Lived to tell the story: Ballina man Stanley McTackett was one of the soldiers who fought the Japanese on the Kokoda Track during World War II.
Lived to tell the story: Ballina man Stanley McTackett was one of the soldiers who fought the Japanese on the Kokoda Track during World War II.

WWII veteran's goodbye letter

AS HE prepared to go into battle on the Kokoda Track on August 19, 1942, Stanley McTackett took a moment to write a letter to his mother.

But it wasn’t just any letter – it was his final goodbye.

All soldiers in the 2/14th Regiment of the Royal Australian Engineers were forced to do the same in case they died.

Few of the young men, if any, were expected to survive the enemy’s onslaught.

But Mr McTackett made it through one of the toughest battles of World War II, and his letter was never sent.

He is now 91 and living at the Ex-Services Home in Ballina.

The original letter is in the safe hands of Mr McTackett’s daughter, Vicki Dunn.

It reads: “The Colonel informed us the Japs have taken Lae and they are advancing on Moresby – the last port before Australia.

“He said we must stop them and that no prisoners are to be taken and we must not be taken.

“We must give no quarter orexpect none because if they break through, there is nothing to stop them from landing in Australia.

“Mum, we all write these letters and leave them at the base to be posted in case we are killed.

“When you receive this letter, please don’t grieve too much as we will know that I died trying to help save Australia.

“I am sorry I will not be able to help you in your old age and repay you for all the trouble I was.”

Mrs Dunn and her husband, Trevor, wanted to tell the story in the lead-up to Anzac Day.

“I get so emotional reading that letter,” she said.

“We’ve also been able to save a few of dad’s war diaries – he did destroy two of them because they were too upsetting for him.

“He wanted to burn them all.

“He never talked to us about the war; he just tried to forget it.”

Mr McTackett said he was in the armed forces for four-and-a-half years, after forcing his mother to sign his papers.

He told her he would change his name and lie about his age if she didn’t let him join.

“I joined too young,” he said.

“But it was different in those days.”

Yesterday, as his daughter read excerpts of his war diaries, Mr McTackett was silent.

“He gets pretty upset by some of it,” she said.

The diaries are from 1941-43, and he wrote almost every day.

Mr McTackett described the ‘thick mud’ and the jungle, and told how fellow soldiers ‘broke down and cried like kids’.

He also described a day when enemy planes bombed a ‘clearly marked’ medical tent, killing most of the wounded and three surgeons.

But not all of Mr McTackett’s diary entries were war-related.

One simply reads: “Saw a bird of paradise today.”

Mrs Dunn said her father – who also fought in the Middle East – was awarded seven medals for his years of service.

“He grew up here – he was born in Bexhill and mum was born in Ballina – so it was good for him to come back home.”



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