The last time I saw my best mate
I still feel it, I really do ...
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.
Dick’s wedding day. World War II veteran Dick Payten, 97, with a photo of himself when he was 20 in 1941.