In 1942 a young fellow from Thirlmere found himself in the middle of fierce battles with Japanese forces along the Kokoda Track.
Fred Denny had enlisted on Remembrance Day less than a year earlier.
He was only 19.
Before he knew it, the boy born and bred in Thirlmere was in the thick of the action with the 55th Battalion as the Australians tried to push back the Japanese, who were intent on advancing to the capital, Port Moresby.
This Sunday, Fred Denny, who turned 94 on April 9, will be taking part in another Picton-Thirlmere-Bargo RSL sub branch Anzac Day commemoration.
Two days later, the sprightly 94 year old will make the long trek to Sydney, where he will meet up with the few remaining members of his battalion to march proudly once again on another Anzac Day.
Since joining the Thirlmere RSL sub branch after the end of the war in 1946, Fred Denny has missed just one Anzac Day march.
“I was in Camden Hospital for a bowel operation in 1960,’’ he explains in a voice that sounds like he’s still annoyed about missing that one Anzac Day march.
Back in 1941, Fred Denny thought he would be off to the war without any of his mates, but he was wrong.
“We went up in two trains and when I got off there was nobody I knew, but when the second train came in I recognised a lot of the boys I knew and had gone to school here in Thirlmere,’’ he recalls.
Most of them were also posted to the war effort in PNG, as it was clear at the time the Japanese meant business.
“We were in the 55th Battalion initially and sent to New Guinea after we did the three months training with the militia,’’ Fred says.
The Kokoda Track campaign was coming in the next year but there was no respite for Fred and his comrades from the moment they set foot on PNG soil.
“There was a lot of bombing and that around Moresby, and we were digging trenches and going on patrols and reconnaissance missions,’’ he said.
As is well documented, the Australians suffered a lot of casualties during the heaviest battles of the Kokoda campaign, between July and November 1942.
“We saw a lot of action when the 53th Battalion joined up with us after Kokoda, where they lost a lot of blokes and so they amalgamated the two battalions and it became the 55th-53rd battalion,’’ Fred says.
After almost two years of service in PNG, he was posted to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands late in 1943.
And when the war was finally finished Fred’s battalion took over from the Japanese in Rabaul, a town on an island east of PNG.
I ask Fred how he and his comrades survived almost two years of war – more than 700 days – without a single break.
He was posted at Townsville on returning home and he left the army for good in January 1946, almost five years after he’d enlisted to serve his country.
“That was the end of it for me,’’ Fred says.
“I went back to work – I was a butcher by trade, then worked for the Water Board during construction of the Warragamba Dam, I was there from start to finish.’’
The one constant in Fred Denny’s life has been the town of Thirlmere.
He was born there 94 years ago, attended Thirlmere Public and has been an active member of the RSL sub branch since he joined in 1946.
“Fred’s a life member of the sub branch,’’ says Tim Bennett-Smith, the president of the Picton-Thirlmere-Bargo RSL Sub Branch.
“Every time we do something, Fred’s there,’’ he says.
“Selling badges, having a barbecue, raffle tickets, Fred’s there.’’
Tim tells me that the Picton sub branch was formed in 1919, Bargo in 1932 and Thirlmere a couple of years later in 1934.
I can’t leave Fred without asking him that old question about war – what is it good for?
“It’s up to the individual himself whether he wants to enlist to go to war or not,’’ he replies.
♦ Everyone’s invited to attend the Picton-Thirlmere-Bargo RSL sub branch Anzac march and service from 2pm this Sunday, April 23 at Thirlmere Memorial Park.
It’s worth the trek and seeing Fred Denny march will be just one highlight of this traditional commemoration.
The second reason is there will be a fly past by an Australian Air Force C27 Spartan plane.
This will be a very large and spectacular sight as it flies from east to west over the service.
♦ The sub branch’s Anzac Day commemoration services will be held in the Bargo Sports Club auditorium from 11am, Tuesday, April 25.