In December 1945 I was discharged early from the Army on a Compassionate Discharge as I had lost both brothers during the war. At a final medical examination at Watsonia Camp, the Doctor counted my legs and arms – I had two of each! – so I was discharged as being fit to face civilian life!
In fact, I had been lucky to emerge from the war with no malaria or dengue fever, which were both rife. My only health concern had been a boil on the back of my neck, which a native straddled with two pieces of string and, twisting to lasoo it, plucked it clean out.
However, I should note that on a recent cruise to Milne Bay a native tour guide described the conditions of 1942 as being ‘the place of hell’. It reminded me of a brief stint I had there when a mobile dental unit caught up with me! During two consecutive days, I suffered gruelling drillings of four molar teeth on each day with no anesthetic needles and driven by foot pedal power. Occasionally the dentist had to stop when the drill jammed and he had to crank it up again. It was indeed a ‘place of hell’! Apart from that experience, I came home missing about eight teeth, finishing up with one in each corner of my mouth. Remarkably, I passed as dentally fit as well!
For my war service I received the 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal and War Medal 1939-45.
My role with the Coastwatchers was acknowledged in the following letter.
(Mind you, I dunno about the ‘valuable technical knowledge’ bit! See my comments on this in A Day in the Life of a Coastwatcher.)
Three years later I met my future wife Beryl.
Beryl was a veteran of the Womens Australian Auxiliary Air Force (‘WAAAF’). After a difficult childhood following a parental break-up, Beryl left school early to go to work and help bring up her younger sisters. Beryl and her older sister joined the WAAAF in 1943. Beryl then served for 3 years.
About this period, Beryl declared ‘It was the best thing I have done in my life’. Her war service was a ‘great leveller’, teaching her that all people are equal, after she had been selected to undertake a course on the newly developed radar but knocked it back due to her lack of self-esteem at the time.
For her service during World War II, Beryl was awarded the Australian Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-45.
Beryl and I tied the knot on 24 February 1951.
Subsequently we had four lovely children: Bob and Tom (named after my two brothers lost during the war), Janeen and Catherine, and our two girls have since given us four wonderful grandchildren: Stephen, Megan, Michael and Quinn.
After the war I had resumed work at the Chartered Accountants office and took on correspondence training with Hemingway and Robertson to attain the required qualifications. In 1949 I became a Chartered Accountant, a Chartered Secretary and a Licenced Companies Auditor.
I then decided to leave the accountancy field and join A.V. Jennings Industries (the largest house-building company in Australia) as assistant to the Company Secretary. I worked at Jennings for 31 years (except for one day off on sick leave), progressively becoming Company Secretary, Finance Director and Executive Director of the Jennings Mining group.
In this latter role, we identified and built a mineral sands operation in Western Australia. We also found a pink diamond prospect at Kalamburu which, unfortunately, the Managing Director sold off to a competitor for $1million. It was soon valued at $300 million and Argyle then became the largest diamond mine in the world. It proved to be the biggest disappointment in my business life: I would have been known as ‘Diamond Jim’!
After leaving Jennings I undertook Business Management consultancy for 20 years during which time I undertook the work of assisting ailing companies, the usual first step of which was to sack and replace the CEO!
I also undertook much volunteer work, particularly with The Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, Victoria Branch, which had operated in Victoria since 1904. I became State Treasurer in 1976 and served 23 years in this or the State Secretary role. Given my business experience, I was able to increase the budget of the state organisation from $33,000 turnover in 1976 to over $1,000,000 by the early 1980s (and currently $7,000,000) and to finance the building of the organisation’s first owned and purpose-built state headquarters in 1980. I was appointed the Victorian representative on the Australian Board of Governors for many years. Separately from that, I qualified as a lifesaver and gained all awards issued by the RLSSA including the Bronze Medallion but also the coveted Diploma with Honours, which has been awarded only twice in Victoria since 1904.
For my service to the RLSSA, I was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 1990.
My other significant volunteer involvements have been with the Box Hill RSL Bowls Club and the Residents of Retirement Villages Victoria Inc., each of which, along with the RLSSA, awarded me Life Membership.
In 1995, the Australian War Memorial commemorated the 50th anniversary of the disbandment of M Special Unit with a ceremony to dedicate this plaque.
Now both at the age of 93, Beryl and I have been living quietly in a retirement village for the last 17 years, except when we are cruising on holidays. We have taken 37 voyages to various parts of the world so far and have another one booked to celebrate our 66th wedding anniversary.
It was during these cruises that, in the late 1990s, I finally found time to resume my childhood hobby of painting. Several of these paintings are reproduced on this page.
One other unusual highlight of my life that feels worth mentioning is that I remember an occasion when Beryl and I had the pleasure of meeting, shaking hands with and having a chat to the wonderful Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, visiting Melbourne at the time.
More recently, on 17 July 2017 I also had the great pleasure of meeting Betty Lee, grandniece of Commander Eric Feldt, founder of the Coastwatchers. I have since enjoyed many conversations with Betty as we pursue our joint interest in raising awareness of the exploits and achievements of the Coastwatchers during World War II.
I am a member of the local Returned and Services League (RSL) club as well as the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia and the Australian Commando Association, now run by a fine new generation of younger Commandos!
I still take up opportunities to write articles about the Coastwatchers and make presentations to interested associations. In recent years I have spoken at such diverse occasions as the ANZAC Day dawn service in Rabaul in 2012 to mark the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, to RSL audiences, ham radio operators and even on a cruise ship to Rabaul. I enjoy sharing the story of the Coastwatchers.