The last time I saw my best mate

I still feel it, I re­ally do ...

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

DICK PAYTEN, 97 Aus­tralian Army, North Africa, Kokoda

Dick Payten hasn’t seen his best mate, Arnold Dar­ling, in 75 years. He misses him. “I still feel it, I re­ally do.”

Mr Payten and Mr Dar­ling grew up to­gether in Dubbo. They en­listed to­gether, and were sent to the Mid­dle East to­gether in 1941. “He was a good kind man — a de­cent man,” he said.

In the Mid­dle East, Mr Payten went to ar­tillery and Mr Dar­ling to in­fantry, but they met again, for the last time, in a Pa­pua New Guinea hospi­tal, where Mr Dar­ling was re­cov­er­ing from bul­let wounds. “He took a long while to heal up,” Mr Payten said. “There’s some­thing very spe­cial about the fact that I had caught up with him in the hospi­tal, as all these things hap­pened af­ter­wards.

“He went home, mar­ried a lo­cal girl who he’d been writ­ing to, and was fi­nally cleared to go back to Pa­pua New Guinea. I be­lieve he wasn’t go­ing to go back to the army at one stage but he thought: ‘OK, I would be a de­serter’, so he did. He lasted three days.”

It was Septem­ber 1943. Mr Dar­ling was at Jack­son Field in Port Moresby with D Com­pany of the 2/33rd Aus­tralian In­fantry Bat­tal­ion, wait­ing for an air­craft.

“These boys, some were asleep against 44 gal­lon drums of air force fuel,” Mr Payten re­called. “They had all their ex­plo­sives on them. An Amer­i­can bomber, it didn’t clear the run­way.”

The plane was full of bombs; the ex­plo­sion was enor­mous. Mor­tars blew, grenades ex­ploded, am­mu­ni­tion popped. Al­most the en­tire Aus­tralian com­pany was wiped out.

But Dick Payten didn’t learn that his best mate had died un­til after the war, when he went home to Dubbo with his new wife, whom he met at Cen­tral Sta­tion on the day he left for the Mid­dle East.

“Re­ally, it was just very sad for me,” he said.

In 2012, Mr Payten vis­ited Mr Dar­ling’s grave in Bo­mana and left a poem for his mate.

Pic­ture: Tim Hunter

Dick’s wed­ding day. World War II vet­eran Dick Payten, 97, with a photo of him­self when he was 20 in 1941.

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