Wheat­belt re­mem­bers war hero

Countryman - - COUNTRY LIFE - Jo Ful­wood

From the wide-open spa­ces of West­ern Aus­tralia’s eastern wheat­belt, to the bat­tle­fields of Syria, Egypt and New Guinea, for­mer Ko­orda res­i­dent Paddy Al­ford saw it all.

Less than a week away from Re­mem­brance Day, Mr Al­ford, one of the last re­main­ing World War II vet­er­ans liv­ing in WA’s Wheat­belt, passed away peace­fully last Mon­day, aged 97, clos­ing a chap­ter on one of the blood­i­est pe­ri­ods in the Wheat­belt’s his­tory.

Dur­ing World War II, it is es­ti­mated thou­sands of men and women from the Wheat­belt were killed in ac­tion, leav­ing fam­i­lies bereft and farm and agri­cul­tural busi­nesses lan­guish­ing.

For some fam­i­lies it would be decades be­fore they were back on their feet, both emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially, hav­ing to forcibly find ways to fill the gaps left by sons and daugh­ters who never came home.

Against all odds, af­ter sur­viv­ing a grenade at­tack, scrub ty­phus and dengue fever, Mr Al­ford was one of the lucky ones who made the Wheat­belt home, liv­ing out his days in his beloved home­town of Ko­orda.

Coun­try­man in­ter­viewed Mr Al­ford at his Ko­orda home in 2013 when, at the age of 93, he talked openly about his time serv­ing on the front line at the now in­fa­mous bat­tle of El Alamein, which is widely recorded as be­ing one of the first ma­jor vic­to­ries of the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth forces against the Ger­mans.

Dur­ing that con­ver­sa­tion, Mr Al­ford was able to re­call dates, times and places, re­mem­ber­ing clearly the names of the two mates, Chris and Wally, stand­ing be­side him when he was hit by a Red Devil grenade in Egypt.

He re­mem­bered only 12 of the 140 sol­diers there that day sur­vived to tell the story.

Born in De­cem­ber 1920, Mr Al­ford was only 20 years old when he left Aus­tralian shores on the RMS Queen El­iz­a­beth in June 1941, bound for Pales­tine.

Af­ter a pun­ish­ing train­ing sched­ule in the Pales­tinian desert, his Pla­toon 8 moved to Syria, then again onto a desert lo­ca­tion near Alexan­dria in Egypt.

This was where the group first saw ac­tion.

“I was walk­ing along when the Red Devil went off,” he re­called back in 2013.

“It went right through my boot and into the joint of my big toe. It must have been strong be­cause my boots were two inches thick.”

It would be a month be­fore he could walk again, and the next time he saw ac­tion was at the Bat­tle of El Alamein.

Mr Al­ford likened the ma­jor of­fen­sive of that bat­tle to Guy Fawkes Day.

“On that night, the 23rd Oc­to­ber, we sent all these 25-pound shells off at once. The sky lit up,” he said.

“The Ger­mans were giv­ing us a bit of curry.

“There was stuff fly­ing around every­where, but it all missed me.”

Af­ter the bat­tle of El Alamein, he re­trained in north­ern Queens­land and was posted to New Guinea, but in his own words he “missed a lot of ac­tion” be­cause of the dreaded dengue fever.

“It was on Christ­mas Day and we were on Sat­tel­berg Hill ... watch­ing all the boats head in for an at­tack ... and I knew some­thing was wrong with me. I had dengue fever by that time,” he said.

Mr Al­ford re­turned to WA at the end of the war and worked in rel­a­tive anonymity in a whole range of dif­fer­ent agri­cul­tural jobs — as a black­smith, a truck driver, a farm­hand and a sheep dip­per — in towns across the State.

But it was his home­town of Ko­orda that cap­tured his heart.

“It’s my home. It’s where my par­ents were,” he said in 2013.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to long-time friend Terry Pat­ter­son, Mr Al­ford lived out his days in the house right next to where his par­ents used to live many years be­fore.

“Paddy’s par­ents owned a block of farm land on the out­skirts of Ko­orda, where the old drivein cinema is now,” Mr Pat­ter­son said.

“His heart was al­ways in Ko­orda, and the com­mu­nity there loved him and thought of him as a fa­ther.”

Henry Pa­trick “Paddy” Al­ford mar­ried Elise (known as Taffy) in 1956, and while Taffy had three chil­dren from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage, Paddy and Taffy had no chil­dren. Taffy passed away in 2005.

Mr Pat­ter­son, whose own mother served dur­ing World War II, said Mr Al­ford rep­re­sented the many young men and women who bravely went away and never re­turned.

“Paddy was Ko­orda’s last re­main­ing vet­eran, and last Mon­day the world lost a great Aus­tralian,” he said.

“De­spite his ad­vanc­ing years and his in­creas­ing fragility, Paddy would al­ways go to the lo­cal An­zac cer­e­mony, re­mem­ber­ing those mates that didn’t make it home.”

Pic­ture: Brian McCa­hon

Henry Pa­trick ‘Paddy’ Al­ford passed away peace­fully at the age of 97. He was one of the last re­main­ing World War II vet­er­ans from the Wheat­belt.

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