Arthur “Rex” Crane, 84, posed as a World War II veteran for 22 years and achieved a national profile as Australian president of the Ex-Prisoners of War Association until he was outed by a military historian who believed his story did not add up.
During that time, Crane successfully claimed $464,409 in war pension and disability payments, which he was not entitled to receive.
He pleaded guilty in Brisbane’s District Court last month and was yesterday sentenced to four years in jail, of which he will serve six months.
The court heard Crane developed the false war story to fit in with actual veterans he was working alongside in a country pub in the 1960s. Within a few years, Crane had convinced everyone, from doctors to his own family.
Crane explained his lack of documentation by claiming he was a boy guerilla, conscripted by the British while living with his parents in Malaya in the 1940s.
He claimed he was then captured by the Japanese, tortured and sent to work on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway alongside 13,000 other Australian POWs.
But Crane’s story came undone during a speech to veterans last year when historian Lynette Silver found his story unbelievable. Within a month, the historian found documents showing Crane had been enrolled at an Adelaide school during his supposed imprisonment.
Ms Silver also found his supposedly dead brother alive and well in the US.
The historian yesterday said she was “astounded” the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to identify such a blatant fraud.
“I don’t know who (the department) asked, but I don’t think they asked anybody who was skilled in this sort of research in their investigations,” she said.
Crane previously said he needed to apply for a pension in order to keep his story going.
“It got to the stage where people push you,” Crane told Fairfax Media last year.
“They knew people in Veterans Affairs and they asked me to go in. And I could not go in there and say this is all bullshit. So I went all the way with it.”
Sentencing him yesterday, judge Marshall Irwin said: “Your conduct can only be regarded as an insult to those who fought, those who were captured, those who were tortured and those who died.”
Crane has been ordered to repay the money, although it is unlikely the sum will ever be recovered.
THE former public face of Australian prisoners of war will spend Christmas behind bars after admitting his war service claim was a lie.