Tag Archives: Darwin bombing

#88 Pay Tribute to a Special ANZAC

The words of Clive James’ moving poem to his father—My Father Before Me—woke me this morning. As the radio tribute’s final words were spoken, “My life is yours; my curse to be so blessed’, I thought of my own father on this Anzac Day.

#88 Pay Tribute to a Special ANZAC

My dad— Jack— fought in the 2nd AIF 31/51 Battalion, from 1942 to 1945, serving in Australia, on Bougainville Island and Papua New Guinea, and in the Solomon Islands.

He was stationed in Darwin on February 19th, 1942, the day it was bombed, managing to take a photo or two:

and, to compound his bad luck, was on duty in Cowra on 5 August 1944 when over 1100 Japanese prisoners-of-war attempted to escape.

That day is described as ‘the largest prison escape of World War II as well as one of the bloodiest’. It was only when he was dying that my sister and I learned it was an event that had stayed with him forever.

Jack lived till he was 89 years old, but he never celebrated Anzac Day. In fact, he positively disliked it, so my sister and I have a rather different view of it to the rest of Australia.

Certainly, in the ’50s and ’60s it wasn’t an event on the scale it is now. We realised early on that there are some old soldiers who don’t want to be reminded of what they endured.

He wrote to my mother from Cowra, the month before the outbreak, speaking of movements in the camp: “Most of my friends are gone, or else going within the next few days. Gosh … you have no idea how attached we can become to each other, it hurts saying goodbye knowing that we will probably never meet again. That is the only redeeming feature of the army – its remarkable, firm comradeship among men who have been in it for a fair while. They will do anything for each other.”

In a letter he sent to his father-in-law dated 6 September 1945, which we found after he died, he wrote: “Much has happened in the past few weeks, the war is over and we have been told we are the victors. Perhaps we are, I don’t know.  Personally, when millions of men are killed, cities of culture razed to the ground and nations ruined economically, I don’t consider anyone to be the victors. Still, if peace can be maintained for the next century or so, this war will have achieved something.”

Unlike Clive James’ father, Dad was fortunate enough to return home safely, where he settled down and worked hard for his family in his own small business all his life.

A good man, a fun uncle and the best dad.  I like to think he may have appreciated today’s understated Anzac Day.

They say, Lest We Forget.

As if we ever would.