A ‘bit of a lark’ turned into years of suf­fer­ing

Melville Times - - Front Page - Jes­sica Nico

WHEN Leem­ing res­i­dent 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 own 2/4th Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion, train­ing lo­cally and in Dar­win be­fore sail­ing north, where he would be in­volved in the 1942 Bat­tle of Sin­ga­pore.

Far from a lark, the bat­tle lasted over a week, claim­ing the lives of more than 100 men in the 2/4th. The Ja­panese cap­tured Mr Gil­mour and other sur­vivors, hold­ing them as pris­on­ers of war for the next three­and-a-half years.

De­spite the atroc­i­ties the men faced as POWs, Mr Gil­mour said they never stopped do­ing the 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,” he said.

“I worked in a steel fac­tory and a graphite fac­tory but my good job was un­load­ing goods that came into Ja­pan.

“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 World War II.

To­day, only John Gil­mour, Richard ‘Dick’ Ridg­well and Roy Matthews sur­vive.

Mem­bers of the 2/4th ExMem­bers As­so­ci­a­tion have en­sured the mem­o­ries, photos and sto­ries of these men will never be for­got­ten.

As­so­ci­a­tion mem­ber 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. 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 kind of 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 so they know the sto­ries as well.

“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.

“It’s as much a story of the com­rade­ship and how they looked af­ter each other their whole lives.”

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 more in­for­ma­tion.

Pic­ture: Matt Jelonek www.com­mu­ni­typix.com.au d467608

John Gil­mour, Cheryl Mel­lor and Jan Ste­wart.

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