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Returned hero faces discrimination

Private Darby Khan.
Private Darby Khan.

AS ANZAC day approaches, many will pause to reflect on the tragedy and human experience that marks war.

Mervyn Deen remembers his uncle Private Darby Khan, a young soldier who spent more than 1500 days in army service.

The majority of this time was spent as a prisoner of war, working on the notorious Burma railway under Japanese rule.

When he returned to his hometown of Grafton, Mr Khan secured a job in the bush splitting timber for railway sleepers but still faced discrimination.

Despite his years of service, Mr Deen said that as a coloured man his uncle was not welcome in public bars and resorted to drinking methy-lated spirits in lieu of beer.

"Although Darby was predominantly of Indian/Pakistani decent, in his ancestry he was also English, Irish and Aboriginal. In those days, anyone with dark skin was ... not allowed to purchase a beer over the bar or any take away liquor," Mr Deen said.

"He was good enough to serve his country ... and he came home thinking he had earned the right to celebrate with his mates," Mervyn's wife, Cheryl, said.

"He must have been devastated."

Mr Khan died in Grafton Hospital two days after he consumed methylated spirits and lit a cigarette, causing severe burns to his lungs. He was 39.

"Perhaps if Darby Khan were allowed to have a regular beer, along with his mates from the Army, this tragedy may not have occurred."

Private Khan joined the Australian Army on August 29, 1941, and was discharged on January 26, 1946.

Topics:  anzac day, australian army, burma railway, prisoner of war


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