything I have ever heard of him makes me admire him. He was one of nature’s gentlemen. He was just an outstanding man through and through.
“But he could fight like a thrashing machine.”
Indeed, Darlington was a wartime boxing champion, having won the 8th Division’s heavyweight title in Singapore while on service.
Darlington will join Barraba’s roll call of military men today.
His will be the third plaque to stand sentry on one of the corners of the famous town clock centre median in Barraba’s main street.
The two plaques already there were placed last November 10, Remembrance Day, in another moving ceremony.
One acknowledges the history of the clock memorial – it has 87 names of the men from Barraba who paid the ultimate sacrifice in our two World Wars.
The second plaque is dedicated to the 58 Barraba men who served in the 33rd Battalion.
Rob Sweeney serves with a small core group of locals on the Barraba Military History Group and says the main purpose for the erection of the plaques was to “educate and preserve two significant aspects of the military history of Barraba.”
The clock memorial was built in 1924, with the £1000 it cost raised by the community and the Returned Services League.
Sweeney says that at that time it carried the names of 54 men killed in World War 1 but by the end of World War 11, another 33 names were added. The plaques also have wonderful graphics of the memorial during construction and at the official opening on Remembrance Day in 1924.
The 33rd Battalion has strong links to Barraba – it was raised in that area and 58 men from a small town enlisted. Twenty of them died and never came home, but their names are engraved here. Eighty per cent were wounded or had some sort of sickness while in the army, five were decorated for bravery, and one, Clive Crowley was awarded the Distinguished Conduct medal. Another four were presented with military medals.
Sweeney can tell many stories of the Barraba military history; a history he says we are losing, but they are determined to promote.
Stories like: only 19 original members of the 33rd fought through the whole war, he says. “One of these was a Barraba man and to make this story more remarkable he was stretcher bearer by the name of Ernie Wallace who was to stand 6.5 foot high so he would have been a big target.”
He was acknowledged in the movie Beneath Hill 60.
Many of the men who served in the 33rd still have relatives that live in Barraba today names like Hagan, Hiscock, Crowley, Hancock and Spencers.
Many of them will be there today to pay their respects to Jimmy Darlington and his family roots too.
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