FOREVER YOUNG: Milford Grange Retirement Village resident Percy Mole , 93.
FOREVER YOUNG: Milford Grange Retirement Village resident Percy Mole , 93. Rob Williams

Percy braved air raids, submarines and landmines

THE nights were dark in Townsville when Percy Mole was stationed there in 1942, waiting to head off to war.

Japanese air raiders had already bombed the city earlier that year in July and by the time Percy arrived a war blackout was in full affect - lights made the city an easy target.

One night Percy's commanding officer, a man by the name of Major Stafford who used to own the picture show in North Ipswich, told the troops they would be going on an adventure.

Major Stafford described a tropical island filled with palm trees and hula girls, but what awaited the men was a gruelling campaign to keep the Japanese out of the Papuan Territory.

The ship wasn't a passenger boat and the men crowded in to find their place on the floor in the large hull, designed to transport goods not people.

There were 240 men spread out on the floor of the hold and unfortunately for the soldiers, the ship set sail just after a cyclone had finished battering the coast.

Most of the men 'lost their lunches' repeatedly as the ship rolled over the heaving waves.

"The only place I could feel a bit normal was up on the deck," Percy said.

"And the only thing I could eat was apple.

"There were only eight toilets on the ship and you had to find one where someone wasn't sitting on it or retching into - that was a bit difficult."

Two days into the voyage the men were told they were headed for Milne Bay, in East Papua.

The Japanese were circling and it would be Percy's job, as part of a group of engineers, to build the roads, ensure they stayed open and defend the airstrips.

"We were told we could go down before we got there," Percy said.

Percy Mole served in the Second World War from 1942 to 1946. After the war ended Percy sat in on some of the first war trials where the Japanese stood charged with war crimes.
Percy Mole served in the Second World War from 1942 to 1946. After the war ended Percy sat in on some of the first war trials where the Japanese stood charged with war crimes. "You've never seen more stoic faces than those Japanese soldiers during the trials. They were stern and blank."

"A hospital ship, the Centaur, had recently been sunk by a submarine.

"While we were out on the water we saw flying fish and were kept busy doing evacuation drills. We practically built our own makeshift wharf on the ship out of drums.

"Milne Bay is like a horse shoe shape and it's very deep.

"We were the first full unit in there are we had to unload our own boat and build a wharf, using what we had already put together on the ship.

"Our job was to keep the road open."

For Percy meal times were particularly memorable, as the troops did their best to make light of a dark situation.

Every meal was bully beef and tea, but Percy and his comrades came up with a way to ensure they never went hungry.

Pears and carnation milk were staples and the trucks carrying the supplies went straight through their unit.

"We had a six man tent, but only five men," Percy said.

"We dug out a trench and hid a box of tinned pears and a carton of carnation milk in the trench.

"After every meal time we had tinned pears and carnation milk.

"At every mess line someone would sing out, without fail, 'who called the cook a so and so' - then someone would sing back, 'who called the so and so a cook'.

"That went on every day."

A group of Zebu cows wandered freely around the camp. Percy says they were so tame, they could be led up to the door of fellow sleeping soldiers' tents and used to give them a surprise wake up.

One day, the Zebus wandered onto the nearby mine field. Some of the troops panicked and fired shots which sent a wave of panic through the camp.

"Our company ran when they heard the sound, a voice rang out asking 'what's going on down there?'

"The response came, 'the cows are on the minefield'. An Ipswich boy started shouting orders to blow up the canteen. 'We're not leaving anything behind' he yelled.

"They thought it was the Japanese, but it was just the Zebus."

The Japanese had planned to land at Milne Bay and unseat the allied force's hold on the area, but the battle everyone was anticipating never came.

The Japanese special troops landed in the wrong spot and lost more than 2000 men. Percy says they'd been given orders to secure the area within four days.

When the Japanese planes arrived overhead, the allied troops still held the ground and the air support mission was abandoned.

During a trip home in 1944, Percy was camped at Southport. One night he went for a walk and was standing under a lamp listening to a guitarist entertaining a nearby crowd.

A woman approached him, saying she'd mistaken him for someone she knew.

After a brief chat she agreed to go for a walk with Percy, who was still 19 at the time.

"Of course I hadn't been near a woman when I met her," Percy said. "We went for a walk and got a little bit intimate. She said tomorrow night we're not walking, we're going to the picture show.

"Would you believe it, that was the lady I eventually married."

June was Percy's war bride and they married in a camp at the Brisbane RNA Showgrounds with a brief honeymoon afterwards in the bleachers, then Percy returned to service until being sent home in 1946.

June fell pregnant that night, but the baby didn't make it through the delivery.

Eventually they moved to Ipswich and set up in Bundamba to raise a family, two girls and two boys.

June passed away in 1998 and Percy eventually married again to Charlotte - the woman Percy calls his 'English Rose'.

Even at 93-years-old Percy is popular with the ladies and well cared for at Milford Grange Retirement Village.

Percy is man with more stories than most.

He survived repeated episodes of malaria, air raids and bombings all to settle in Ipswich and raise a family that would one day give him 13 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren.

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