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Luck of the draw for Jack's war!

Aussie boy survives hair-raising missions.

Jane Mander’s Jack Parry believes it was purely luck of the draw that his wartime experience didn’t end up in tragedy like so many others did.

There were many occasions where he avoided potential injury or death because he was either too young, too low a rank or the timing dictated he couldn’t be involved.

As one of eight siblings growing up in the small country town of West Wyalong, five hours out of Sydney, Australia Jack was 17 when he heard news that a war had broken out in Europe in 1939.

The threat was distant but when he turned 18 he joined the Militia unit, now known as the Australian Army Reserve, ‘for something to do’.

“It seemed like one big adventure to me back then,” he says.

But when the Japanese bombed Pearl Habour on 7 December 1941 it was a different story.

“Boom – that put Australia right in the firing line.”

Jack joined the Australian Imperial Force and was sent to do basic training for 6 months in Wagga Wagga before being posted to the coast to one of the defences of Sydney in 1942.

“That was the year three midget Japanese submarines got under the net at Sydney Harbour and blew up a cadet trainee ship, killing 21 men,” he says.

“They got two of the subs but they didn’t find the third until 2006. It was still in the harbour.”

Jack’s next mission was in New Guinea with an intelligence unit known as the Far Eastern Liaison Office, or FELO, which was attached to the Air Force.

The FELO was a propaganda unit but the operations were no less hair-raising, says Jack.

“They’d got these B-24 bombers and stripped all the armament out of them with the idea of dropping bundles of leaflets with messages such as ‘Surrender’ or ‘We gotcha!’ written on them.

“We’d fly down to about 400 feet over Japanese-held islands or Japanese places within the islands and would drop the leaflets. Sometimes we’d be out for 8-9 hours a day.”

While the Japanese didn’t have anti-aircraft artillery, the low-flying heights meant they were still at risk.

“They’d still shoot with machine guns,” says Jack. “Each bundle had about 4-500 leaflets in it and you were supposed to cut the string on the bundles and throw them out the bomb hatch.

“I remember once we were flying so low and when they started firing I didn’t bother cutting the strings, I just threw them out!”

There was one near miss for Jack towards the end of the war, the day after the Australian 7th Division landed in Balikpapan in Borneo.

The commander in charge of the planes decided there were so few Japanese around they’d do a victory roll up the beach.

“I said ‘I’ll go, I’ll go’ but because I was fairly junior rank I didn’t get to go but my superior did and they all flew up the beach.”

Out of nowhere the Japanese pulled out an old boater’s gun out of a cave and shot the plane down, killing all nine.

“I should have been on that plane but because my superior pulled rank I wasn’t. I was lucky as hell.”

Jack spent a lot of time based on Morotai Island and it was there that the ‘highlight of his army career’ occurred - meeting Lady Mountbatten.

“We were at the beach one day having a swim and someone said there’s Louis Mountbatten’s missus!

“She was a good sort, a very nice lady.”

Jack also appreciates that his wartime experience enabled him to mix with people such as the top commander, an Englishman who’d also been a newspaper editor in Singapore, the Mountbattens, and even the two Japanese prisoners of war who came over to the allies’ side.

“For a boy coming from a small country town to be mixing with the biggest commander in the Navy – it was an experience I’ll never forget.”

When he finally got out of the army in May 1946 he set off back to Borneo to join the Dutch Shell oil company.

However, a young Kiwi girl called Judy stopped him in his tracks in Townsville and set him on his path to New Zealand where he has lived ever since.

Now 96, Jack is dismissive of what going to war can solve and only applied for his service medals last year because his nephew encouraged him to.

“If you ask me what I think about war now I say what a waste of bloody time. The Japanese are now our allies, it’s just crazy.”

JM Luckofthedraw

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