BY PETER KRANZ
MY DAD IS IN HOSPITAL after a fall and shares a room with a man in a similar condition called Bert.
Bert who is 88 broke his hip. He has an old dog, who is blind and follows Bert closely. Unfortunately Bert went to the laundry and forgot the dog was behind him, tripped over him and ended up in hospital with a pin in his hip.
Bert is friendly, kind-hearted and loves to talk. He met me and my wife Rose and we got to chatting as he realised we both have a Papua New Guinea connection.
He joined the 3rd Battalion RAR in 1942 - a unit was a noble history in the New Guinea campaign. But Bert was not to see frontline service due to a strange set of circumstances.
He trained at Atherton in far north Queensland and, late in 1942, was due to embark on a troopship from Townsville to Port Moresby.
The unit marched to the harbour, boarded the ship and then the captain decided it was overloaded, so Bert was amongst 300 or so troops who were disembarked and told to wait for the next ship.
This turned out to be an old Indian steamer loaded with Indian troops also bound for New Guinea. The ship limped out of Townsville harbour at a speed of four knots (about the same as a rowing boat).
Sadly the old vessel broke down after only half a day's voyage, two Indian stokers dying of heat exhaustion trying to work up steam.
After makeshift mechanical repairs, the ship and Bert returned to Townsville.
He got sick of waiting around in camp for new orders and found out the Army was in need of cooks. So he volunteered to be transferred to a mess unit, and eventually ended up in New Guinea.
He saw no action other than, as he wryly put it, being commandeered by the officers to cook sponge cakes for their parties at headquarters.
We had to end our chat, as the nurses came in for some monitoring. Bert wasn't able to eat his dinner, as he had had a bad reaction to his operation.
He looked at me and said: "You eat it Pete, better than it going to waste." He then announced to the nurses when they asked why he hadn't eaten anything: "I sold that meal you gave me to another bloke. Got a good price for it too!"
I then saw a glimpse of the humour, companionship and wit of the old Aussie digger. Even if Bert did no fighting, he also served.