Riverton RSL warden says Xmas is all about family as he recalls festive seasons in the army


Trevor McLean. Picture: Will Russell
Trevor McLean. Picture: Will Russell

TREVOR McLean walked out into the sparse Northam surrounds on Christmas Day in 1942.

It was his first Christmas in the army and as a plucky 18-year-old, he escaped the hot metal 60-man quarters in favour of the dry countryside.

Taking his private .22 rifle, he set out for rabbits, which ran rampant through the region, shooting enough to bring back to the barrack’s cook to prepare for Christmas lunch; a welcome reprieve from regular rations.

“I didn’t have any leave so I couldn’t go home, and the food was fairly basic… Northam in those days had rabbits everywhere so I went out, wandering around and brought back some rabbits. I gave them to the cook and that supplemented that Christmas lunch,” Mr McLean said.

It was the first of four military Christmases for Mr McLean, who had joined the army in the middle of World War II, the same year the Japanese had bombed Darwin and Broome.

His last Christmas in the Army was in 1945 after the Battle of Balikpapan in Borneo.

Mr McLean had arrived about six months earlier on July 1; a date he remembers because his 21st birthday and first beer were just two days later.

“I remember looking at the beach coming in and it was just trunks of trees, empty sticks standing up and shrapnel sticking in the sand,” Mr McLean said.

“I didn’t think much when I arrived, I just went where I had to go.”

Mr McLean, who was in the seventh division, had bade farewell to his comrades in the ninth division months earlier who went on to a bloody battle in Tarakan, and as Allied soldiers walked the horror Death March from Sandakan to Ranau, dying in their thousands.

“At the time we didn’t know what was happening in Sandakan, there was none of that where we were, and I didn’t find out until I got back to Australia,” Mr McLean said.

The Japanese surrendered in August and by December, the South Eastern corner of Borneo was decimated but in peace.

Mr McLean spent Christmas packing down Allied equipment and helping villagers where he could.

“I didn’t know what I was doing but if any of the villagers came to me with an injury I’d try and fix it up, and it kept them happy,” Mr McLean said.

“I did that until I had no medical supplies left.”

The now-Riverton RSL warden left the Army in July 1946, marrying and having three children.

For the past 70 years, Christmas has been about family.

“Since my wife died especially Christmas has been about family, and I am close to all of my children,” Mr McLean said.

“We will have lunch and spend time together, because that is what this time of year is about and it’s what happiness is.”