MERRIWA resident Len Snell (96) commemorates Anzac Day by attending the dawn service at his RAAFA Estate, but his own memories of World War II are firmly rooted in Darwin.
The war veteran was based at Darwin’s Noonamah Barracks from 1941-43, where he was a postal dispatch rider in the 43rd Battalion.
Mr Snell, whose father was a World War I survivor, had initially tried to join the navy but was told his chest did not expand to the required measurements.
As a 20-year-old, he was going about his usual postal duties on February 19, 1942 – a day now known as the bombing of Darwin.
“I was running late that day because I had to answer a call of nature and those few minutes saved my life,” he said.
“I heard droning in the distance; at the time we had no idea it was Japanese bombers, but we ran to the cliffs in panic and disbelief.
“When I then made it back to the post office it had been bombed to the ground, killing the post master, his wife and daughter and several others.
“I’ll never forget that day.
“I still clearly remember the horrific scenes of death and destruction and the enormous feeling of helplessness when we saw the town being destroyed, later discovering that more than 240 Australians had been killed and over 400 injured.”
Mr Snell went on to serve in Borneo and New Guinea, but said his memories from both countries could not match the horror of the bombing of Darwin.
“Only one other post officer survived the attack and everyone else I had worked with was killed,” he said.
“Many of my mates thought I had died too and when I eventually got back to the barracks that day there was a huge cheer when they all saw me.”
Mr Snell received a box camera from his mother before joining the army.
He used it to take many photos on that fateful day and in the days after, all of which are now in a special scrapbook.
He was discharged from the army in February 1945 and moved to Adelaide, where he worked as a roof tiler for many years before starting his own business.
He later retired to Perth in 1982 to be with his two daughters and moved into the RAAFA estate in 1996.
RAAFA Merriwa Estate was scheduled to hold a 6am centenary Dawn Service this Anzac Day.