Keith Ireland: Carine WII veteran remembers giving away only rations

Keith Ireland remembers giving his rations to people starving in North Borneo after World War II.         Picture: Kate Leaver
Keith Ireland remembers giving his rations to people starving in North Borneo after World War II.         Picture: Kate Leaver

The 93-year-old served in the 9th Division of the Australian Army in New Guinea and the South Pacific region for five years.

At the end of the war the unit was tasked with freeing prisoners, co-ordinating aid and overseeing the clean up after the Japanese occupation of Borneo and surrounding islands.

“When we saw the people of Borneo, how they were starved under the Japanese rule, they were crying out because of their hunger, that’s how bad it was,” Mr Ireland said.

“All the Australian troops in those first days gave them all their rations – we didn’t have a meal for a couple days – we gave all our food to the local people.

“That’s why they (still) love any Australian who goes there.

“We had to look out for any Japanese who were still roaming around and put them in a compound which went on for several months – we had to make sure we were looking out. We also had to collect all the armament, trucks and aeroplanes and put them on transport to take out to dump into the ocean.”

Two years ago, Mr Ireland returned to Borneo with his daughter to see a completely different landscape.

“The island of Labuan was 26km long and 15km wide and it was completely flattened when the Australian troops left it in 1946. Today it is one of the most productive modern islands of Borneo, with modern high-rise buildings and hotels,” Mr Ireland said.

“It is amazing how they rebuilt from nothing.

“The people of Borneo absolutely treated any Australian as their friend.

“They were marvellous because we were the ones who helped them and freed them at the end of the war.”

Mr Ireland said he joined up as an eager Inglewood 18-year-old, searching for the thrill of going overseas but naive about the realities of war.

“I was 17 and my pals and I used to go down to the Esplanade and march up and down with broomsticks and pretend we were soldiers,” he said.

“My parents wouldn’t let me go at 17, so I waited until I was 18 and then signed up in 1940.”

This year the Scarborough RSL Sub Branch member said he would attend the Anzac march on St Georges Terrace with his seven great-grandchildren, three grandchildren and three children.

“The youngsters have talked me into it,” he said.

“They are going to push me in the chair in the parade.

“I’ll probably be the only one of our Unit that will be in the parade.

“There are a couple of others left but a few just passed away.”

“It’s amazing how many people go up to Kings Park and also the ceremony in the City for the parade – it’s a great thrill you get from seeing so many people there.”

Opinion, page 8