More than 70 years after World War II ended, Howlong has paid tribute to those servicemen still living in the town

Troopers: Honoured (from left) Bill Page, 91, Harold Wilkes, 98, Peter Welsh, 93, Jack Hearn, 93, Doug Pressnell, 92, and Ken Cameron, 92. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

Troopers: Honoured (from left) Bill Page, 91, Harold Wilkes, 98, Peter Welsh, 93, Jack Hearn, 93, Doug Pressnell, 92, and Ken Cameron, 92. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

THREE times Bill Page nearly had his leg cut off as he was shuffled around Indian hospitals with malaria, dysentery and his leg in a sling.

He had been in the Indian Ocean with fellow sailors when his ship was hit by the Japanese in World War II. 

“We were bombarding and we copped some back and I just happened to cop it,” Mr Page said.

But the fallout is still with him today, a scan 12 months ago detected shrapnel in the right leg thrice earmarked for amputation.

“I said ‘if it’s been in there 70 years and it hasn’t rusted out it may as well stay there’,” Mr Page said.

He recalled the wounding and its sequel at an afternoon tea staged by the Howlong RSL sub-branch on Sunday to honour the town’s World War II veterans.

Mr Page joined fellow sailor Harold Wilkes, soldiers Doug Pressnell and Jack Hearn and airmen Peter Welsh and Ken Cameron at the gathering.

Former air force warrant officer Hilton Nicholas was also given a plaque and service record posthumously after dying earlier this year.

“They’re the remnants of World War II and given their age we decided we should recognise their service and respect what they did,” RSL sub-branch president David Horton said.

On Tuesday it will be 72 years since Victory in the Pacific Day, which marked the end of the war against Japan.

Mr Wilkes was one of only two teetotallers aboard his vessel which had a crew of 234 and was off the coast of Japan when hostilities ceased.

“I tried,” the former signwriter said of alcohol.

“I had a father and four brothers that loved the beer, I’ve got nothing against it – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

“But I must admit I had a glass of beer the day peace was declared off Japan.”

Former bomber pilot Ken Cameron flew missions over modern day Malaysia and Indonesia with a crash landing on the island of Labuan a standout.

“The red light came off the right wheel, that meant it was locked down and had swung to the right and the left wheel was folding up as we landed and we ended up in a bomb crater,” Mr Cameron said.

Like all but Mr Pressnell, Mr Cameron is an adopted son of Howlong, having grown up outside Wagga and spent 30 years as a real estate agent in Gippsland.

“It’s a lovely little town this one,” Mr Cameron said.

Mr Pressnell enlisted for war at the Howlong Mechanics Institute hall, the venue for the afternoon tea.

He was stopped by his boss and father from signing up a year earlier at the age of 17.

“It’s lovely to be here, it’s very peaceful and cheery,” Mr Pressnell said.

Indeed Mr Welsh burst into song, with a rendition of the hymn Jerusalem which drew loud applause.

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