I went to visit George one afternoon. He is 95 years old now. But he was a young man when he enlisted in 1941 and was sent to Papua New Guinea to fight the war in the Pacific. He was a Group 1, Specialist Wireless Operator.
“You know, the one who knew all the dots and dashes,” he explains good-naturedly after I ask what that was.
“I was the liaison between the air force and ground force. I had to give the order for the guns to open up and fire.”
He was in the battle of Milne Bay. I didn’t know what that was either. I had to ask him to spell it.
“It was a horrific battle,” he says quietly.
“Terrible thing, wars. I didn’t want to kill anyone. But there is nothing you can do when you’re forced to defend yourself.”
After I go home I google Milne Bay to find out what happened there all those years ago. It tells me it was a major battle in the Pacific during WW2. A battle in which the Allied troops defeated the Japanese army, forcing them to withdraw completely and abandon their strategic objective.
The victory had a profound impact on Allied forces fighting in the Pacific. Morale boosted and Milne Bay became a major Allied base that was used for subsequent operations in the region.
George was 19 years old when he enlisted. Far from home. Fighting terrible battles for King and Country. He tells me he spent his 21st birthday on the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea.
The internet tells me the range is wild and difficult country with a few passes. The Kokoda track that crosses the range between Port Moresby and Buna is the most well known to Australians. It is a narrow thoroughfare that runs 96 kilometres through the range and the location of other battles between Japanese and Allied — mainly Australian — forces.
“Then we heard of the atomic bomb that dropped on Hiroshima. Then another in Nagasaki. The war ended after that and I came home in 1945.”
If George had any ill will towards the Japanese he has long since forgiven them and moved on.
“It takes a long time to get past the horrors of war. But I couldn’t hate them. The Japanese people I’ve known after the war have been wonderful,” he says.
“You need to get rid of things in your mind that are negative, that trouble you. You’ve got to have some hopes, ideals and dreams. Things that keep you living. There is too much fun to be had. My body may be old, but I still feel young inside.”
George went into publishing after the war. He worked as a printer for the The Land newspaper until he retired in 1983.
He met his wife working for that publication. She was the Private Secretary there.
“There’s only been one woman for me,” George smiles. “Some boys have a roving eye, but I would never hurt her like that. We’ve been married 66 years.”
It was a box of chocolates that tipped him head long into love.
“I had bought some expensive chocolates to give Barbara at our first date. I put them in the fridge the night before, so it would be cold and fresh when she got them,” he remembers.
“I expected her to take it home when I gave it to her. But she didn’t. She opened it and offered me one. Well, that was it for me. I remember thinking she was the girl for me.”
They later married and had two beautiful daughters, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
“We have had the greatest time. I never thought she’d say yes, but she did! And she still has the sweetest smile.”