REFLECTION: Alstonville's Bernie Scanlan, 94, is one of the last surviving members of his World War II unit.
REFLECTION: Alstonville's Bernie Scanlan, 94, is one of the last surviving members of his World War II unit. Graham Broadhead

WWII veteran reflects as numbers decline

"NO one wins a bloody war."

Those were the words of Alstonville's Bernie Scanlan, 94, as he reflected on being one of the last surviving members of his World War II unit, the 2/33rd Battalion which fought in the New Guinea campaign. He doesn't know of any members of the battalion still alive in the region.

Mr Scanlan, who grew up on a dairy farm, joined the army in 1942 in Lismore as a 19-year-old.

He was posted to the 2/33rd Battalion as a reinforcement.

The unit had fought in the Middle East and on the Kokoda Track in New Guinea. It returned to Australia for jungle warfare training and a refit before heading back to New Guinea.

Mr Scanlan was only in New Guinea for a week in September 7, 1943, when a US Air Force Liberator B-24 plane crashed into a convoy of trucks carrying troops from the battalion at Jackson's Airport in Port Moresby.

About 60 men were killed in that incident, including the crew of the aircraft, and another 92 were injured.

It's one of the experiences of war which Mr Scanlan said has "buggered me up, emotionally".

The battalion went on the next day to fight in the campaign to liberate Lae and later take part in the Ramu Valley-Finisterre Range campaign.

Not only did the troops have the enemy to worry about, but also the difficult jungle conditions.

Mr Scanlan said malaria was a constant threat, and the watches could almost be set by the afternoon downpour of rain.

"It was certainly no easy task," he said.

Mr Scanlan on Anzac Day thinks of his mates who didn't come home.

Last year was the first year Mr Scanlan didn't march on Anzac Day, because of his ageing body.

But he has always been heartened by the support the parade receives in the village.

"It saddens me to think back over those years," he said.

"But what gets me is the crowds who turn up on Anzac Day in Alstonville and the support the school students give us."



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