Site to hon­our sac­ri­fices of war

Hills Gazette (Kalamunda) - - NEWS - Jes­sica Nico

WHEN John Gil­mour and five of his mates signed up for World War II, they thought it would be a bit of a lark.

En­list­ing in Oc­to­ber 1940, Mr Gil­mour be­came part of WA’s 2/4th Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion, train­ing lo­cally and in Dar­win be­fore sail­ing north, where he would be in­volved in 1942’s Bat­tle of Sin­ga­pore.

Far from a lark, the bat­tle was over a week af­ter it had started, claim­ing the lives of more than 100 men in the 2/4th.

The Ja­panese cap­tured him and other sur­vivors, hold­ing them as pris­on­ers of war for the next three-and-a-half years.

De­spite the atroc­i­ties the men faced as POWs, Mr Gil­mour said they never stopped do­ing lit­tle things to help de­feat the enemy.

“I was in Ja­pan. I got taken to an is­land where there was coal and I had to work in the coal mine. I worked in a steel fac­tory and a graphite fac­tory, but my good job was un­load­ing goods that came into Ja­pan,” he said.

“They used to bring all their loot and it used to be un­loaded off barges – sugar, rub­ber, cloth­ing, fur­ni­ture – and we used to have to un­load it.

“But we used to en­joy dam­ag­ing it. We’d wack big hooks into pi­anos ‘ac­ci­den­tally’ and the items would be loaded on to slings and ‘ac­ci­den­tally’ fall out so you'd see them float­ing down the har­bour.”

Mr Gil­mour said once they be­came aware the war had ended, it still took more than a week for them to fi­nally be free.

“We were marched to work and when we were un­load­ing a ware­house we were all called to the main of­fice,” he said.

“Some of the Ja­panese men were cry­ing. They marched us back to the camp and on the way back we were told it was all over.

“It took the Amer­i­cans about a week to find us and they dropped leaflets from planes say­ing ‘sorry it took us so long’.”

Only half of the 2/4th Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion re­turned at the end of the war.

To­day, Mr Gil­mour, Gos­nells’ Richard ‘Dick’ Ridg­well and Roy Matthews are all who sur­vive.

Mem­bers of the 2/4th Ex-Mem­bers As­so­ci­a­tion have en­sured the mem­o­ries, pho­tos and sto­ries of th­ese men will never be for­got­ten with a new web­site.

As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers Ch­eryl Mel­lor, whose fa­ther Noel “Cow­boy” Matthews was one of the few who made it home, and Jan Ste­wart said as the years passed, the need to re­mem­ber the men who sac­ri­ficed so much be­came stronger.

“The story of th­ese men shaped our child­hood; (on) An­zac Day, ev­ery an­niver­sary of the fall of Sin­ga­pore, ev­ery an­niver­sary of the end of the war, we would go to a com­mu­nity event,” Ms Ste­wart said.

“It was like the men who didn’t come back were part of our story as well and we needed to cap­ture that for our chil­dren and ul­ti­mately our grand­chil­dren.

“The best way to do that is through a web­site. A rock with names on it is not go­ing to do it, it’s not go­ing to tell the whole story or have the pic­tures of the men and the ca­pac­ity to keep adding.

The 2/4th Ex-Mem­bers As­so­ci­a­tion is look­ing to fill in the sto­ries of more men who fought as part of the bat­tal­ion. Visit www.2nd4thmgb.com.au for de­tails.

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