Mannum WWII veterans honoured on 75th anniversary of victory in the Pacific

On the day Japan's surrender became official, one was there in the middle of it all.

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On or around September 2, 1945, Keith Lowe was asked to pick up some unusual passengers.

They were Japanese, but he didn’t know who they were, or what the significance of their journey was.

Little did he know that they were on their way to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the document which formally ended the bloodiest war the world had ever seen.

After six desperate years, the peace had been won, and a lad from Mannum was there in the middle of it all.

On Saturday, more than 100 people gathered at the town’s war memorial to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in the Pacific.

It was on August 15 that the fighting actually stopped all those years ago, after Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender in a radio broadcast.

Three of Mannum’s surviving World War II veterans attended the ceremony.

Irene Cowley, 95, served in the officers’ mess aboard the HMAS Rushcutters; Rhonda Frick, 95, drove a fire truck at an American air base at Mallala; and Erica Temme, 95, worked a switchboard for the 121st Australian General Hospital.

Another two were too ill to come along on the day: John Chandler, 101, who went to New Guinea with the 4th Field Bakery; and June Hunter, 95, a truck driver at the No. 1 Flying Boat Repair Depot at Lake Boga, Victoria.

A sixth was to have been honoured as well – Mr Lowe, the local RSL sub-branch’s longest-serving member – but he never reached the milestone.

He died less than a fortnight beforehand, aged 97.

Still, those who had made it had enjoyed the privilege of hearing about everyday life during the war, Mannum RSL secretary Sue Hunter said.

Everyone knew how dreadful it had been, she said; but little anecdotes like Mr Lowe’s were what brought the era to life for the generations that had followed.

“It was a really good day,” she said.

“The veterans had a really good day ... they got very spoilt.”

Each was presented with a commemorative medallion by federal MP Tony Pasin, and a certificate by state MP Adrian Pederick.

Mr Pasin thanked each for their service.

“Brave Australians served our nation in the far corners of the world, fighting in theatres of war from Europe to North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, to Asia and the Pacific, with the conflict also reaching Australian shores,” he said.

“Australia can never fully repay the debt we owe these amazing men and women.”

About 39,000 Australians were killed during World War II, and another 30,000 were taken prisoner.

Photos: Office of Tony Pasin (top), Department of Veterans’ Affairs (bottom).