Jock’s secret war details out

ONE million service records of service men, women and civilians who were taken captive during the Second World War have been released, including those of Bundaberg's "Jock" McLaren.

Robert Kerr "Jock" McLaren MC & Bar (April 27, 1902 - March 3, 1956) was a decorated Australian Army officer, who rose from enlisted rank and was noted for his involvement in guerrilla operations against the Japanese during the Second World War.

The records of 20,000 Australians have been released by Findmypast, in association with The National Archives, to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Changi Prison camp.

The records cover the period 1939-1945 and contain the names, ranks and locations of Prisoners of War, along with the length of time spent in camps, the number of survivors, details of escapees and the nationalities of prisoners.

During the First World War, Jock served in the British Army with the 51st Highland Division.

After the war he moved to Queensland, where he served as a veterinary officer in Bundaberg.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1941 he volunteered for overseas service and opted to transfer to the Australian Imperial Force.

He was assigned to the 2/10th Australian Field Workshops with the 8th Australian Division in British Malaya when Singapore fell to the Japanese army. At this time, he was 39 years old.

Jock could not endure imprisonment and immediately organised an escape party.

Escaping from the POW camp with two comrades, they almost made it to Kuala Lumpur, often with the aid of Malayan Chinese and Chinese communist guerrillas, before they were betrayed to the Japanese by Malays.

Imprisoned once again, McLaren sought to escape from the Singapore prison camps.

He managed to add himself to a contingent of prisoners being sent to Borneo to a labour camp.

Once he arrived at Berhala Island, he stole a boat from a nearby leper colony set off to the Philippines with some fellow prisoners to join up with other Australians who were fighting as guerrillas.

On their arrival, they soon made contact with Filipino guerrillas, who assisted McLaren and six others to make contact, in June 1943, with the guerrilla organisation on Mindanao.

Their escape from Berhala Island saved their lives as they then missed the early 1945 Sandakan Death Marches.

Eventually, McLaren and his comrades arrived on Mindanao where they made contact with American and Filipino guerrillas under the overall command of Lt. Col. Wendell Fertig.

Their hopes of returning to Australia to join formal army units were curtailed due to the need for experienced leaders for the guerrilla forces and lack of transportation. McLaren decided to stay behind as transfer to a formal unit would not only inhibit his actions and desire for revenge as his age would preclude participation in combat.

Except for a short leave in Australia toward the end of the war, he spent most of the war years serving as a coastwatcher and guerrilla leader.

During the course of his service, McLaren was decorated with the Military Cross twice for his heroic actions, as well as being Mentioned in Despatches.

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