They of­fered me the last rites. I wanted a drink

BILL RYAN, 96

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OUR ANZAC LEGENDS SPECIAL TRIBUTE -

Aus­tralian Army, PNG

The Ja­panese army had dug in at Sanananda, on the coast of Pa­pua New Guinea and the al­lies, in­clud­ing Aus­tralian soldier Bill Ryan, were told to get them out.

It was a tough mis­sion. Food was scarce. The trop­i­cal hu­mid­ity was suf­fo­cat­ing. Mr Ryan’s sergeant had “gone to pieces”, so t they had no lead­er­ship.

The men knew they had to m move for­ward on their own.

They also knew that when they did, the well-hid­den Ja­panese would at­tack.

“They opened up with ev­ery­thing,” Mr Ryan re­mem­bered. “I couldn’t see any­thing, there was bush all around. But I heard gun­fire. The fire was so in­tense it was like bees buzzing around you.

“The fir­ing stopped and it was quiet. There was only the sound of dy­ing men call­ing out for their mother. It’s ter­ri­ble to hear that sort of thing. The man be­side me was dy­ing.”

With most of the men dead, Mr

Ryan didn’t know whether to go for­ward or back. “Am I a coward if I go back to see what was hap­pen­ing be­hind me?” he won­dered. He heard sol­diers; if it was the Ja­panese, he would die.

It was his mates, head­ing to the en­emy’s ma­chine gun nest.

To­gether, they forged ahead. Bul­lets rained down and the men dived. Sud­denly, Mr Ryan felt what seemed like a mas­sive kick to his lower back. It was a bul­let, which grazed but did not hit his spine.

The man be­side him, so valiantly set­ting up his Bren gun, was shot dead. “Some­one said: ‘Let’s get out of here,’ so I got up, walked a few yards, and fell to the ground,” he said.

“One of my mates came out and put me across his back.

“He car­ried me across the river un­der sniper fire.”

His mate de­liv­ered him to the reg­i­men­tal aid post, where a priest of­fered to give him last rites. “I said: ‘No thank you’. Then he asked if I wanted some sugar wa­ter. It was the best drink I ever had.”

Pic­ture: Tim Hunter

Bill Ryan.

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