National Library of Australia

Teachers notes: Raymond Stewart, POW

Reading and Viewing

A student:

  • discusses challenging themes, issues and ideas and prepares responses to explain understandings.
  • recognises that texts are constructed in particular ways which appeal to different individuals and groups.
  • uses knowledge of the structures and features of written and viewed texts to explain how they are constructed, e.g. works out themes, examines plots and sub-plots, considers images.
  • identifies features, purposes and effects in stories, films and videos and understands how this influences the meaning of other texts, e.g. how the use of an American western setting, characters and language in a poster advertising jeans help to create an instantly recognisable image for the product.
  • develops systematic ways to find and record information.

Lieutenant Ray Stewart (1914–2001), a member of the 2/28th Australian Infantry Battalion who was captured in Egypt in 1942, recorded on a roll of toilet paper his experiences as a prisoner-of-war.

Discussion

  • As keeping a diary was against camp rules, Stewart took considerable risks, writing in secret. Discuss why he took such a risk to record life as a prisoner-of-war. What was he hoping to achieve? Did he accomplish what he set out to do?
  • Who was Stuart’s intended audience? Was he writing only for himself, or was he hoping that others might one day read his diary? How can we tell? What features or structures of the diary indicate this? Use examples to support your argument.
  • Things that are omitted or unmentioned in a diary can sometimes tell us as much as the things that are written. What sort of things might we find out from what hasn’t been said?
  • Why is this such a valuable historical artefact today?

Activity

  • Discuss other ways or materials you could use to record a diary or journal in the severe environment of a prisoner-of-war camp. Create your own ‘diary’ only out of materials you might be able to find in those circumstances. Will it last as long as Stewart’s? Will we be able to read it in 50 years’ time?