Bastard Behind the Lines

The extraordinary story of Jock McLaren's escape from Sandakan and his guerrilla war against the Japanese

Tom Gilling

RRP: £14.99

4 November 2021

Published by Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760875879

‘The way I look at it is this…When you’re behind the line and get yourself into trouble, you’ve got to get your bloody self out irrespective of anybody else. That’s why I like it.’

Scottish-born but a Queenslander to the bone, Jock McLaren was a true Australian hero. As a prisoner he escaped twice, first from Changi and later from the infamous Sandakan POW camp in Borneo. After paddling a dugout canoe across open sea, he fought for two years with American-led Filipino guerrillas, his exploits so audacious the Japanese put a price on his head.

At the helm of his 26-foot whaleboat, the Bastard, McLaren sailed brazenly into enemy-held harbours, wreaking havoc with his mortar and machine guns before heading back out to sea. In early 1945 he joined Australia’s secretive Z Special Unit, parachuting into Borneo to carry out reconnaissance and organise anti-Japanese resistance ahead of Allied landings. He cheated death on numerous occasions and saved his own life by removing his appendix without anaesthetic, using ‘two large dessert spoons’ and a razor blade.

Drawing on Allied and Japanese wartime documents, Bastard Behind the Lines brings the story of a courageous digger vividly to life and throws light on a rarely explored aspect of Australia’s Pacific war.