¡¡¡¡THE day Ripe magazine hit the streets in the Farm Weekly last month with a story about World War II Rats of Tobruk and the battlefield-created Darnley Dixaline banjo, John Marchant’s phone started ringing.
¡¡¡¡It was old Central Wheatbelt farmer mates calling up the retired Yelbeni wheat and sheep farmer – he and wife Di now live in Edgewater, Perth – to tell him a picture of his father was in Ripe.
¡¡¡¡”There must have been eight or 10 calls and (a week later) when I went to a funeral (of a farming acquaintance) more people tapped me on the shoulder to tell me there was a picture of my father in Ripe”, Mr Marchant, 75, said.
¡¡¡¡His father was Private William Alfred Marchant, known as Bill, a signalman in the 2/28th Infantry Battalion signals platoon, one of the revered Rats of Tobruk and best mate of Dixaline creator Pte Walter John ‘Jack’ Darnley, also of the 2/28th signals platoon.
¡¡¡¡Bill Marchant was one of 29 members of the platoon to sign the front of his mate’s Dixaline during the 241-day siege of Tobruk in 1941, when mainly Australian infantry held out against the superior-in-numbers and better armed Afrika Korps to prevent the small but strategic Libyan port falling into enemy hands.
¡¡¡¡Made from an army mess tin, a drum skin and pieces of wood scrounged from the Tobruk battlefield, with strings sent from Australia, the Dixaline survived not only the Tobruk siege, but the New Guinea and Borneo campaigns of the later Pacific theatre the 2/28th fought in.
¡¡¡¡The photograph from last month’s Ripe magazine that set John Marchant’s phone ringing. His father Bill is on the right. The other members of the 2/28th signals platoon are Walter John ‘Jack’ Darnley (left), who created the Darnley Dixaline banjo in the trenches at Tobruk and Ken Lucas. The picture was taken while they were on unauthorised ‘French’ leave in Beirut, Lebanon, on February 13, 1942.
¡¡¡¡Now very fragile, it is on display in the Geraldton City RSL’s Birdwood House Military Museum, having been donated with other items by Pte Darnley’s family.
¡¡¡¡His son John, 80, from Geraldton had recalled for Ripe last month how his father’s mates and co-conspirators in a number of high-jinks escapades while in Libya, Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon during the 1940-43 Western Desert Campaign, were Bill Marchant and Pte Ken Lucas.
¡¡¡¡It is more than likely Bill Marchant had a hand in helping Pte Darnley pinch a crate of beer from the officers’ mess then shared it around the signals platoon.
¡¡¡¡Also highly likely is his joining his best mate in posing as conductors on a Cairo tram and collecting ‘fares’ from passengers to pay for drinks later, while on leave in Egypt.
¡¡¡¡Another photo Bill Marchant sent home from Tel Aviv while on leave, this time to his future wife Molly Gleeson, care of ‘Wimmeravale’, Yelbeni, WA. His note on the back says “myself (left), a yank and another Australian” with the date November 18, 1942.
¡¡¡¡There is certainly photographic evidence both Bill Marchant and Pte Lucas joined Pte Darnley on ‘French leave’ – the troops’ nickname for unauthorised leave, technically being absent without leave and a serious offence – in Beirut, Lebanon, in February, 1942.
¡¡¡¡According to John Darnley, his father told a story of the three of them “borrowing” an unattended light aircraft to fly to Beirut, but they left it behind and “made other arrangements” to return to their platoon after the unauthorised sojourn.
¡¡¡¡Mr Darnley said his father had learned to fly and obtained his pilot’s licence while a member of an aero club at Wiluna, where he worked as an electrician at a gold mine before enlisting in July 1940.
¡¡¡¡He said his father had hoped to join the air force, but was rejected because he lacked requisite formal mathematics qualifications, so enlisted instead in the infantry.
¡¡¡¡It was that picture of the three of them taken in Beirut, donated to the Birdwood Military Museum along with the Dixaline by the Darnley family and published in last month’s Ripe, that set Mr Marchant’s phone ringing.
¡¡¡¡John Marchant’s mother Molly served as a driver for the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II.
¡¡¡¡People recognised Bill Marchant from his post-war years as a farmer on Wimmeravale at Yelbeni, where his wife Mary – better known as Molly – was the third generation of her family on the property.
¡¡¡¡Or they recognised him from 1975 on, when he and Molly moved into Trayning and ran the hotel there after ill health forced him to leave the running of the farm to his son.
¡¡¡¡Bill Marchant died three years after leaving Wimmeravale, he was 64.
¡¡¡¡John Marchant, who was born and bred on Wimmeravale and finally sold the property in February after having a sharecropper farm it for the past 15 years, knew nothing of his father’s exploits with Jack Darnley and little about his war service.
¡¡¡¡”He never said anything about those (exploits), he never ever spoke about the war,” Mr Marchant said when Ripe visited him in response to his approach to the Birdwood Military Museum after reading the Dixaline story in last month’s Ripe.
¡¡¡¡”I know he got shot in New Guinea – he had a bad scar on the back of his left knee, but if anyone asked him about it, all he would say was ‘the Japs were crook shots’.
¡¡¡¡”He got malaria in New Guinea as well.
¡¡¡¡”He never went to Anzac services, I conned him to get him to go to one – I was a national serviceman (in the Citizen Military Forces) see.
¡¡¡¡Detail of the names on the Darnely Dixaline, including about a third of the way down on the right, a ‘Sticky’ Steward
¡¡¡¡”At another time I was at a party or something and a bloke asked me if my father was Bill Marchant, ‘Maggot’ Marchant?
¡¡¡¡”I thought ‘Maggot’ Marchant, I didn’t like that too much, but he explained that the old man (in battle) had crawled on his guts, like a maggot, under barbed wire to lay a telephone cable.”
¡¡¡¡Bill Marchant was born in Geraldton on March 20, 1914, but moved to 40 Central Avenue, Maylands, Perth and attended school in Maylands.
¡¡¡¡”He was a very good lacrosse player (at school), would you believe he played State lacrosse,” John Marchant said.
¡¡¡¡After completing his education his father “went bush”, Mr Marchant said.
¡¡¡¡”I know he worked down Kondinin way, he worked on farms at Bendering – he was great mates with a bloke who became a politician from down that way, Bill Young (a pre-WWII Kondinin farmer who was the Country Party MLA for Roe from 1967 to 1974).
¡¡¡¡”I do know he spent a bit of time on a farm at Bencubbin as well, before he went to war.
¡¡¡¡”At some time, probably while he was at Bencubbin, he met my mother (she was ‘Molly’ Gleeson from Yelbeni and also saw service in WWII as a driver with the Royal Australian Air Force).”
¡¡¡¡Bill Marchant enlisted back at Maylands on July 23, 1940.
¡¡¡¡John Darnley, 80, whose father Jack created the Darnley Dixaline while in the trenches at Tobruk with the 2/28th signals platoon.
¡¡¡¡Mr Marchant recalls his father on Wimmeravale having a lot of old photographs from his war service, but he loaned them to a crop duster pilot who said he would copy them, but “never saw them again”.
¡¡¡¡His only remaining momentos of his father’s war service are his medals – Australian Service Medal 1939-45, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Pacific Star, War Medal and Defence Medal – and two old photographs of his father in uniform in the Middle East.
¡¡¡¡One was of his father with four other soldiers drinking beer at tables in what could be a restaurant or bar, with a man playing a piano accordion behind them.
¡¡¡¡It was sent from 98 Allenby St, Tel Aviv – there is no date stamp unfortunately – and addressed in Bill Marchant’s handwriting to his mother in Maylands.
¡¡¡¡Across the picture is scrawled in Bill’s handwriting: “To Mum with love, Horrie”.
¡¡¡¡”He was always William Alfred, so they might have called him Horrie – it’s his handwriting,” Mr Marchant said.
¡¡¡¡A pencilled note on the back, but not in his father’s handwriting, says the soldiers were “Western Australian signalers from the 2/28th on leave in Tel Aviv”.
¡¡¡¡The second photo is of three soldiers sitting in cane chairs at a small table with drinks in front of them and other soldiers in the background.
¡¡¡¡In Bill Marchant’s handwriting it was addressed to Miss M Gleeson, ‘Wimmeravale’, Yelbeni, WA.
¡¡¡¡On the back, his note to his future wife said: “Taken in Tel Aviv, myself, a yank (an American) and another Australian, 18-11-42”.
¡¡¡¡Mr Marchant is struck by the 28th Battalion’s connection with his family history.
¡¡¡¡On his mother’s side, the Drew family pioneered Wimmeravale 112 years ago,
¡¡¡¡His mother’s uncle, Archibald Fraser Drew, was blown to pieces by a direct hit from an artillery shell in France in World War 1.
¡¡¡¡He was in the first 28th Battalion.
¡¡¡¡His father was in the second.
¡¡¡¡”Would you believe it, when I did my national service I was in a CMF unit and that was part of the 28th Battalion – it was just called the 28th in those days,” Mr Marchant said.
¡¡¡¡”I was one of the first (national service conscripts) to get a deferment,” he said.
¡¡¡¡”The old man was crook and not up to running the farm on his own so I didn’t have to go for 12 months.”
¡¡¡¡After his case was assessed, Mr Marchant was assigned to a CMF unit created specifically for young men on the land to enable them to complete national service obligations but still be at home for busy seeding and harvest times.
¡¡¡¡”We had to do 33 days a year and part way through my national service Gough Whitlam got elected and that was the end of it.
¡¡¡¡”When I was called up the old man was bitterly opposed to it because of what he’d been through in the war,” he said.
¡¡¡¡WHO IS ‘STICKY’ STEWART?
¡¡¡¡An undated photograph Bill Marchant (second left) sent back to his mother from Tel Aviv. A pencilled note on the back describes them as “Western Australian signallers from the 2/28 on leave in Tel Aviv” and lists their surnames as “White, Marchant, Tredrea, Delf, Stewart”. While the others can be identified with some certainty, it is not clear whether Stewart in the picture is ‘Sticky’ Stewart who signed the Darnley Dixaline at Tobruk.
¡¡¡¡A NICKNAME on the front of the Darnley Dixaline and a World War II photograph of Western Australia signalmen from the 2/28th Infantry Battalion on leave in Tel Aviv, beg the question: who was ‘Sticky’ Stewart?
¡¡¡¡Among the 29 signatures on the front of the Dixaline is a name clearly printed in capital letters “STICKY STEWART”, a member of the 2/28th signals platoon along with Privates ‘Jack’ Darnley and ‘Bill’ Marchant at Tobruk.
¡¡¡¡On the back of a photograph sent by Bill Marchant back to his mother in Maylands from Tel Aviv, a pencilled note lists the surnames of the five members of the 2/28th enjoying a beer while on leave, as “White, Marchant, Tredrea, Delf, Stewart”.
¡¡¡¡A “Pink” White signed the front of the Dixaline and was probably Pte Lyall Leslie White (WX 6701) whose military record shows he signed up at Southern Cross on July 20, 1940 and was discharged on September 15, 1945 after being a prisoner of war.
¡¡¡¡The second man has been identified by his son John as Pte WA (Bill) Marchant (WX4947) who enlisted at Maylands on July 23, 1940, with his date of discharge listed in his service record as October 1, 1944.
¡¡¡¡He also signed the Dixaline.
¡¡¡¡No one with the surname Tredrea signed the Dixaline, but there was a John Henry Tredrea (WX8396) from WA in the 2/28th Infantry Battalion.
¡¡¡¡According to Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) records, he would have been aged about 41 in 1942 when the photograph was possibly taken.
¡¡¡¡He enlisted at Northam on October 4, 1940 and was discharged with the rank of sergeant on January 12, 1944.
¡¡¡¡In the picture he is the only one wearing a lanyard on the right shoulder of his dress uniform signifying a rank above private but not an officer.
¡¡¡¡A “Yackem” Delfs also signed the Dixaline was probably Pte William Grenville Delfs (WX 6702) who signed up at Southern Cross on July 20, 1940 – the same day and location Pte White signed up – and was discharged on October 30, 1945, after being a prisoner of war.
¡¡¡¡All were members of the 2/28th.
¡¡¡¡But trying to establish whether Stewart, the fifth soldier in the photograph, is ‘Sticky’ who signed the Dixaline is more difficult.
¡¡¡¡Barry Stinson, president of Birdwood Military Museum, Geraldton City RSL president and a national serviceman who went to Malaya, attempted some years ago to identify all of the soldiers named on the Dixaline from their DVA service records.
¡¡¡¡But he drew a blank on ‘Sticky’ Stewart.
¡¡¡¡There appears to have been 12 members of the 2/28th with the surname Stewart and possibly seven of them came from WA.
¡¡¡¡Of those, research by State Library of Western Australia librarian Peter Edwards, seems to eliminate two as potential ‘Sticky’ Stewarts.
¡¡¡¡The State Library holds the Ray Stewart collection – a World War II collection as unique as Birdwood Military Museum’s Darnley collection with its Dixaline.
¡¡¡¡It consists of nine diaries – one written in pencil on a roll of toilet paper – surreptitiously kept by Lieutenant Raymond (Ray) Stanley Stewart (WX7302) of the 2/28th during almost three years in prisoner of war camps in North Africa, Italy and eventually at Offizierslager (Officer Camp) Stalag V-A at Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart in south-eastern Germany.
¡¡¡¡Lt Stewart had signed on in Northam in 1940 and was captured, along with 489 other members of the 2/28th, in the disastrous assault on Ruin Ridge in the first Battle of El Alamein, Egypt, on July 27, 1942.
¡¡¡¡His daughter transcribed the diaries which were donated to the State Library in 1999 and digitised transcripts are available free to read online through the State Library catalogue.
¡¡¡¡But they make no mention of the nickname ‘Sticky’ and a photo of Lt Stewart as a German prisoner of war (PoW) does not look like the soldier in the Tel Aviv photograph, even allowing for significant weight loss during his time in PoW camps – Ray Stewart’s diaries often complain about the poor quality of the food and how little of it there was.
¡¡¡¡Soldier Stewart in the Tel Aviv photograph also has plain epaulets on his uniform, a lieutenant would have had braided epaulets.
¡¡¡¡Mr Edwards’ research also uncovered a Les Stewart who played a brass instrument in the 2/28th battalion band.
¡¡¡¡He was Leslie Stewart (WX7525) who was aged 39 when he enlisted in August 1940 at Subiaco and was also a PoW.
¡¡¡¡But his enlistment photographs show he looked nothing like the soldier in the Tel Aviv photograph and his May, 1945, discharge papers state he had the index finger of his right hand missing.
¡¡¡¡The Tel Aviv photo clearly shows soldier Stewart has four fingers and a thumb holding his drink.
¡¡¡¡A third member of the 2/28th, Leslie Norman Stewart (W62368) would have been 47 when he enlisted at Victoria Park in April 1942 and is unlikely to be ‘Sticky’, given his age and relatively late enlistment.
¡¡¡¡So the four most likely to be ‘Sticky’ are:
¡¡¡¡George Ian Balfour Stewart (WX5703), who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1905, but signed up in Harvey, WA, in June 1940 and was a PoW before his discharge in March 1946.George Walter Stewart (WX19496) who was born in East Fremantle in 1916, signed up at Beaconsfield in February 1942 and was discharged with the rank of corporal in February, 1946. John Dougall Stewart (WX6736) who was born in 1914 in Sunderland, England, but enlisted at Moorine Rock, WA, in July, 1940 and was discharged as a “signalman” in March, 1944 – the only Stewart to have his rank specifically listed by the DVA as signalman.Morris Vernon Stewart (WX4039) who was born at York in 1902, enlisted at Victoria Park in May, 1940 and was discharged in September, 1945, with the rank of sergeant.ShareTweetAa
¡¡¡¡For 35 years, much of life in the Seacoast region centered around Pease Air Force Base, a key Strategic Air Command post during America¡¯s Cold War with the Soviet Union.
¡¡¡¡When the facility was shut down in 1991 after a round of military base closures, the location suddenly known as Pease International Tradeport became the key engine of economic recovery necessary to bounce back from the loss of a base which had housed 10,000 people. The Pease Development Authority was created as a state agency to oversee this effort.
¡¡¡¡Today, Pease Air National Guard Base still serves as the home of the 157th Air Refueling Wing. Pease Golf Course is a popular spot for local lovers of the sport. And after yet another name change, the facility¡¯s lineage continues to be reflected as Portsmouth International Airport at Pease.
¡¡¡¡So yeah, it¡¯s safe to say the Pease name may be among the most ubiquitous in the area. But I¡¯m willing to bet most residents don¡¯t know how it became associated with one of the more important sites in the entire state.
¡¡¡¡Memorial Day weekend provides an ideal opportunity to share the story of the former base¡¯s namesake ¨C a University of New Hampshire graduate whose courageous wartime exploits earned him the Medal of Honor, and according to some reports led to his horrific death in the Pacific during World War II.
¡¡¡¡Harl Pease Jr. was born in Plymouth, New Hampshire, in 1917. His father was a local car dealer and his mother played the organ at the family¡¯s church. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in Durham in 1939, with a degree in business administration.
¡¡¡¡He then joined the Army Air Corps as a flying cadet in September of that year, more than two years before the United States entered into World War II. He trained in Alabama and Texas, earning his wings in June 1940, according to the U.S. Air Force.
¡¡¡¡He flew the B-17 Flying Fortress before the war, taking part in history¡¯s first mass flight of land-based planes to a base located overseas ¨C in this case, Hickam Field in Hawaii.? Pease earned the Air Medal for his efforts. America formally declared war on Japan after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
¡¡¡¡Pease was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, for flying in much-needed medical supplies and rescuing stranded technicians in March 1942 in the Philippines, aboard a plane with no brakes and held together by “baling wire and bubble-gum,” according to the military history website Home For Heroes. ?At one point, Pease landed at Del Monte Airport to fly the legendary U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines. According to the website, MacArthur blurted, ¡°He¡¯s only a boy!¡± when he saw Pease depart his aircraft.
¡¡¡¡MacArthur was reportedly even less impressed with the battered bomber Pease was flying, and refused to board the plane with his family. Pease continued his mission and left without MacArthur. The New Hampshire native went on to receive his captain¡¯s bars that June.
¡¡¡¡But his most celebrated heroics took place a couple months later.
¡¡¡¡In August 1942, one of the engines failed on the bomber Pease was flying over New Guinea and he had to return to the Australian base where he was stationed. He wasn¡¯t scheduled for an aerial attack planned for the following day near Rabaul, New Britain, but all other available planes in his group were slated to participate.
¡¡¡¡Pease and his crew of volunteers found the most serviceable remaining plane on the base and ¡°prepared it for combat, knowing that it had been found and declared unserviceable for combat missions,¡± according to his Medal of Honor citation.
¡¡¡¡With just three hours¡¯ rest, after flying almost continuously since the previous morning, Pease and crew hooked up with their squadron at 0100 (or 1 a.m.) at Port Moresby, New Guinea on Aug. 7 for the Rabaul mission.
¡¡¡¡¡°When the formation was intercepted by about 30 enemy fighter airplanes before reaching the target, Capt. Pease, on the wing which bore the brunt of the hostile attack, by gallant action and the accurate shooting by his crew, succeeded in destroying several Zeros before dropping his bombs on the hostile base as planned, this in spite of continuous enemy attacks,¡± his citation declares. ¡°The fight with the enemy pursuit lasted 25 minutes until the group dived into cloud cover.¡±
¡¡¡¡From this point forward, details of Pease¡¯s life become murky.
¡¡¡¡Flying an aircraft already in less than pristine condition, and apparently damaged during the aerial battle with Japanese Zeros, Pease fell behind the main force of his group. Enemy aircraft ignited one of the bomb bay tanks of his plane, which his fellow aviators saw him drop to the ground below.
¡¡¡¡¡°It is believed that Capt. Pease’s airplane and crew were subsequently shot down in flames, as they did not return to their base,¡± the citation reads. ¡°In voluntarily performing this mission Capt. Pease contributed materially to the success of the group and displayed high devotion to duty, valor, and complete contempt for personal danger.¡±
¡¡¡¡In December 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the nation¡¯s most revered military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Pease¡¯s parents at the White House.
¡¡¡¡But according to subsequent reports, Pease did not die until that October, nearly two months after his fateful mission.
¡¡¡¡In the 1980s, a Catholic missionary named Father George Lepping shed new light on the grisly end of Pease¡¯s life, as reported by Home For Heroes.
¡¡¡¡Lepping was taken prisoner in the South Pacific by the Japanese army in April 1942. A few months later, he was transferred to a POW camp on Rabaul. There he encountered several American airmen, including Pease, who he said was called ¡°Captain Boeing¡± by their Japanese captors because of the plane he had flown. He was described as ¡°a natural born leader without trying to be one.¡± One of Pease¡¯s crewmen was held at the camp as well.
¡¡¡¡So, according to this priest, the daring pilot was not lost with his plane, as many had believed over four decades, but rather had landed safely somehow only to be captured by the enemy.?
¡¡¡¡On the morning of Oct. 8, Lepping said, the Japanese brought Pease, his crewman, two of the other American airmen and two Australian prisoners into the jungle, supposedly to build an airstrip. Instead, the POWs were ordered to dig their own graves, beheaded by sword, and buried there.
¡¡¡¡It is believed that Pease and his companions still lie below the jungle floor to this day.
¡¡¡¡The US Air Force established Portsmouth Air Force Base in June 1956, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union was ramping up. In September 1957, the base was renamed after Capt. Harl Pease Jr. ¨C a fitting tribute to the New Hampshire native son, graduate of neighboring University of New Hampshire, and hero of the Army Air Corps, predecessor of the Air Force.
¡¡¡¡The base served as the home of the 509th Bomb Wing, essentially a front line of defense against potential attack by the Soviet Union for decades. The B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker were among the aircraft based at Pease during its heyday.
¡¡¡¡When the Cold War eventually thawed, the Pease base was among the military installations ordered to shut down during the 1988 round of base closures. The Pease Development Authority was established by the New Hampshire state legislature in 1990 to oversee the redevelopment of the site.
¡¡¡¡In 1992, the former base was officially designated as Pease International Tradeport, ensuring the name would continue to be associated with the facility.?And its military legacy continues as well, through the ongoing operation of Pease Air National Guard Base.
¡¡¡¡Interestingly, Capt. Pease¡¯s birthday was April 10. This is the same date the doomed Portsmouth Naval Shipyard-built submarine USS Thresher sank in 1963, resulting in the deaths of 129 Navy sailors and civilian workers, following a nine-month overhaul at the local Navy yard.
¡¡¡¡USS Thresher’s undoing:Documents reveal more on cause of April 1963 tragedy
¡¡¡¡It would be worth our time to take a moment this Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices made by Pease, the Thresher crew, and so many others for the freedoms we all too often take for granted. And to maybe remember everything the Pease name represents when you see it displayed in the area.