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A day to remember mates

by
May 03, 2018

Ninety-seven-year-old Jack Ford, who fought in World War Two in Papua New Guinea, said Anzac Day is a time for remembering his mates. Picture: Steve Huntley

As the clamour of a two-up game was played out in the backyard of Seymour’s RSL, 97-year-old World War II veteran Jack Ford enjoyed a relatively quiet beer over lunch.

And remembered his mates.

This, he said, was what Anzac Day was for him — a time to reflect on his long-lost comrades and how their lives might have played out.

And this means Anzac Day for Mr Ford is a time of mixed emotions and memories.

‘‘But luckily the good ones always take over the bad ones,’’ he said.

After completing his ordnance training at Wilsons Promontory, where he was assigned to guard a munitions supply, Mr Ford joined the 2/18th Infantry Battalion in 1940.

Initially set to fight in the Middle East, his battalion was instead deployed to what is now Papua New Guinea in 1941 as the Japanese army swept towards Australia’s northern coast.

His battalion’s first mission was defending a vital airstrip from the enemy.

It was the only usable airstrip available, and Mr Ford said if the Japanese had captured it they could have reached Port Moresby — the jumping off point for Australia.

When the war finished in 1945, Mr Ford said he and his fellow soldiers had little idea of when or how they would be able to return home.

But as luck would have it he found himself near the front of the queue.

‘‘I don’t know why ... maybe I was lucky or maybe I just knew the right people,’’ he said.

‘‘But the war finished in August (although the formal surrender was not signed until September 2) 1945 and on January 1, 1946, I came home on the aircraft carrier Implacable.

‘‘I was out ... and that was all we wanted.’’

Mr Ford returned to the furniture store in East Brunswick he had left to join the war, and while he had his old job back, some things had changed.

‘‘It was a bit strange after a while,’’ he said.

‘‘I was in an infantry battalion ... and I don’t know why, but I was sort of taught to never have people tell you what to do without questioning it.

‘‘And no doubt I got into a bit of strife from time to time, so much so the boss dragged me in and he said, ‘John (as they used to call me) the war is over — you’ll have to learn to slow down’.

‘‘I was pretty free with my fists then and wouldn’t take anything.’’

Roughly a decade later a business opportunity brought Mr Ford to Seymour.

Working as a factory manager in the furniture store, he got the job of refitting what was then a tea room on Emily St, run by a woman called Mrs Gunn.

Mr Ford would come up and back from Seymour a few times to check the works out before Mrs Gunn eventually suggested he buy the property from her, as she was getting out of the business.

He leapt at the chance, and along with his brother-in-law, Fred Stammers, and his friend, Alf Alcock, they sold their houses in Melbourne, invested in the property and moved to Seymour.

The trio would then run a 24-hour petrol station, affectionately known as ‘The All Nighter’, from 1957 until 1990.

‘‘We had a very good run, and it was a good business for those 30 years,’’ Mr Ford said.

‘‘But now I see it’s demolished— and who knows what the new service station will be like.’’

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