Veteran hero stands proud

One of the Highlands’ most loyal returned servicemen, former airfield guard Albert Lewis Bettridge, 94, says Anzac Day is a day everybody should respect.
One of the Highlands’ most loyal returned servicemen, former airfield guard Albert Lewis Bettridge, 94, says Anzac Day is a day everybody should respect.

WORLD War II veteran Albert "Bertie" Bettridge isn't one for taking the easy road in life.

Even at the ripe old age of 94, he insists on marching in Anzac Day parades and refuses all offers of rest during the service.

"No, I don't need a chair, I can stand up all day," Bertie says.

His wife of more than 70 years, Dorothy, had an inkling her husband would need a little more convincing before he ever left his post.

"I said to them (the RSL), I bet he never sat on it and they said no he didn't, he just stood up beside it," Dorothy said.

The former airfield guard spent 13 months during the early 1940s posted to a remote atoll off the coast of mainland New Guinea, within earshot of a rapidly advancing enemy.

"They reckoned they (the Japanese) were just across the road, as the saying is, which they were," Bertie said.

"But they never worried us and we never worried them.

"The army was fighting with them just down the coast from us. We would see the artillery in the night time bombing something, somewhere.

"Fortunately we had a pretty good spin up there."

Bertie was just 22 years old when called up for military service, and undertook his basic training just outside of Brisbane.

But no amount of instruction, he said, could prepare them for the tropical conditions they were to encounter.

"It rained and it rained and rained," he said.

"It rained that often that you didn't take much notice of it. You sort of adapted to it. You can't do much about it, you just let it rain on."

In such conditions it wasn't long before Bertie contracted the potentially deadly but almost evitable bout of Malaria, which afflicted many of the diggers serving in New Guinea.

"I was in the hospital for a while," he said.

"Nearly everyone got it - you couldn't get away from it. It was just natural, like getting a cold in the winter time."

"When I came back I would get an odd turn but it doesn't worry me much anymore."

After his initial year-long posting, Bertie was recalled to serve a further nine months in New Guinea at the war's end.

But it was a trip he might never have made if not for a late change of flight details on his return to Australia.

"This one chap had a plane but it wasn't going where he wanted to, and I was booked on to Sydney and that's where he wanted to go," Bertie said.

"We went and saw the bosses and we got them changed over.

"I believe the plane he was on cracked up around Darwin somewhere."

Battling the Japanese on one front, many soldiers, Bertie said, battled boredom on the other.

But ever-adaptable, the old Aussie ingenuity shone through.

"A lot of blokes used to go 'troppo' - it was just monotony. If you didn't keep your mind occupied on something you'd go 'bronk'. Quite a few of the boys went bronk. You definitely had to occupy your mind, that's what you had to do," Bertie said.

"We used to make things and sell them to the Yanks, an old mate and I.

"We'd make things out of nothing, whatever you could get and the Yanks would buy them.

"You would go around the beach and gather shells but that got a bit monotonous."

Just as enduring for Bertie as those many months posted overseas, is his loyalty to the Anzac cause and the legacy it represents.

"It's something you have to respect…. Think of the blokes that never came back," he said.

"You're all mates and you know what's going to, or what could happen. When it does, it's not what you think it is.

"You just live on."

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