Association Member, Tim Lewis, has unearthed a newspaper clipping of the handover of the 31st Battalion Flag from WW1 to the Army Museum North Queensland . The article dates back to 2010 when president of the 2/31st Battalion Association, Ken Gladstone and five other veterans of WWII travelled to Townsville to present the WW1, 31st Battalion Flag and the 2/31st Battalion Banner from WWII, to the Museum which is based at Jezzine Barracks, Townsville.
The 31st Battalion has served continuously in one form or another since 1886. In its current form is now known as:
The 31st/42nd Battalion The Royal Queensland Regiment.
In September our Association Brisbane Branch Secretary, Tony Wadeson, visited Victoria where he presented the Association’s Honorary LIFE MEMBER to KEITH HEARNE – Past President of 2/31st & 2/25th Battalion Association Victoria. In an email to the President of the Frankston RSL Tony gives a brief of Kieth’s achievements over many years of RSL and community involvement.
For Attention President Kevin:- I refer to our Visit to your Club on Wednesday 7th Sept. for Lunch & to present an “Honorary Life Membership Tribute” to 97 Year old Keith Hearne WW2 Digger, & Past President of the 2/31st Bn & 2/25th Bn Association Victoria, who now resides in “Micare Avondrust Village.
As Requested I’m forwarding you:- (A) Details of Keith Hearne & his RSL Resume, – Details of the 31st Bn Association. (B) Photo of Presentation at Frankston RSL Names in Photo – from left to Right – Tony Wadeson Secretary 31st Bn Association Brisbane, – Keith Hearne WW2 Digger 2/31st Bn & Past President of 2/31st & 2/25th Bn’s Victoria, – Brian Mullarvey 31st Bn Assoc. Member. (Brian served with 42Bn as 2IC Biloela Company for a short period in the early 1970’s I believe? – He was The ARC Engineering P/L Manager of our Gladstone Factory at the time before being transferred to Manager/Tasmania.
Please refer to the Attached details & Photos.
Kevin, I would like to Congratulate you on Your Excellent Club, particularly your Staff who bent over backwoods to cater for our needs in the restaurant & where to take photos etc for the Presentation. It really made our visit enjoyable & successful.
2/31st Bn – WW2 Veteran
President of the 2/31st & 2/25th Battalions Assoc. Victoria
Gold Badge – Life Membership RSL
Life Member – 7th Division AIF Association
Honorary Life Member – 31st Infantry Battalion Association Inc.
The 31st Bn Association first made contact with Keith Hearne during July 2010 when a group of WW2 Veterans of the 2/31st Bn AIF were touring their old pre battle training areas in North Q’ld. They called in to Kissing Point Townsville to present an old “31st Bn Flag” to the North Queensland Military Museum. Keith who was, and had been, President of the 2/31st & 2/25th Bn’s Association Victoria as long as anyone could remember and one of the last operating in Australia, made contact with Committee Members of 31st Bn Association to request that we might take over the job of “Remembrance of the 2/31st Bn“ due to their Association’s dwindling Numbers. Our Committee members indicated that they would certainly be proud to take on the Caretaker role to ensure that such a famous Battalion as the 2/31st would “LIVE ON”. Twelve years on and that is work in progress with the Brisbane Branch joining with the Descendants of Veterans of 2/31st Bn in the Anzac Day Memorial Service at South Bank and the Brisbane Anzac Day March. Brisbane Branch member Tim Lewis, whose Father served with the 2/31st at Balikpapan, took on the role of 2/31st Bn co-ordinator, and has made contact with family members of past 2/31st Bn Presidents or committee members from all Eastern States. The Victorian Branch of the 2/31st Bn & 2/25th Bn Association folded about 5 years ago as numbers dwindled. It was the last Branch to close in Australia. As far as we are aware Keith Hearne & his Secretary Walter Robertson are the only two WW2 members of the 2/31st Bn still alive today. (Refer Keith’s RSL Resume – here under).
For your Info:- 2/31st & 2/25th Bn’s were sister Bn’s in the 25th Brigade – 7th Division- 2nd AIF
25th Brigade was formed in England & served in ENGLAND as part of the Defence Force of England. Then Served in SYRIA & Palestine. – NEW GUINEA:- – Kokoda Track, Ioribaiwa – Oivi Gorari – Buna, Gona. – Lae, Nadzab, – Ramu Valley. BORNEO:- Balikpapan
The 31st Infantry Battalion Association Inc. – WEBSITE:- Google – 31bnassn.org
The 31st Bn is the only Battalion from the WW1 – Fifth Division still on strength in the Australian Army’s Order of Battle today. It’s now known as 31/42 Bn RQR – HQ’d in Townsville, but drawing its Troops from Cairns down to Gladstone and west of those towns. Both the 31st Bn originally the Kennedy Regiment, and 42nd Bn, originally the Capricorn Regiment trace their history back to 1881. Most members of the 31st Bn Association have served with the 31st Bn. In North Queensland. The Association has Branch’s in Townsville, – Charters Towers, – Ingham, & Brisbane.
TONY WADESON (Secretary- 31st Bn Assoc. Brisbane)
Keith Hearne’s – R S L Service Resume as at – “2002”
Sub Branch:- Bairnsdale
Service in Years Member 55
Anzac Poppy Appeals 35
Land Settlement/Rural 5
Hospital Visiting 25
Blood Bank 18
Conference Delegate 8
DISTRICT – 10 – BOARD
State Councillor 7
State Executive 5
STATE BRANCH COMMITTEES ANZAC HOUSE
Veteran’s Affairs Committee (Chairman)
Land Settlement/Rural – (Secretary)
Future of League
Diaster Fund Coordinator
Gippsland Veterans Welfare Management Committee Sale.
Veterans Affairs Coordination Council at – Veterans Affairs
R.S.L. Disaster Fund Coordinator East Gippsland Floods 1998
R.S.L. Disaster Fund Coordinator East Gippsland Bush Fires 2003
HONOURS & AWARDS
50 years Service Award
Gold Badge Life Membership RSL – June 26 2002
Certificate of Appreciation RSL – June 26 2002
Life Membership – 7th Division Association
Life Membership – 31st Battalion Association
A story on Keith Hearne and his previous wartime and peacetime involvements appeared on this
website in September 2020 (Type Kieth Hearne into he search box on this website).
The story includes his travelling Papua New Guinea to attend the re-interment of
2/31 Bn victims of a wartime aircraft crash, remains finally recovered in 2005.
The following copies of letters, orders, diary extracts relate to the the part played by Lt Richard Aubrey Lewis (B Coy 2/31st battalion) in the surrender of the Japanese forces in the Banjarmasin/Kotawaringin areas of Kalimantan, Borneo in September 1945.
Note: For ease of reading some of the documents and hand written script a high resolution screen may be necessary. Older computer monitors may present some difficulties. Modern mobile phones or tablets are likely to have greater definition than older computer monitors allowing easier reading of the documents herein.
They were gathered and collated by his son, 31st Battalion Association member Tim Lewis.
From the diary of NX177993 Lt Richard Aubrey Lewis Recollection No9 Dated 11th Dec 1945:
“On the 25th of September I left Bandjamasin to proceed to Kotawaringin to accept the surrender of the Jap garrison. It was an interesting trip Lieut C Allan Hard and Sub-Lieut Col Gillespie were the naval officers of HMAL 1359 which carried portion of my party. The remainder under Sgt Hewston, travelled on a Jap coastal steamer.”
Lt Lewis with Navy personnel on HMAML1359 moving to Kota Waringin to
accept the surrender of members of Japanese Forces
Above and Below – Lt Lewis meeting with the Sultan at Pangkalan Bun
This is the main administration centre of the Kota Waringin Area
Chart of the Kalimantan Coastline East of Banjarmasin
Warning Order given to Lt RA Lewis and key personnel on the day prior (22 Sep 1945). The order was for the move to Kota Waringin on 23 Sep 1945 to bring back Japanese 156 Soldiers and 18 Civilians.
With him was a Pl of B Coy (4 NCO plus 32 OR)
2 RAP Orderlies
1 Int Sect
Lt Hard and crew of HMAML Q1359
Tke Kotawaringin Region of Central Kalinantan, Borneo
Below is an extract from the War Diary covering the period between 23 Sep 45 to 28 Sep 45.
It covers the move to Kota Waringin for the purpose of accepting the surrender and
Transporting of Japanese forces for processing at Banjarmasin.
The Kota Waringin area is approx 450km to the west of Banjarmasin. The journey took just over 24 hrs to complete
Because of Navigation concerns they spent the night of 24/25 anchored (with the HAPGOAN, the coastal vessel that was to transport the Japanese) at the mouth of the river before going upstream to Kumai on 25 Sep. At Kumai, the village headman reported that majority of the Japanese had been assembled 1km north of Kumai.
A number of Japanese Officars (4 Naval and 1 Army) presented themselves to Lt Lewis at the Kumai wharf. Lt IIzuka reported that 153 soldiers and 18 Civilians were in their party north of Kumai, 9 of whom were hospital cases suffering from (2 x appendicitis, 6 Malaria and 1 a Violent Lunatic). Weapons were centralised and stored. The OC of their sub unit Sub-Lt Takare had previously committed Hari Kari. Lt Lewis was able to inspect and confirm these reported numbers.
All Japanese were moved to the wharf and placed under guard. Lt Iizuka was given a warning order that they were to be moved to BANJARMASIN on 26 Sep. An English speaking Chinese was interrogated. Report shown below.
Arrangements were made for meeting with the Sultan in PANGKALAN BUN.
Travelled to PANGKALAN BUN by car (approx 15KM via road) to Sultans palace.
Lt Lewis was received by the Sultan at a civic reception at his Palace. The civil administration was
returned to the Sultan whose position had been eroded during the Japanese occupation.
The Sultan returned with Lt Lewis to Kumai to be briefed on the stores and supplies that were to be policed.
The Japanese and one of their local collaborators (Hadji Mochamad Kasim) were loaded on the vessels.
Both boats (the “HMAML Q 1359” and the coastal vessel “Hapgoan”) set sail for Banjarmasin on 26th Sep at1555hrs.
Arrival in Banjarmasin was two days later.
The above list is the weapons and equipment handed over by the Japanese. A number of rifles and LMGs most of which were dumpted at sea. The Dutch captured weapons were returned to the Dutch.
The Japanese swords were returned to the Bn store.
Equipment included Diesel and Petrol engines, Generators for lighting and radio equipment, workshop equipment (lathe drills, saws, grinding wheel, etc) and 10 vehicles of various types.
Most of this equipment was left to be policed by the Sultan’s men.
This image was taken from either NAA or AWM footage.
This note is from Tim Lewis (the son of Lt RA Lewis)”I can only assume that my father accepted the garrison surrender from Captain Iizuka with WO Iwase by his side. ( These names appeared elsewhere in my father’s diaries)”.
These are some of the handwritten notes written during the conduct of the operations at Kota Waringin
Covering note to the CO 2/31 Battalion 28 Sep 1945
Below is a hand written description of the meeting between Lt Lewis and the Sultan
to discuss the restoration of the civil administration.
The Sultan expresses his concerns regarding his reduced status during the Japanese Occupation.
Lt Lewis held meetings with district headmen to re-establish the Sultan as the centre of Administration in the district
pending the arrival of the Dutch Administration.
Document F is a Patrol Report
The patrol was to ascertain whether and large numbers of Japanese were in the area and to locate any Japanese weapons.
It was determined that no large numbers of Japanese were in the area and that all former store houses were
searched but no weapons were found. Weapons previously founded were handed to a patrol from C Coy.
Document C is an Interrogation Report
This report is from the interrogation of an English speaking Chinese concerning the man Hadji Mochamad Kalim who was brought back from Kumai to Banjarmasin on the Naval vessel. Kalim was named as a Japanese collaborator. He had lived in the Kumai area since 1936 There were two occasions where Kalim received a token punishment from the Japanese for trying to buy a radio and for fishing. The same offences perpetrated by others would result in much harsher punishment.
In 1942 There were 1000 British and Dutch troops in the area but these had subsequently been transferred to Banjarmasin. since then there were not many Japanese in the area until they built an airstrip 6 months before the end of the war. The factory and equipment at Kumai was used in the manufacture of swords and in support of the air strip operations.
Below is the report from the Chinese person in his own handwriting.
I regret to advise the passing of Mrs. Gwenyth Lewis. Gwenyth was the wife of Major Aub Lewis (Decd) former Platoon Commander of 10PL – B Coy 2/31st Bn at Balikpapan WW2. After discharge from the AIF he served in the CMF with 9Bn & the 2/14th QMI. Gwenyth was the mother of our Member Tim Lewis – Coordinator of the 2/31st Bn – Veterans, Family, & Friends.
Gwenyth Lewis was the niece of LTGEN Sir Reginald Pollard KCVO, KBE, CB, DSO a former Brigade Major of the 25th Brigade on its departure to the Middle East and CO of the 2/31st Bn during the Syrian campaign. Sir Reginald continued on a brilliant career in the Military after the war, attaining the rank of LTGEN and appointed Chief of the General Staff, prior to his retirement.
Gwenyth attended our last Special Association meeting in October 2019 with Guest of Honour – 102Yr old WO2 Alf Cumberland and Descendants of members of the 2/31st Bn, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting our lives.
Our thoughts and condolences go to Tim Lewis and his Family on this sad occasion.
Gwenyth Lewis – Rest In Peace.
Ray Fogg (President, Brisbane)
The following message has been received from the Secretary of the Brisbane Branch of the 31st Battalion Association Tony Wadeson
It is with great sadness that I advise you of the Passing of our oldest WW2 Veteran – QX43769 WO2 Alf Cumberland. Alf passed away early this afternoon peacefully in his sleep at his residence, – The Lodge, Magnolia Aged Care, Coomera. Alf had just turned 103Yrs on the 2nd Sept. Alf joined the Army – “Artillery” on the 22nd Sept 1941. He joined the 2/31st Bn in New Guinea as a Reinforcement Nov 1943. He also took part in the later Invasion at Balikpapan Borneo. There are quite a few interesting stories to be told. Alf’s Company Commander was George Henderson, the Father of Alex Swan (nee Henderson). Refer 31st Bn Assoc Website – 31bnassn.org – Go to Archives refer to July 2019 & Sept 2019.
Members, Veterans & Friends. – FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS – ALF CUMBERLAND. as Follows:-
(1) WHERE:- The Funeral is to be held at:- Newlife Uniting Church – 4 Greenwich Ct. ROBINA Q’ld 4226
(2) WHEN:- Tuesday 20th October at 1.00PM
(3) DRESS:- 31st Bn Members – Jacket & Tie, – Beret, – Medals – Name Tag.
(4) It is our intention (with the OK from White Lady Funerals) to have the 2/31st Bn Banner Displayed & form a Guard of Honour at the Conclusion of the Service.
If anyone requires Transport assistance please contact me on my Mob 0427 337 177 or by email, & I will endeavour to help you.
The Nerang RSL are Handling the Poppy Service.
Tribute Designed & presented by our Honorary Member Pierre Seillier (France). This Tribute was presented to Alf on his 102nd Birthday last year. Due to the Magnolia Aged Care Centre being in lockdown on his 103rd Birthday this year we were unable to visit him.
The following Record of Service was researched and compiled by Association Committee member Mick James
Vale – QX 43769 WO2 Alf Cumberland
WW2 – Veteran – 2nd/ 31st Bn AIF
Alf Cumberland was born on 2nd Sept 1917. He grew up in “Wellington St” Clayfield Brisbane.
MILITARY SERVICE – WW2
- 22/9/41 – Joined the 2nd AIF – 5th Field Regiment – Brisbane
- 7/11/42 Transferred to 17th Field Regt. Townsville
- 19/11/43 transferred to 2/31st Bn Port Moresby
- 31/1/44 Returned to Townsville.
- 20/3/44 Admitted to 2/4 AGH
- 12/7/44 Rejoined 2/31st Bn Petrie Area. The Bn moved to Atherton Tableland in Aug 44
- 28/9/44 Promoted A/Cpl
- 4/12/44 Confirmed Cpl.
- 9/6/45 Embarked “Howell Lykes” at Townsville for Morotai.
- 18/6/45 Disembarked Morotai
- 25/6/45Embarked for Service Balikpapan
- 2/7/45 – 0900HRs Landed Balikpapan
- 3/7/45 WIA – GSW (Rifle) Rt Ear Lobe – Evac 2/5th Field Ambulance.
- 6/7/45 Promoted to A/Sgt
- 8/7/45 Rejoined Unit.
- 24/8/45 Promoted A/WO2
- 24/8/45 WO2 Rank Confirmed.
- 25/1/46 Embarked Balikpapan per “Kanimbla”
- 4/2/46 Disembarked Brisbane
- 1/4/46 Discharged.
Mick James – 31st Bn Assoc. (Brisbane) Committee Member – 8/10/2020
Peter Thatcher at last Octobers Reunion Lunch Meeting aged 102 Years.
Alex Swan (nee Henderson) with Alf in April 2019.
A few of us with Alf on his 102nd Birthday last year.
Alf and wife Stephanie on their wedding day 1946
A few notes from Mick James after attending the funeral for Alf:
Keith is a prominent member of the 2/31st Battalion from Victoria. He has always been heavily involved in the Association and is now one of a diminishing band of old soldiers who served through WW2.
Keith was to have gone to Canberra this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2. The ceremony which was to have taken place on 15th August 2020 had to be cancelled because of restrictions in place to prevent the transmission of the Covid19 virus. Keith has of late been beset by illness but he received a letter from the Governor of Victoria in recognition of the occasion.
He has been a constant presence in the Victorian RSL as well as a past president of the 2/25 & 2/31st Association. The two Battalion associations voted to merge when numbers started to thin out.
Keith enlisted as soon as possible in 1943 and after various training postings, joined the 2/31 Battalion training on the Atherton Tableland prior to embarkation for Morotai then Balikpapan on the Island of Borneo.
During the landing at Balikpapan Keith recalls that the landing craft had difficulties getting onto the beach so he and his sergeant were the first to wade ashore to reconnoitre the enemy situation. Keith was crouched on the beach reconditioning the Owen Gun ensuring that it was free of sea water whilst the Sergeant stood to take a look around. In an instant the Sergeant fell mortally wounded by a Japanese sniper. Keith has spent his much life wondering about the fortunes of war. Why him and not me.
Letter of Appreciation from the Governor of Victoria
Keith has continued his service to the local community in good times or in bad. Amongst other things he has coordinated the East Gippsland RSL Disaster Fund for the floods in 1998 and the East Gippsland RSL Disaster Fund in the bush fires of 2003. In 2005 he flew to Papua New Guinea as a member of the party to reinter the remains of 2/31st Battalion comrades who perished when the aircraft carrying wounded from the battles of Balikpapan and Morotai crashed in the mountains of West Papua on September 18 1945. The service and reinterment took place at Bomana war Cemetery Papua New Guinea. In June 2015 he also visited the Labuan War Cemetery to pay his respects to his mates from the the Borneo Campaign.
Keith at the Reinterment of old 2/31st Battalion mates – Victims of the aircraft Crash Mentioned above
Keith in Papua New Guinea with old “Comrades in Arms”
The Crash site in the mountains of West Papua 18th Sep 1945
the remains of the wounded soldiers and crew were recovered in May 2005
2/25th 2/31st/ Battalion Reunion including a visitor from WA Jim Gordon VC
The Battalion rightly honours Jim Gordon for his award of the Victoria Cross for his acts of courage in the battle for Jezzine during the Syrian campaign. At the same time Keith makes light of his own award (The Commander-In-Chief’s Card) for testing anti-Malarial therapies. No doubt it also took great courage to be on the receiving end of untried and unproven therapies for Malaria. This, the disease that had caused more casualties than enemy action for armies and for civilian populations for thousands of years past.
The Banner of the 2/31st Battalion being held in a stiff breeze by 31st Battalion Association Secretary Tony Wadeson.
The Kokoda Commemoration Day was held at the Sherwood -Indooroopilly RSL on Sunday 9th August 2020. A large gathering was in attendance including a number of members of the 31st Battalion Association. The 2/31st Bn Banner was on Display. A gallant effort was being sustained by our Brisbane Branch Secretary, Tony Wadeson, to hold the banner in place against the wild winds of the day. Guest Speaker for the occasion was Jay Hooper.
Wreaths to be laid by:-
(1) Wreath to be Laid on Behalf of 2/31st Bn (Father – Veteran of 2/31st Bn) – Mrs Elizabeth Timms
(2) Wreath to be laid on Behalf of 2/31st Bn (Father a Veteran of 2/31st Bn – Mr Tim Lewis 31st Bn Assoc. Liaison Officer for 2/31st Bn Veterans/Family/Friends
(3) Wreath to be laid on Behalf of the 31st Bn Assoc. – Ray Fogg – President 31st Bn Assoc. (Brisbane)
(4) Wreath to be Laid on behalf of Her Father & Uncle both Veterans of 2/31st Bn. – Mrs Patricia Date
the 2/31st Bn Banner on Display, With your Approval of course. We will arrive about 10.15AM to erect it where you designate.
A number of photos of the day were posted on the Sherwood-Indooroopilly RSL Facebook Page some of which are included below.
Ray Fogg Laying the Association wreath
Tim Lewis Laying the Wreath in honour of his father Lt Aub Lewis 2/31st Battalion
Mick James Laying wreath – Battle For Australia Committee
The Papua NewGuinea Flag in Central Position
Ladies Laying Wreaths in Memory of relatives.
A Section of the assembled gathering for the Kokoda Commemoration Day
Tony Wadeson – Doing a briliant job of holding down the Banner of the 2/31st Battalion
which threatened to take off in the windy conditions.
Speaker for the occasion – Jay Hooper
The William Dargie portrait of Jimmy Gordon VC holds pride of place alongside of the picture of Patrick BugdenVC on the home page of the 31st Battalion website. Last week marked the start of the what became known as the Syrian CampaignIn in 1941. Almost a month after that Jimmy Gordon, a member of 2/31st Battalion distinguished himself against forces of the Vichy French. The details of the battle are contained in the <Archive February 2019> of this website.
William Dargie was commissioned to paint the portrait ‘Corporal Jim Gordon’ [5900231 (WX2437)], shortly after Gordon was awarded the Victoria Cross. Born in Western Australia in 1909, James Gordon, a private in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force, received his VC for his actions at Greenhill, near Jezzine, Lebanon, on 10 July 1941. Under intense machine gun fire, Gordon approached an enemy machine gun post, and charged and killed four machine gunners with a bayonet. This action demoralised the enemy and allowed Gordon’s company to advance, taking the position. Gordon was greatly admired for the courage demonstrated by these actions.
Gordon’s portrait served a dual purpose: it was a realistic likeness of a distinguished individual and it was also a deliberately constructed image of an Australian ‘type’. Facing the viewer, his eyes slightly averted from directness, with an expression of seriousness and reserve, Gordon is presented as a modest soldier yet he is also the heroic embodiment and glorification of the bronzed ANZAC. The figure, close to the picture plane, dominates the hastily sketched landscape. His rolled up sleeves suggest both the heat of the Middle East and the pragmatism of a man of action. Gordon’s face and forearms, ruddy from the exposure to the sun, have been painted in a detailed manner. By contrast, his uniform and the background sky have been applied rapidly in broad expressive brushstrokes. This work won the Archibald prize in 1942 and was extremely popular due to patriotic sentiment combined with a high public regard for the depiction of the typical digger.
Dargie noted his experience of painting the portrait that Gordon was, “Not the smiling, happy-go-lucky “Digger” of legend, but the slightly older-than-young man with a very definite sense of responsibility. A farmer from Western Australia, he had all the countryman’s modesty and reticience of speech. He rather deprecated heroism as such, and said “No-one likes wars. It’s just a matter sticking with your friends.” As I was painting this portrait, and was discussing with him the action at Merjayoun, in which he won his V.C., I noticed he was trembling. Thinking he was feeling the strain of the pose, I said, “Have a rest. I’ve had you sitting too long.” “No, that’s alright.” he said, “but I always get like this when I think of that action.” I felt sorry I had reminded him of it, and said so. He replied: “My cobber and myself often talk about it.” ”
Place Middle East: French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon, Lebanon
Accession Number: ART26993
Collection type: Art
Measurement framed: 100 x 80 cm; unframed: 76.2 x 55.8 cm
Object type: Painting
Physical description: oil on canvas
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Western Art Wall
Maker: Dargie, William
Place made Syria
Date made 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Fred Cave fought in the one of the final bloody battles of World War II. The battle took place after the landing of the 2/31st Battalion and other units of 7th Brigade at Balikpapan, Borneo in July 1945.
His son, Peter Cave became a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Fast forward now to 30th April 2012 for Peter’s story:
After more than 40 years with the ABC and 30 years reporting foreign wars, Foreign Affairs Editor Peter Cave is on his way back from his last overseas assignment.
One of his retirement projects is researching the life and death of John Elliott, an ABC correspondent who was killed in 1945 covering one of Australia’s bloodiest battles in World War II.
Peter has uncovered information about Elliott’s death that points to a highly personal link to his father Fred Cave, who served as a Bren gunner in the area Elliott died.
I first learnt of John Elliott when I was involved with an ABC exhibition chronicling the work of ABC foreign correspondents called Through Australian Eyes.
In one corner of one poster there was a mention of John Elliott’s death in Borneo in 1945 and a grainy photo.
The name didn’t ring a bell with me, nor the photo, but what caught my attention was the fact that he died in Balikpapan.
Balikpapan was a name familiar to me because I knew my late father Fred Cave had served there in 1945 as a Bren gunner with the Australian 7th Division.
I mentioned this to my colleague Tony Hill, a former correspondent in Thailand and the Middle East, who had been one of the main organisers of the exhibit and he handed me a folder full of archival material on John Elliott.
At the time of his death it was reported that he was killed in action by the Japanese, and that story has found its way into most of the scant information on John Elliott death in the history books and on the internet.
But one old yellowing page hidden amongst the wad of documents made my blood run icy cold.
It was a letter from the Department of Information to the ABC executive outlining the true circumstances of his death, and that of an Australian Information Service journalist, Bill Smith:
Both men were seeking names of troops in the forward area when they were shot down. Elliott getting material for his broadcasts and Smith for his weekly Diary feature.
For reasons unexplained they had wandered into enemy territory near where Jap snipers had been holding up out troops for some hours.
They picked out a Jap shelter, sat down in front of it, and began exchanging notes and having a bite to eat.
Just a few minutes before three Japs were killed a few yards from where they were sitting. Smith had removed his slouch hat, but Elliott retained his American visor cap, which from a distance looks very like a Jap cap.
An Australian Bren gunner, 700 yards away saw the two figures, was convinced they were Japs and fired killing both men instantly. He cannot be blamed for what happened. He was only doing his duty.
The official Army version is that both men were killed in action.
That is as it should be.
Letter to ABC federal supervisor outlining circumstances of John Elliott’s death
I was stunned. Was it possible that my father had shot and killed the first ABC correspondent to die on a battlefield. A correspondent doing the very job I do now.
After more than five years of research I have yet to discover the truth.
Hopefully I will in the near future, but it has opened the window on a fascinating life and death that has been forgotten.
The news of his death coincided with the death of prime minister John Curtin and rated only a few paragraphs.
Shortly after, the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima effectively meant the war was over and Elliott, who had no living relatives in Australia, became a historical side note.
The ABC weekly carried a brief obituary a few weeks later that really only hinted at the rich tapestry of his life story.
John Elliott, soldier, airman, journalist, novelist and former professional boxer, began his career in the Royal Navy.
He was discharged in 1919 at the age of 17 with a hand injury. This however did not prevent him representing England in the final of the light heavyweight contest at the Paris Olympic Games.
He lost on a doubtful decision and eventually became a professional. After fighting in America he came to Sydney where he won four out of the five professional fights he engaged in. He then entered journalism as a boxing reporter.
In 1938 he went to England and joined an RAF contingent to Finland where he flew until that country collapsed.
He returned to Australia in 1940 and joined the AIF. In the Middle East he served as assistant to Kenneth Slessor, the official war correspondent.
John Elliot obituary, the ABC Weekly
The brief details, some of them wrong, go nowhere near telling the real story of his life.
There is no mention of him meeting and marrying a beautiful young actress in Australia only to lose her tragically to cancer a few years later.
They do not tell how the grief led him to join the quixotic venture against the Soviet Union in Finland, or of his escape through wartime Russian and China to Japan.
Upon his return to Australian he was investigated as a Nazi sympathiser, before a chance meeting with then prime minister Robert Menzies at the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place led to him joining the Australian Army as assistant to Australia’s famous poet and war correspondent Kenneth Adolf Slessor.
This posting would eventually lead to his death.