99 rea­sons to cel­e­brate

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Jessie Tol­son

MOSS­MAN man John ‘‘Cop’’ Henry is ap­proach­ing a very spe­cial birth­day, turn­ing 99 years young to­mor­row.

John was sur­prised at a lun­cheon at the Moss­man Bowls Club on Tues­day with friends and fam­ily help­ing cel­e­brate the last birth­day be­fore he cracks the cen­tury.

Born in Moss­man on May 31, 1914, John at­tended Moss­man State School from 1919 and re­ceived the nick­name Cop in 1927, from play­ing ‘‘race­horses’’, where he and other stu­dents would race around the school.

He spent his days be­ing a typ­i­cal teenager, hang­ing out with friends fish­ing, swim­ming, rid­ing his bike, go­ing to pic­nics at Moss­man Gorge and play­ing golf.

He joined the Drum­sara Golf Course when he was 17 years old for around $3 an­nual mem­ber­ship.

Cop left school to help his fa­ther on the farm cut­ting cane and saved his money to travel, hav­ing caught the travel bug af­ter his fa­ther took the fam­ily on a trip to Eng­land in 1930.

But with ru­mours of war, Cop in­stead bought him­self a sports car he would drive around town and re­mem­bers petrol cost­ing only 5c a litre.

Dur­ing World War 2, when many of the young men were away fight­ing for Aus­tralia, Cop joined the Army and was sta­tioned in Ku­randa and said he tried to get leave and get back down to Moss­man to help his fa­ther on the farm, to no avail.

He was sent to Bougainville Is­land in the Pa­cific to help in the ef­forts to push back the Ja­panese, be­fore even­tu­ally be­ing given three months leave to rush home and help out his fa­ther with the har­vest.

Af­ter his brief trip home, the Aus­tralians were sent into the is­land to re­lieve the Amer­i­can soldiers and Cop be­came the first man in his com­pany to make a kill.

He re­mem­bers the first patrol af­ter tak­ing over from ‘‘the Yanks’’, with 60 men split up into groups of three.

The com­pany had been out walk­ing and pa­trolling through the rain­for­est, and at one point were sit­ting, keep­ing quiet and us­ing hand signals to com­mu­ni­cate.

‘‘I re­mem­ber look­ing up and see­ing this large yel­low leaf that had three holes in it,’’ cop said.

‘‘When I looked back mere min­utes later it was gone and I just thought, well be­ing a leaf it must have blown away, but when I looked again it was back.

‘‘I re­alised it must have been a sniper be­cause one minute it was there and the next it was gone and this kept hap­pen­ing.

‘‘Next thing I know, the rest of the patrol had al­ready up and left, and as me and one other guy were look­ing out for one an­other and with the con­fu­sion over this leaf we hadn’t no­ticed they had moved on.

‘‘Well we got up and ran and on the way back ran into three of the patrol unit that had been sent back to find us.

‘‘I told the story of the leaf to the of­fi­cers once we got back to camp and the next morn­ing they told me to take them to the place I had been sit­ting and point out this tree.

‘‘A few of us went out and I pointed out the large yel­low leaf that was there once again, the con­firmed that yes there was a Ja­panese sniper in the tree and told me to take a shot and if I missed they had the guns loaded and ready to fire.

‘‘I shot him right out of the tree and my .303 bul­let tore right through his shoul­der.’’

Af­ter be­ing sta­tioned up in the hills for a long time the com­pany were sent down to the coast for a spell and they were told not to swim in the wa­ter or they might get a con­di­tion called Coral Ear.

Cop thought Coral Ear sounded bet­ter than go­ing back to the ac­tion of the war so he and a mate jumped straight into the ocean and sure enough, he earned him­self a case of coral ear.

His plan back­fired when he re­turned and was placed in hos­pi­tal to re­cover, and the war then ended.

Cop mar­ried his first wife Alkeda in 1946 and to­gether they had two chil­dren, John and Mar­garet.

In 1958 Cop leased the Royal Ho­tel where he stayed for 10 years, fol­lowed by four years at the Post Of­fice Ho­tel.

He has seen the Royal Ho­tel burn down twice, and re­mem­bers hear­ing it was on fire in 1929 and rid­ing his bike the two miles to watch it fall.

Cop has trav­elled the world many times, and once even missed his cruise ship in 1970 as it left Copen­hagen, hav­ing to catch a smaller boat out and climb the side of the ship where once he reached the deck was told to pro­duce his ticket im­me­di­ately or be locked away un­til the next port.

Cop and his sec­ond wife Joy lived on the Sun­shine Coast for many years un­til Joy passed away a few years ago and Cop’s son John asked him to move back to his for­mer town, so that he could look af­ter his dad.

‘‘John gives me the VIP treat­ment, and If I’m still around, I look for­ward to re­ceiv­ing my fan mail from the Buck­ing­ham Palace this time next year,’’ he said.

Pic­ture: JESSIE TOL­SON

STILL GO­ING STRONG: John ’Cop’ Henry

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