Robert Page at the Copmanhurst Dawn Service
Robert Page at the Copmanhurst Dawn Service Caitlan Charles

Page family's World War II tragedy

The Daily Examiner takes a look back at some of the most captivating ANZAC stories from the past decade. This story was originally published in April, 2018.


THE HISTORY of the Page family is tied heavily to the Clarence Valley, but at the Copmanhurst Dawn Service, Robert Page wasn't there to talk about Sir Earle Page but his brother Harold.

"Harold joined the 25th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in early 1915, they arrived in Gallipoli September of that year and left in January 1916 to freshen up in Egypt before heading to France in March," Robert said.

"They spent the next two and a half years in heavy combat on the Western Front.

"Harold was awarded the military cross in 1916 with the following comment:

Awarded Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry during a raid of the enemies trenches, though wounded continued with great dash. Several of the enemy were wounded, four prisoners taken, he showed great coolness and courage.

"Harold rose in rank to major and was granted the distinguished service order. From that order it's quoted:

On September 2, 1918 at Mont St Quentin he commanded the 25th Battalion in a brilliant operation, he accompanied his battalion into action, this attack which was ordered at a few hours notice, owing to his tactics, was entirely successful.

The personal ascendency of Major Page over his battalion has been made manifest on numerous occasions, but never as in this latter attack, he himself was severely wounded from an enemy machine gun he was stalking.

Never the less, the battalion imbued by his spirit carried on in all it's objectives and brought to a successful conclusion the finest achievement in it's history."

Robert said in 1921, Harold moved to Papua New Guinea as the commissioner of native police and over the next 20 years, rose to the position of deputy administrator.

When war was declared against Japan on December 9, 1941, the Australian War Cabinet recommended a joint United States, Australian effort to defend Rabaul where Harold was stationed, but this never happened.

"Women and children were evacuated from Rabaul and on January 15, 1942, Harold sent a telegram to the Prime Minister asking for urgent evacuation of the remaining civil population," Robert said.

"This request was declined and on January 23, the Japanese raided Rabaul and Harold was taken prisoner with around 200 other civilians and 700 soldiers.

"Harold's only son, Robert Page, known as Bob had enlisted in 1941, he joined the Z Special Commando Unit, also known as Z Force, in March 1943.

"The capture of his father influenced his decision to join Z Force. Bob's first mission was Operation Jaywick in September 1943, which involved 14 men travelling in a small Japanese fishing boat from Australia to near Japanese-held Singapore.

"In canoes, they paddled near 50kms into Singapore Harbour, attached limpet mines to Japanese ships, sinking or badly damaging seven before returning undetected.

"Captain Bob Page was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for this mission."

Robert said in October 1944, they conducted a similar mission, Operation Rimau, but failed and Bob was captured.

"He was executed only six weeks fore the end of the war," Robert said.

"After the war ended, Harold was reported as being on board the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru when it was carrying Australian captives to Japan in July 1941.

"It was torpedoed and no Australian's survived.

"Neither Harold or Bob knew of each others fate."

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