Stokes journeys down memory lane


SITTING shoulder-to-shoulder with his fellow troops on Papua New Guinea’s largest island, Robert Stokes counted himself lucky.
The black and white photograph of his infantry sharing a drink in New Britain in the early 1940s brings back the memories of the stifling humanity, harsh terrain and an enemy at their heels.
But Stokes, who was conscripted as an 18-year-old, felt there was some divine intervention that got him home in one piece.
He had been working at a Moonee Ponds newsagency when he was called up for military duty.
A calling he just “accepted” at the time.
But due to his age, Stokes needed a special permit from his parents to join the military abroad.
Stokes received his army training in Yallourn and 12 months later, with his parents blessing, went onto serve in New Guinea, Lae, New Britain and Jacquinot Bay.
He said there was a strong camaraderie between the troops and he always looked forward to letters or baked goods from home.
“When we first arrived the heat was shocking,” he said.
“We didn’t wear shirts but that was what made it bearable.
“It was such an eye opening experience being away overseas for the first time and seeing how different people live.
“But we were on alert all the time looking out for enemy planes to shoot them out of the air. You had to have nerves of steel.”
Stokes, a private, said when he arrived in New Britain the tide of the war was taking a turn.
He said the Battle of the Coral Sea was being won by the allies, which in effect was the battle that saved Australia.
It was the first time in WWII that the Japanese experienced failure in a major operation and the battle stopped its seaborne invasion of Port Moresby.
Stokes said, luckily, during his service any gun fire he encountered was few and far between.
He was discharged in 1946 and “adjusted well” to life back in Australia.
But Stokes, 93, said the experience changed him as a man for the better.
The Craigieburn veteran said it was more important than ever for the next generation to remember the sacrifices others had made for their freedoms.
He said this Remembrance Day he would be paying tribute to his fallen comrades. – Herald Sun