THREE proud Diggers stood quietly yesterday in a church where flames destroyed the 2/23rd Battalion’s treasured Colours 22 years ago.
But the memories of Rupe Sloan, Roy Bryant and Ken Kearny stretched much further back to battles 70 years ago.
They had been with “Albury’s Own”, fighting in the jungles and swamps of New Guinea and Tarakan in a relentless war against the Japanese.
The men were at St Matthew’s Church in Albury to witness the dedication of a chapel in honour of the 2/23rd.
The unit was raised in Albury in 1940, fought in Tobruk and El Alamein before the South-West Pacific, suffering 818 wounded and 319 dead among the total 5000 or so men who served in it over five years.
Only about 40 to 50 battalion members survived and only one, Bob Iskov, lives in the region, at Wangaratta.
Mr Bryant, 90, of the Barossa Valley, recalled the battle for Tarakan, an island in Borneo, in 1945.
“I was wounded and sent home,” he said.
He thought the chapel, dedicated by Archdeacon Peter MacLeod-Miller and Padre Charles Vesely, was a fitting tribute.
“I think it’s very good,” he said after laying a poppy along with Mr Sloan, 89, of Melbourne and Mr Kearney, 88, of Warrnambool.
NSW Governor Marie Bashir and the director of the Australian War Memorial Brendan Nelson each read Bible passages and laid wreaths in the chapel.
The chapel will be a perpetual memorial and includes a window depicting the original Colours destroyed in the 1991 church fire.
Also taking part in the service were mayor Alice Glachan, member for Albury Greg Aplin, 2/23rd Association president Neil Graham and RSL Albury president Graham Docksey.
Battalion survivors have dwindled considerably since 14 attended the “final” 70th anniversary reunion in 2010.
Mr Iskov, 93, didn’t attend yesterday due to ill health but did see Dr Nelson and others lay wreaths at the Albury War Memorial on Saturday.
Mr Iskov joined the 2/23rd after service with the 2/14th in Syria and on the Kokoda Track.
Association officer Helen Schiele said only four or five of the 1940 “originals” were still living, including Jim Henderson, 98, of Canberra.