Francis James Flower

TWENTY-FIVE WORDS is based on a story written by Janet Mathewson from the Deniliquin Creative Writers Group. It was narrated by Sivonne Binks and produced by The Shack Studios, Deniliquin.

The story was inspired by the experiences of Francis James Flower from Moama during WW2.

The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.

By Janet Mathewson

Twenty-five words.

Only twenty-five words.

That small number of words was all that I was allowed to write once a month to my beloved son Jimmy, who was officially listed as “Missing in Action” in the fierce fighting in the jungles of Malaya.

I always made sure that I wrote his full name and rank when I addressed the envelope each month. I very carefully wrote “Francis James Flower” in case it helped to find him, but I never heard back from anyone at all to let me know if my letters were being delivered to him.

It took me a long time to write those twenty-five words as I wrote slowly so I could think of the most comforting words to write to inform him about what is happening at home, and that we missed him very much and prayed for his safe return.

My son James, whom we call “Jimmy”, left Moama to join the army when the threat of Japan’s army and navy were coming closer to Australia’s shores. After training in Melbourne, he was sent off to fight the Japanese in Malaya.

It was so terribly hard for our family when we were informed that Singapore had fallen early and Jimmy was listed as Missing in Action. The Red Cross informed our family that he was most probably in a prisoner-of-war camp, but they could not be certain as communications were very patchy and in some places non-existent in that part of the world. We were so worried; we didn’t know what had happened to Jimmy, whether he was alive or dead. Simply that he was “Missing”. That single word haunts me still.

The most upsetting thing for me is the fact that every single month for nearly five years I wrote a twenty-five-word letter to Jimmy and sent it to the Red Cross to be forwarded to him, and wasn’t told whether they were being delivered or not. I could only keep on writing and pray that they reached him, and he was comforted by those very few words each month.

Sometimes I even sent parcels from home for him, containing cigarettes and socks, but I never got any communication back from anyone, not the Red Cross or the Army, to tell me whether he had received it or not.

Sadly, there were a lot of women whose husbands and sons and brothers were listed as Missing during the war and I joined a support group for mothers and wives. We communicated by letter and shared our feelings as we were all in the same sad situation; we had a loved one missing, not knowing what had happened to them. We were scattered all across the far reaches of Australia, and the letters offered us some small comfort.

At the end of 1945 our family heard through the grapevine that a train was bringing home men from prisoner-of-war camps and was stopping at Albury. We were excited and filled with so much hope that our Jimmy would be among those returning. We drove all the way from Moama to Albury to meet the train when it stopped at the station there.

We walked up and down the station platform many times and peered closely at every man who got off that train, but there was no sign of our Jimmy. We finally managed to track down some men from his unit who then told us that he had been killed in Malaya before the fall of Singapore, several years before.

I could not speak as there were no words which could say what my heart could only feel. Not only had I hoped that my son would be safe, but I had written a letter to him every single month for five long years, not knowing that it had never been delivered. Finding out from strangers at a train station many years later that my son was dead was the saddest, most devastating day of my life.

Why had I never been told that the letters hadn’t reached my son? Surely someone in authority in the army or in the Red Cross movement knew that my son was dead even amongst all the chaos and confusion, and that the letters weren’t being delivered.

It was four long years after his death, that we received official advice that Jimmy had been killed in action in Malaya.

Jimmy’s name has been honoured on the War Memorial in Canberra, and also on a plaque at Monument Hill in Albury, but we still do not know where his final resting place is, so we could visit and let him know of our love for him.

He is among the thousands of nameless brave young men who are lost to the world and lying in unknown and unmarked graves?