Our Un­der-16 Dig­ger looks back on life very well lived

En­list­ment was a re­lief to 14-year-old from Out­back

Tweed Daily News - - LIFE BIG READ - Nikki Todd nikki.todd@tweed­dai­lynews.com.au

FOR a young teenager work­ing hard on a sheep sta­tion in out­back New South Wales, the prospect of join­ing the war seemed a wel­come re­lief.

So in May 1941, aged just 14 years and eight months, Roy Cross­ley trav­elled to Syd­ney from Bathurst and, after be­ing knocked back sev­eral times, man­aged to en­list with the Aus­tralian Army (mili­tia).

“I had to grow up in a hurry,” said Mr Cross­ley, 90, who now lives in Pottsville.

“When I was 12 my par­ents sep­a­rated but my mother could not af­ford to keep my twin brother and my­self so, as I was a big strap­ping lad, I was sent to Bathurst to work on a sheep sta­tion.

“There were no women there, the men were pretty rough and I had to fend for my­self a lot of the time.

“If there was no work I had to go rab­bit­ing, as you didn’t get fed if you didn’t work. I did learn to shoot very well, so I later made a good marks­man in the army.”

To the young Roy, the army seemed “a bit of a breeze, with three square meals a day, warm cloth­ing and the train­ing wasn’t that hard after the life I had been liv­ing”.

Orig­i­nally posted to Coastal De­fence with the 1AABDE, Roy con­sid­ers him­self ex­tremely lucky, after sick­ness saw him twice miss out on near-death ex­pe­ri­ences.

In his first post­ing, a dose of mumps saw him hos­pi­talised just be­fore his unit sailed for Rabaul. Of the 57 men who went out, only six came home, and they had to trek through the jungle to do so.

After re­cov­er­ing, Roy was sent to Port Kem­bla, where he trained as a gun-layer on anti-air­craft guns just as Ja­pan en­tered the war. Re­fused en­try to the AIF upon ap­pli­ca­tion, while on leave in Jan­uary 1942, Roy dressed in civil­ian clothes and went to Martin Place, where he joined the AIF un­der a dif­fer­ent name.

This time he was 15 years and three months old – still un­der­age.

Posted to Dubbo in the 19th Bat­tal­ion, the unit was ready to em­bark to Malaya when news came of the fall of that coun­try.

“I must have had a guardian an­gel as my unit was to have been sent to Malaya,” Roy said.

“Those troops in Malaya that sur­vived the at­tack and fall were taken POW and worked on the no­to­ri­ous Burma Rail­road.”

In­stead, his unit was sent to Port Moresby, where he joined the 53rd Bat­tal­ion in de­fend­ing Moresby’s Seven Mile Aero­drome, fight­ing against the Ja­panese who rou­tinely dropped their bombs at 11am each day.

Con­tract­ing dysen­tery some two months later, Roy was evac­u­ated home in June 1942, aged 15 and eight months. While re­cu­per­at­ing, his mother in­formed author­i­ties of his true age and, hav­ing just turned 16, he was dis­charged in Oc­to­ber 1942.

Not one to miss out on the ex­cite­ment, Roy again joined the AIF in April 1943, this time un­der his own name but again ly­ing about his true age.

He even­tu­ally served in the trenches of Bor­neo, where he sur­vived nu­mer­ous at­tacks, in­clud­ing on the oil­fields which saw the night light up like day.

He served there un­til the end of the war, re­main­ing as part of the mop­ping-up op­er­a­tion. There he cel­e­brated his 19th birth­day.

“I con­sider my­self ex­tremely lucky to have sur­vived the war as it could have had a dif­fer­ent out­come had it not been for ill­ness,” said Roy, who served an ac­cu­mu­lated 4.5 years.

After the war, he trained as a plumber, mar­ried three times and be­came a fa­ther to four chil­dren “who meant the world to me”. Today he is a grand­fa­ther of 12 and a great-grand­fa­ther of five.

It was only later in life he re­alised his men­tal suf­fer­ing, in­clud­ing re­cur­ring night­mares, was at­trib­ut­able to post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

“I didn’t know I had PTSD,” he re­called.

“But I had a quick tem­per, es­pe­cially road rage in the traf­fic. I never did any­thing to any­body but I would lose my tem­per. Af­ter­wards, I would think to my­self, ‘why did you do that?’ It wasn’t in my na­ture to do that as I was pretty easy-go­ing. It wasn’t un­til Veter­ans Af­fairs sent out a book on PTSD, when I read it, I re­alised that’s what was oc­cur­ring with me. It was the best book I ever read.”

Now, turn­ing 91 soon, Roy is happy to en­joy the quiet life at his canal es­tate home in Pottsville. He looks back on a full, happy life, which has seen him re­unite with his fel­low Un­der 16s to march in An­zac Day pa­rades since 2007.

“I was lucky I never went to Rabaul. I never got hit, I never even got hurt. I was just lucky, there must be some­one up there look­ing out for me,” he said.

❝If there was no work, you had to go rab­bit­ing.

— Roy Cross­ley


PROUD: Roy and Liz Cross­ley, daugh­ter Ni­cole and grand­daugh­ter Joanna with Syd­ney Mayor Clover Moore.


Roy Cross­ley wears his medals proudly at the An­zac Day ser­vice at Pottsville in April 2017.


A strap­ping young Roy Cross­ley first signed up for the ADF as an un­der­aged 14-year-old.


Roy Cross­ley served as a gun­ner in the Sec­ond World War in the Pa­cific.

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