Gunner Jim Kerr fought in World War II. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Gunner Jim Kerr fought in World War II. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Aussie Diggers tell panic-buyers to ‘get real’

It was mateship, common sense and a steely resolve to survive which got Jim Kerr through World War II, and it is that inner strength which will get him through the coronavirus crisis.

The 95-year-old, who survived weeks near starvation in the Malaysian jungle, cholera outbreaks in a prisoner-of-war camp and backbreaking work on the infamous Burma railway, said he could not believe Australians were now fighting over toilet paper and finding it difficult to stay home when asked.

"We never had showers or anything like that … in the three-and-a-half years I was a prisoner of war I never sat at a table to eat a meal, I never had toothpaste, I never had soap, I never had a towel, I was never supplied with proper bedding and certainly never had, in those three-and-half years, the thing that people are going absolutely mad over now - toilet paper," Mr Kerr said.

"People should not be resorting to fighting over toilet paper. For God's sake - let's get real people!"

World War Two Veteran Norman Tame, 96 years old Picture: Mark Stewart
World War Two Veteran Norman Tame, 96 years old Picture: Mark Stewart

He said he was taking health authorities' advice and self-isolating in Dingley as best he could, to avoid contracting COVID-19.

"It's got me worried and I'm only communicating with family and close friends at the moment," the man who served his country from the age of 15 told the Sunday Herald Sun.

"We've decided we are going to do the right thing and self-isolate. I'll be seeing the family very seldom.

"I'll be doing the right thing - we all should be."

Australian prisoners of war were famous for their positive attitudes, sharing, looking after each other and surviving hard times, Mr Kerr said.

 

He said it was time Aussies toughed it out again and showed the world what they were made of.

"As a POW I was always just so proud to be an Australian because they acquitted themselves so well," he said. "Our hygiene was always the best, our morale was always good and we had mateship. You had to have a mate to survive."

Norm Tame, one of the last surviving veterans of Australia's most important naval battle, said following orders from superiors was vital to survive and save the lives of others.

Having survived the 1942 Japanese bombing of HMAS Australia in the Coral Sea, the former navy man said: "If you don't follow orders, the ship can go to the bottom."

Speaking from his East Oakleigh home of 70 years, Mr Tame, 96, said "you don't just look out for yourself, you look out for the fleet".

 

Veteran Jessie Flanders lived through strict rationing of petrol, clothes and food
Veteran Jessie Flanders lived through strict rationing of petrol, clothes and food

Mr Tame is trying to stay at home as much as possible, while caring for his 93-year-old wife.

Former navy decoder Jess Flanders, 99, who still lives independently in her Casterton home, is also self-isolating to keep herself and family members safe.

She has a new great-great grandchild and another soon to arrive but won't be able to visit either of them.

"But that's OK - there's nothing we can do about it. Lucky we have the telephone and I've just learnt how to use Facebook so I can see the baby photographs," Mrs Flanders said.

Although she lived through rationing of petrol, clothes and food in Melbourne during wartime, Mrs Flanders said today's conditions with the rapid spread of coronavirus were certainly frightening, but she hoped they would not drag on.

"It's not going to last forever and if we do the right thing and stay at home and don't mix with other people, and do all the other things they've asked us to do, we might get this nasty virus under control … I guess we just need to hang in," she said.

Mrs Flanders, who lost her first husband to a blood disease resulting from his time as a bomber pilot during the war, said she felt sorry for people who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19, "because most were just good honest, hardworking people who had their heads above water … and now it's all gone".

RSL state president Robert Webster said COVID-19 was making the world "feel like a fragile and uncertain place", but Australians had "weathered many storms" and would weather this one.

It was vital to "keep spirits high", Dr Webster said.

"Continue to talk, share, express hope and support each other. Look after your body and mind. And if you need help, please reach out."

mandy.squires@news.com.au

Originally published as Aussie Diggers tell panic-buyers to 'get real'

Norman pictured in 1941 off the South African Coast. Picture: Mark Stewart
Norman pictured in 1941 off the South African Coast. Picture: Mark Stewart


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