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australian rowers profiles and history

Capt. James F Major

Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

James Frank Major, 10th October 1915 - 11 May 1944

James was a bank officer at the time of his enlistment on 4th July 1940 as an officer in the 2/21 Australian Infantry Battalion. He hailed from Malvern and was the son of a doctor.

During his time in the Army, he progressed through to being a Captain.

Major was one of at least four Mercantile members who died at the hands of the Japanese as POWs. He is also one of at least three club members who joined 2/21 Battalion, part of Gull Force, and died as POWs at Ambon.

Gull Force was sent to Ambon to defend the strategic island's harbour and air strip. When an overwhelmingly larger Japanese force of approximately 20.000, landed on the Island in January 1942 Gull Force numbered 1131 men, most of them Victorians. They were split into two groups: 292 were sent to defend the air strip at Laha on the western side of the magnificent bay that almost splits Ambon in half. 47 men were killed in action, 11 escaped, 5 managed to join the rest of the force on the other side of the Island, and 229 were massacred after surrendering. 

Over 800 members of Gull Force became prisoners of war and endured three years of forced labour, starvation and brutality. Only 300 of these men would survive to make it home to Australia as the conditions for the prisoners on Ambon were poor and they suffered the highest death rate of any group of Australian prisoners of war during the conflict. The Battalion website states: Of the 528 men who stayed on Ambon only 119 survived, the rest died of starvation, overwork, disease and brutality.

He became one of the 500 POWs who died at the hands of the Japanese.

Officers of 2/21 Battalion in Darwin before departure - Major is standing in the middle row sixth from the left

Andrew Guerin
March 2023

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