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When you meet
Albert ‘Bert’ Maurice Collins it’s clear there are very few people like him
left. It’s not least of all because at 104 he’s physically healthy and has a
remarkably sharp mind. Rather, it’s because of the debt our nation owes him for
his service during World War II.
Bert’s story is
just about “an ordinary bloke” who is a “very lucky fella”. But to most, it’s
nothing but extraordinary.
the front porch of his Bankstown home where he’s lived for more than 70 years, the
veteran who rose to the rank of sergeant in the 52nd Australian Composite Anti-Aircraft
Regiment (AIF) in Dutch New Guinea says he has many memories and stories to
As a boy, “Bert”
had a penchant to join the navy. That dream was fulfilled when, he joined at the
tender age of 16 - the record listed him as cadet Collins C243. But his hopes
of sailing the high seas was not to be fulfilled and shortly after joining, he
was discharged from service.
“I was a cadet
and one day we were standing in the hot sun for so long I thought, ‘what the
hell’s up here?’ and the next thing I thought was, ‘what the hell am I doing
laying down here (the ground)?’,” Mr Collins said.
asking me if I was alright and I said, ‘yes, what’s up?’ They told me I’d passed
out (but) so did they, because of heatstroke! There were about four others. We
were all discharged as unsuitable.”
In August 1940,
he received a letter from the army and served as a searchlight operator. After
a short stint and a discussion with his men he decided to join the AIF, leaving
for Dutch New Guinea (now Indonesia) in 1942.
Mr Collins explained
how he had three searchlights and was responsible for directing these lights
whenever planes flew overhead.
“I’d have to
direct the searchlights and say, ‘searchlight number one, machine gun action on
west; number two, bomber; and number three…’ I set them all up and kept an eye
out on them. Many a time I was scared, I’m not frightented to admit that,” he
It was a far
cry from his first job, where he worked at the Eastershow and had to “sing out
‘hot soup! Hot soup! Here you are ladies and gentlemen, over here!’”
his stories, it’s clear the centenarian veteran has refused to give up the
Anzac Spirit in him, every time he’s come face to face with death. But he’s
always reminding himself and others about how lucky he is to be alive.
He once had to
dive into his gun pit after bombs rained down and he felt a thud on his back. It
was a close brush with death, which left him with spent shrapnel lodged in his
left shoulder blade. But he said he was one of the more fortunate ones seeing
as it was “just” shrapnel.
to civilian life in 1945 the veteran became a champion ballroom dancer, but his
life of discipline and service has never left.
Last year, Mr
Collins was the oldest WWII veteran to march in Sydney’s Anzac Day
that happened in wartime is imprinted in my mind … I believe in Anzac Day so
much and I should be marching but I can’t because of this scourge (COVID-19).
But as far as I’m concerned, I’m with the Anzacs, even though I have to stay
home,” he said.
have to stay home and have their own service … with all the little kiddies too
… I hope that everyone who is able to walk, can make their way to their front
gate, face east and remember Anzac Day in the early morning.”
This we all should
do to Stand with Bert - lest we forget.
22/04/2020 4:49 PM