‘Spending a penny’ saved his life

The 94-year-old war veteran, who has lived at the RAAFA Estate in Merriwa since 1996, was based at Darwin�s Noonamah Barracks from 1941 to 1943 where he was a postal dispatch rider in the 43rd Battalion.

Mr Snell, then 20, was going about his usual postal duties on February 19, 1942 � the day now known as the bombing of Darwin � when an uncharacteristic stop off to �spend a penny� saved his life.

�I was running late that day because I had to answer a call of nature and those few minutes saved my life,� said Mr Snell, who initially tried to join the navy but was told his �chest didn�t expand to the required measurements�.

�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,� he said. �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.

�The time was 9.51am on February 19 and 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, whose father was a World War I survivor, went on to see extensive action in Borneo and New Guinea, but admits his memories in both countries could not match the horror of the bombing of Darwin.

�Only one other post officer survived the attack and everyone else I worked with was killed, in fact 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,� he said.

Mr Snell was given a box camera by his mother before joining the army, which he used to take many photos on that fateful day and in the days after, all of which are now in a scrapbook that Mr Snell admits he treasures.

He was eventually 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..