99 reasons to celebrate
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.
STILL GOING STRONG: John ’Cop’ Henry