Zeek Wilkinson (back) wheels veteran Ken McFarlane down Prince St in a Grafton Anzac Day march. Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Zeek Wilkinson (back) wheels veteran Ken McFarlane down Prince St in a Grafton Anzac Day march. Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner Adam Hourigan

Valley loses one of its WWII veterans

ONE of the Clarence Valley's last remaining Second World War prisoner of war veterans has died.

Ken McFarlane, or 'The Hoper' as he was known to his mates, died last Wednesday.

Mr McFarlane adopted his nickname during the years he spent under the captivity of the Japanese in the war.

He chose to focus on the positives, concentrating on the camaraderie formed between the prisoners of war during their time of absolute horror.

In a book recalling his life, Mr McFarlane wrote:"I always believe you always had to live with 'the hope' that circumstances would get better, and we would finally get home to our families."

"....You had to do something every day, to bring hope to not only yourself, but to your comrades too. This I tried to do, and so The Hoper did get home to his family."

Grafton RSL Sub-Branch president Brian Bultitude met Mr McFarlane through the sub-branch and described him as "a very nice old bloke".

Ken survives war to live out his life in Clarence Valley

KEN McFarlane was born at Rous Mill on the Richmond River on July 1, 1919.

He moved to Southgate as a youngster and at the age of 16, joined the light horse. Three years later, when war was declared, he continued with his military training and work.

A short time later, he met his wife, Elsie, who still lives in Grafton.

In Mr McFarlane's book, he fondly recalled their friendship, marriage and family life together.

"... I met Elsie, and she became my girlfriend. We used to go to dances, picture shows and picnics."

Mr McFarlane then enlisted into the AIF.

After 103 days serving in Australia and 1524 days overseas, with three-and-a half years spent as a prisoner of war, Mr McFarlane finally returned to Australia and to his family.

"As we were flying home, when we were about 50 miles from Australia, we could smell the gum trees. Of course that was all in our minds."

On January 10, 1946, Mr McFarlane was discharged from the Army. He then married Elsie, who would become the mother of their three children: Nancy, Ian and Rowan.

Mr McFarlane saw out the rest of his years in the Clarence Valley, forming many great friendships along the way.

POW's life of torture

AFTER enlisting in the AIF on June 6, 1941, Ken McFarlane served in Singapore.

During the Fall of Singapore, Mr McFarlane and his fellow soldiers were told that the allied forces were going to capitulate, and it was every man for himself.

"... the Japanese were not known to take prisoners but we thought there was probably too many of us just to kill us. We later learnt they wanted us for work parties," Mr McFarlane wrote.

They were marched to Changi.

"...the supply of food and water and the maintenance of health was the most critical problem for us."

Mr McFarlane and another prisoner of war managed to obtain some poultry, which they fed on their rations of rice - rice which Mr McFarlane recalled as being unfit for human consumption. Eggs and cooked chicken became available for the prisoners.

The men were then told they would be trucked out to another prison camp, this time in Burma.

"...we had no idea where we were going and what would become of us.

"The routine was much the same every day, I didn't know what day it was, nor did I know the date or the year."

As well as working on the Burma Railway, Mr McFarlane was one of many men who toiled on the Changi Aerodrome.

He recalled the days leading into the declaration of peace, when British planes flew over the camp and dropped parachutists nearby.

"Later our officers told us the news, the war was all over."

Some time later, Mr McFarlane and the other prisoners of war returned to Australia. He was on home soil and was signing his leave papers when an officer told him he was to catch a train to Grafton.

"Everything was a haze and it took some believing that I was going home."

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