Parkes' only surviving male World War II veteran to lead Anzac Day march

AT THE HELM: Thomas Forrester will head the Parkes Anzac Day march on Thursday, accompanied by his daughter Narelle Sunderland. Photo: Supplied.

AT THE HELM: Thomas Forrester will head the Parkes Anzac Day march on Thursday, accompanied by his daughter Narelle Sunderland. Photo: Supplied.

Well known local Thomas Forrester, Parkes' only surviving male World War II veteran, has been given the honour by the Parkes RSL to lead the annual Anzac Day March on Thursday.

Thomas will head the march with the town's official Anzac Day special guest, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Heatley, and will be joined by his daughter Narelle Sunderland.

The 1.5 kilometre march will commence from the front of the Parkes Services Club at 8.25am.

Thomas, who was born in Forbes on February 21, 1922, served approximately four years in the Australian Army during which time he was with the 2nd AIF in the 2/3 Australian Infantry Battalion and was in New Guinea on overseas active service for some 14 months.

On being granted the honour of leading the march, the sprightly 97-year-old made it abundantly clear that he did not want to ride in a Taxi so Narelle has been assigned the task of escorting him in a wheelchair.

In December 1941 Thomas joined the 54th Battalion and in August 1942 the Battalion was sent to Western Australia.

He remembers the long route marches, general training and the task of helping to build a road out of Geraldton.

From there he went to the Atherton Tablelands and completed a jungle training course before being sent to Papua New Guinea with the renowned 2/3 Battalion AIF.

On December 27, 1944, Private Thomas Forrester arrived at Aitape, New Guinea from Cairns abroad the troopship Bentekoe.

For the ensuing two months he was detached from the battalion and worked as an escort on the Papua New Guinean carrier lines where he learnt to speak Pidgin.

Upon re-joining the battalion, he fought in engagements along the coast in the 6th Division's advance from Aitape to Wewak.

Tom recalls the fight for But Aerodrome in March in which the 2/1st and 2/2nd Battalions were heavily involved.

From the But area the 2/3rd advanced inland from the Coast along the Mabam River and on April 2, two companies captured the Headquarters of the Japanese 20th Division just east of the Wonginara Mission.

On one occasion, acting as a forward scout, Tom liberated two Indian POWs.

The Indian soldiers jumped out at him from behind a clump of trees and informed him that the Japanese positions were a hundred yards further on.

In May the Battalion advanced towards the Boiken area where he recalls that the Australians were using flame throwers.

At this time the 2/3rd had been in action for over three months and the medical officer reported:

Exhaustion, nervous strain and malaria now had become uncontrollable, and has brought the battalion to its knees.

All companies were affected.... (and) could scarcely muster one full platoon, and of these many were carrying on the fight with individual temperatures of over 100 degrees.

The Battalion commander eventually reported that all was well after three weeks of adequate sleep, plenty of swimming, sunbathing and general recreation!

Just prior to the end of hostilities Thomas was hit by a falling tree during a fierce artillery bombardment.

After the surrender he was, for a while, the unit Hygiene Sergeant responsible for seeing everyone took their anti-malaria Atebrin tablets.

Thomas was among the final contingent of troops to garrison the Wewak area.

In February, 1946, he boarded the Duntroon and arrived home in Sydney on March 1.

He left the Army in June of 1946.