“A couple of them didn’t make it out": World War II veteran John Fenwick speaks of importance of Remembrance Day

A day to remember: WWII-veteran John Fenwick, who turned 96 this year, will take a moment to remember the sacrifice of friends and family on Saturday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
A day to remember: WWII-veteran John Fenwick, who turned 96 this year, will take a moment to remember the sacrifice of friends and family on Saturday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

It’s a day that John Fenwick thinks every young Australian should always recognise. 

On Saturday November 11, Remembrance Day, John will do what has been doing for decades.

He’ll head out to the Maitland RSL Sub-Branch service before taking a few solemn moments to remember the efforts of thousands of young men and women who have served in Australia’s armed forces – including his own, his father, his son and his mates.

 "On Remembrance Day we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country,” John, of East Maitland, told The Mercury.

“In my opinion it’s a good day. It’s a day when young people should remember these gallant young men who gave their lives for their country.”

He’ll remember his own service, too, which included a 14-month stint in Darwin when it was a constant target for Japanese bombers. 

“A couple of them didn’t make it out,” he said of mates who lost their lives on Australian soil to the raids.

A 21st birthday at war

John Fenwick can still remember the panic that came over Darwin every time the Japanese bombers flew over. 

“Every time the moon was out, over came the Japanese,” the 96-year-old from East Maitland recalled. 

He spent 14 months in Darwin during World War II, including a hectic year-long period when there were 65 Japanese bombing raids. 

There were plenty of close calls for the 21-year-old. 

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“The Japanese came in low flying when we were in the shower one day,” John said. 

“A couple of them (his mates) didn’t make it out. They were a little late getting out of the shower.”

Those sacrifices will be among the many he’ll quietly commemorate on November 11, Remembrance Day. 

John’s time in WWII is nestled among a long family history of service, which includes his father who fought in WWI and his son who served in Vietnam. 

His father, an Englishman who moved to Australia to work in a Kurri coalmine, signed up to the Australian war effort in 1916.

“My father dug tunnels under the German lines at Hill 60,” John said. 

“He got gassed twice and shot once. He was never the same when he came back.”

John said he could still clearly remember sitting up in the early hours of the morning with his father.

A day to remember: WWII veteran John Fenwick and wife Muriel met when she was working at a munitions factory in Adelaide during the war. They'll celebrate their 74th anniversary next week. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

A day to remember: WWII veteran John Fenwick and wife Muriel met when she was working at a munitions factory in Adelaide during the war. They'll celebrate their 74th anniversary next week. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

“When he came back, he couldn’t sleep,” John explained.   

Those experiences pushed John to fulfil his “life’s ambition” to help other returned soldiers. 

“When I saw my Dad like that, I thought I wanted to help any other soldiers who’d come back,” he said.

He has certainly done that, racking up decades worth of service for both Legacy and the Maitland RSL Sub-Branch, where he was president for seven years. 

“I feel like I’ve done my bit for the community,” he said. 

“I just wanted to give back.” 

He’ll give again on Saturday, laying a wreath on behalf of Legacy at the Remembrance Day ceremony held in Maitland Park. 

And he’ll take a few moments to pause and reflect on the service, and sacrifice, of mates and family. 

The Maitland Mercury