Betrayal and the Shocking Lies of Rex Crane

“From Hero to Zero” ran the headline, a nice one to describe the fall from grace last week of the Federal President of the Prisoners of War Association of Australia, Rex Crane.

Crane took us all for a ride. Now 83, he claimed he was Australia’s youngest POW. Abandoned in Malaya by his family at age 15, he said the Japanese tortured him at Outram Road Jail in Singapore and on the Thai-Burma railway.

But thanks to the due diligence of three women, one a professional historian, the more pedestrian truth about the events of Crane’s life during World War II are now known. He spent it at Adelaide High School, after which he held a number of jobs, including running a pub. He was never in the military.

Friends and families-including a step granddaughter who cried with him as he told her stories of his wartime suffering-have responded to Crane’s public undoing with shock, astonishment and bewilderment. This has been followed by embarrassment, horror and mortification. Anger will almost certainly come later. Those more distant to the Crane, including war historians and returned servicemen, have used words like galled, disgusted and appalled. The Australian Federal Police are now pursuing Crane-who has received the top pension award, a $25,000 bonus payment and a Commonwealth Gold Card covering all medical expenses-for fraud.

Crane’s story is one of betrayal. “No Judas, no story,” says writer and broadcaster Libbi Gorr, and surely she is right. Betrayers occupied the innermost ring of Dante’s inferno and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is preoccupied with the theme. Since the dawn of the Christian era, betrayal has been central to the seminal and everyday stories that shape and describe our lives.

Odd then, that we find it so hard to define both act and emotion with depth and precision. Disloyalty and treachery is the best the dictionary can come up, while philosophers do little better. As Rodger L. Jackson has noted, few treatments of the subject capture the elements of character, circumstance and motive that give betrayal its flavour, and determine the cost to victims.

Betrayal is an assault on trust. Rex Crane’s lies about his wartime activities betrayed the most fundamental trust we offer those we love, live with, befriend and admire-what we must offer if such a thing as a relationship is to exist. An automatic, unquestioning faith that people are who they claim to be. While publicly disowning him, as his step granddaughter has done, may alleviate the guilt and shame society unfairly heaps on those associated with wrongdoers by blood or marriage, those closest to Crane may require professional support. How else to ensure the anger they must feel is directed out towards him, rather than in on themselves, eroding confidence in their character judgment or morphing into depression.

Society must walk a similarly fine line. Veteran’s affairs Minister Alan Griffin has rightly referred the case to the Australian Federal police, and avoided buying into the claims being made by self-appointed guardians of military authenticity that public and ex-servicemen are regularly being ripped off by military “imposters” like Crane.

We must not allow betrayal to undermine our trust in what Rodger calls “the world’s possibilities,” or increase our distrust or skepticism. Because the truth is that most people are worthy of our trust. They won’t let us down. And it is we who’d be the fools if we let men like Crane make us see the world any other way.

Publication history

Betrayal and the Shocking Lies of Rex Crane  The Sun-Herald (Sydney)