Christ­mases spent in ser­vice

Avon Valley Gazette - - NEWS -

TREVOR McLean ( pic­tured) walked out into the sparse Northam sur­rounds on Christ­mas Day in 1942.

It was his first Christ­mas in the army and as a plucky 18- year- old, he es­caped the hot metal 60- man quar­ters in favour of the dry coun­try­side.

Tak­ing his pri­vate .22 ri­fle, he set out for rab­bits, which ran ram­pant through the region, shoot­ing enough to bring back to the bar­racks cook to pre­pare for Christ­mas lunch, a wel­come re­prieve from reg­u­lar ra­tions.

“I didn’t have any leave so I couldn’t go home and the food was fairly ba­sic; Northam in those days had rab­bits ev­ery­where so I went out, wan­der­ing around and brought back some rab­bits. I gave them to the cook and that sup­ple­mented that Christ­mas lunch,” Mr McLean said.

It was the first of four mil­i­tary Christ­mases for Mr McLean, who had joined the army in the mid­dle of World War II in the same year the Ja­panese had bombed Dar­win and Broome.

His last Christ­mas in the Army was in 1945 af­ter the Bat­tle of Ba­lik­pa­pan in Bor­neo. Mr McLean had ar­rived some six months ear­lier on July 1, a date he re­mem­bers be­cause his 21st birth­day and first beer were just two days later.

“I re­mem­ber look­ing at the beach com­ing in and it was just trunks of trees, empty sticks stand­ing up and shrap­nel stick­ing in the sand,” Mr McLean said.

Mr McLean, who was in the 7th division, had bade farewell to his com­rades in the 9th division months ear­lier who went on to a bloody bat­tle in Tarakan and had to walk the hor­ror Death March from Sandakan to Ranau, dy­ing in their thou­sands.

“At the time we didn't know what was hap­pen­ing in Sandakan; there was none of that where we were, and I didn’t find out un­til I got back to Aus­tralia,” Mr McLean said.

The Ja­panese sur­ren­dered in Au­gust and by De­cem­ber, the south­east­ern cor­ner of Bor­neo was dec­i­mated but in peace.

Mr McLean spent Christ­mas pack­ing the Al­lied equip­ment and helping vil­lagers where he could.

“I didn’t know what I was do­ing but if any of the vil­lagers came to me with an in­jury I’d try fix it up, and it kept them happy,” Mr McLean said. “I did that un­til I had no med­i­cal sup­plies left.”

The now- River­ton RSL war­den left the Army in July 1946, mar­ry­ing and hav­ing three chil­dren.

For the past 70 years, Christ­mas has been about family.

“Since my wife died es­pe­cially, Christ­mas has been about family, and I am close to all of my chil­dren,” Mr McLean said.

“We will have lunch and spend time to­gether, be­cause that is what this time of year is about and it's what hap­pi­ness is.”

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