'Lucky' survivor to pay tribute to mates

RON Cassidy can only say that he has been extremely lucky.

The 93-year-old experienced some of the worst times of World War II and can recall stories that would make the average Australian thankful  they were not around.

Mr Cassidy joined the Australian Army in Brighton as a 19-year-old in 1941, eager to go with his friends to do his bit for his country, and became a transport driver.

After leaving Australia he was captured in Timor and became a prisoner of war in February 1942, after which he was forced to be a driver for the Japanese.

He was eventually sent to Burma and worked to the bone (his weight dropped to 45 kilograms) on the notorious railway, before being sent to Japan and was just outside the ``end zone'' when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

He said he saw the worst of humanity but also has many fond memories of all his ``mates''.

Mr Cassidy is now the last surviving Launceston resident of what is often regarded as the Tasmanian 2/40th battalion, dubbed ``The Doomed Battalion'' by the men.

At his request, Mr Cassidy will not travel in a car in the Launceston Anzac Day parade this year but instead be pushed in a wheelchair accompanied by relatives of members of the 2/40th wearing red caps as a tribute to him but also the many soldiers who did not come home.

Rod Stone has become good friends with Mr Cassidy as he researched the history of the battalion, of which his father, Corporal Ernie Stone, was also a member.

He is unofficially calling Anzac Day ``Red Hat Day'' to remember the Tasmanians who fought for the 2/40th.

``This is the amazing thing, he survived the original onslaught in Timor, he survived the Burma railway, he's gone to Japan and they've dropped an atomic bomb just up the road and he's survived that,'' Mr Stone said.

``He's 93 and he's still with it today _ he's been lucky.''

The first time the two men met, Mr Cassidy told Mr Stone about how his father had saved his life.

Delirious from cerebral malaria and a ``nuisance'', as he put it, the Japanese soldiers had bayoneted him three times in the chest and were trying to encourage him to swim from the Philippines to Australia.

It was Corporal Stone who stepped in and convinced Mr Cassidy that he wouldn't make it to Australia and reminded him that he couldn't actually swim.

There are only eight other survivors  of the 2/40th _ one each in Burnie, Ulverstone and Bridgewater, three in Hobart and two in New South Wales.

Family or supporters of those connected to the 2/40th battalion can buy a hat for $15 before Anzac Day by contacting Rod Stone at PO Box 191, Beaconsfield, 7270.

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