Anzac Day: Veteran Ward Curedale reflects on service

Ward Curedale reflects on his service in New Guinea and Bougainville during World War II.
Ward Curedale reflects on his service in New Guinea and Bougainville during World War II.

Born in Fremantle in 1925, Mr Curedale grew up holidaying on family farms all over the State, where the regular hunting of kangaroos and ducks helped him develop into a skilled marksman.

He joined a rifle club at the age of 16 and not long after signed up for the militia, primarily because membership meant free ammunition.

With war raging on the South Pacific islands, and threatening the Australian mainland, Mr Curedale was conscripted into the Australian Army on March 29, 1943. After a week of medical examinations and aptitude tests, he was selected for the Intelligence Corps.

“They gave me the option of going to either officer school or intelligence school and you’d have to be a lunatic to be an officer in New Guinea in those days, so I decided intelligence was best for me,” he said.

“When my training was finished, they sent me up to Cairns, where I joined the intelligence section of the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion, which was part of the 7th Brigade, and we left for New Guinea not long after.”

Mr Curedale travelled to New Guinea aboard the troop transport Katoomba, which ran into a two-day tropical storm that did not relent until the ship approached the China Strait. While severe, the storm was nothing compared to what lay in wait in the Pacific theatre.

“You can imagine what it is like; all night you have to take turns watching for the Japanese sneaking around,” Mr Curedale said.“Then they attack, or you have to go out, and it’s a bastard of a business, it really is.”

Mr Curedale was involved in heavy fighting throughout his time in New Guinea and Bougainville, notably forming part of a rescue operation to relieve two battalion companies surrounded by Japanese forces.

“We went in with four Matilda infantry tanks, which soon turned into three tanks when one of them got bogged,” he said.

“We succeeded in getting the companies out but the Japanese ambushed us on the way back to battalion headquarters at Slater’s Knoll. I only managed to save my life by getting in behind one of the tanks to shield myself.”

Following the ambush, Mr Curedale was involved in the April 5, 1945 defence of Slater’s Knoll, a battle often described in history books as ‘the miracle in the jungle’, during which a total of 129 Australian soldiers held firm in the face of 2400 well-armed Japanese forces.

Milne’s Bay and Slater’s Knoll are both battle honours awarded to the Queensland 25th Battalion.

After returning from New Guinea, Mr Curedale enjoyed a long career as an accountant-economist in Canberra, retiring as a senior public servant before heading back to Western Australia with his wife Nancy. The pair have three children and have lived in Kardinya for the past three decades.

Mr Curedale has recently completed a detailed history of the 7th Brigade’s activities during World War II, concentrating primarily on the movement of the 25th Battalion.

The activities of the 25th Battalion are commemorated in the Milne Bay Military Museum in Toowoomba.