FOUR brave soldiers, all in their 90s, pulled themselves up as straight as they could muster as their 2/40th Battalion colleague Ron Cassidy repeated the Ode of Remembrance in a clear, strong voice.
Mr Cassidy and his mates held their positions as the bugler beside Launceston’s newest memorial garden sounded the Last Post yesterday.
They stayed solemnly erect, for the minute’s silence and then Reveille as army officers at the newly erected flag poles on Kings Park raised the standards back to full height.
Then they relaxed and allowed themselves a glimmer of a smile of pride.
Finally, 70 years to the day from the time that members of the 2/40th, were forced to surrender to the Japanese on Timor island, this small band of survivors had paid their respects to the men of their battalion at a public memorial unveiling in their honour.
It was a morning of firsts.
A crowd of about 250 people from across Northern Tasmania and interstate watched as Mr Cassidy and then Ted Sweetman laid wreaths of red and white roses — the colours of the 2/40th — at the edge of the new rosefilled memorial garden.
Co-ordinator for the fundraising and construction of the garden memorial, Greens Beach man Rod Stone was surprised to find that there were still 15 surviving members of the 2/40th despite the death of Launceston man Percy Lyons earlier this month.
‘‘This bloke just walked up to me and said he was the son of Gordon Smith whom we thought had passed away,’’ Mr Stone said.
‘‘He told me that his father was deaf not dead as we were told — he is in his 90s and still living at Stanley.’’
Launceston journalist Jayne Richardson read a poem that she had written in reply to another by former 2/40th member and prisoner of war Arch Flanagan.
Ms Richardson wrote the poem to honour the memory of her great uncle Corporal R. H. Truskett, another 2/40th member who was killed on Timor the day before the Australians’ surrendered to the Japanese.
Master of ceremonies Terry Byrne told the gathering that the bravery of the men of the 2/40th had finally been publicly acknowledged.
‘‘There were 919 of them, mostly Tasmanians, who were part of Sparrow Force sent to protect Kupang’s air strip at Penfui,’’ he said.
‘‘They faced 660 Japanese paratroopers, 5000 land troops from the huge Japanese navy and 23,000 occupational Japanese troops.’’
The 2/40th lost 264 of its men, 74 in battle and 191 in captivity.
They were prisoners of war in notorious locations like Changi, Pakan, Baru Railway, the Burma-Thai railway and Hellfire Pass.
Senior state and national army representatives took part in yesterday’s ceremony.
Brother and sister and Tasmanian state and federal politicians Michael and Helen Polley officially dedicated the memorial garden.
Their father Mick was a member of the 2/40th.
A similar ceremony was held in Hobart yesterday to unveil a 2/40th memorial there also just completed, inspired by the vision of the Northern Tasmanians.