“PUSH the crook memories aside and focus on the good ones.”
That was the motto of World War II veteran Stewart Walkley as he remembered his fallen mates on Anzac Day.
“There’s nothing to be gained from dwelling on the rough stuff,” he said.
“Enjoy what good memories you have and get on with it.”
Stewart, 95, is like many veterans; not sure what to tell you when asked about his experience in the world’s greatest conflict.
For him, putting his life on the line to protect his home was a no-brainer. His country needed him and he answered the call.
Stewart was sent to Western Australia when he was called up at 18 for initial training.
Soon after he was transferred to Canungra, in Queensland, for infantry training where he was posted to 2/28th Battalion as a machine gunner.
Stewart said his experience training in the army was relatively straightforward.
“If you kept you’re head down and obeyed orders you were fine,” he said.
“I was in pretty good shape so I kept up with the training even though it was tough.”
After completion of his training, Stewart was sent to Borneo and remembers he became violently seasick on the transport ship.
“The trip to Borneo was pretty ordinary,” he said.
“I wanted to throw myself overboard to put me out of my misery.”
When he arrived, Stewart became part of the Borneo campaign of 1945, which was the last major Allied campaign in the South West Pacific Area during World War II.
In a series of amphibious assaults between May 1 and July 21, Allied forces attacked the Japanese occupying the island.
The invasion of Borneo was the second stage of Operation Montclair, a campaign to recapture the Dutch East Indies, Sarawak, Brunei, Labuan, British North Borneo and the southern Philippines.
Borneo was the major prize because of its oil reserves.
After landing in Borneo, Stewart was transferred to the 9th Postal Division as a mail sorter.
An animal lover back home, Stewart quickly adapted to his new home when he befriended two spider monkeys.
“They slept under my arm and would wake me up by scratching my face if there was any trouble,” Stewart said.
“The army wouldn’t let me bring them on the boat when I returned so sadly, I had to leave them in Borneo.”
Stewart has two lasting memories of his time in Borneo, the first was soon after he arrived when two bags of mail were stolen.
He and a small team were sent on an expedition into the heart of Borneo to find the culprits.
“It was a couple of unremarkable looking people who nicked the mail,” Stewart said.
“We had no chance of finding them. They were natives that knew the area and we had no idea where we were.
“They disappeared into the crowds and we came back empty handed.”
The second memory Stewart has of Borneo was soon after the Japanese surrender when he was assigned to escort Lieutenant-Colonel Tatsuji Suga, who had been commander of all prisoner-of-war and civilian internment camps in Borneo.
Like many other Japanese military, Suga committed suicide five days after being taken prisoner.
He had been responsible for the many atrocities that took place in the camps, including the Sandakan Death Marches.
If he had not committed suicide it was almost certain he would face the hangman after a war crimes trial.
Stewart was instructed to shoot Suga if he made any attempt to escape on the journey to an Allied prison camp.
Today the walking stick Stewart uses belonged to Suga and serves as an important reminder of the mates he left in Borneo.
“It might not have been the right thing to do to take the walking stick but it’s important to me,” he said.
“It’s a fitting reminder of what went on over there and reminds me of how lucky I was to come back in one piece or to come back at all.”
Upon his return to Australia, Stewart became a carpenter and tried to settle into a normal life as a civilian.
The transition was helped by attending an army reunion – where he first laid eyes on Fay. They are still married after 70 years.
“I saw her walk in and said to one of my mates, ‘I’m gonna marry that girl’,” he said.
“I ended up sitting at her table that night. She turned to me at one point and said, ‘can you do the hokey pokey?’
“I protested, and said I couldn’t but she grabbed my hand and we danced the hokey pokey together.”
From the moment they put their right hands in, and out, and shook them all about, it was true love.
Stewart built a house for some relatives in Diggora in 1952 and he and Fay decided the quiet little town of Rochester was going to be their home.
And not only did he serve as president of the Rochester RSL sub-branch, he is also a life member there.
He also served as a Legacy president and was responsible for the welfare of many war widows and their children as a Legatee.
He and Fay are committed to remaining active in a community that welcomed them with open arms all those years ago.
“Rochy has been great to us and I couldn’t ask to spend the remainder of my life in a better community.”