Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Benalla's last surviving WWII POW

John 'Jack' Roe remembered as a gentleman; battle-scared but a genuine, dignified man of integrity.

August 1, 2014 4:00am



Friends and family this month paid tribute to Benalla resident Jack Roe who was the town’s last surviving World War II prisoner of war.

Jack died on July 16, aged 93.

He was born on June 7, 1921, the youngest of seven siblings, in his parents’ house at 29 Crofton St, Benalla; after World War II he lived most of his life at 27 Crofton St, in a house he built.

Jack attended State School 31 and Benalla High school.

In 1936 he began an apprenticeship as a printer with The Standard newspaper; post-war, in 1946 after seven months of rehabilitation in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, he returned to finish this apprenticeship and continued to work at The Standard for many years.

During his apprenticeship, under the impending threat of war, Jack joined the Australian Imperial Force in July 1940. Following initial training in various locations around Victoria he was then transferred to the Northern Territory and from there to Timor.

In Timor he was captured battling the Japanese and spent more than three-and-a-half years in some of the more horrendous and notorious prison camps in Ambon and Java.

Back home, at the age of 27 Jack married Dulcie Plant and they had three children — Peter, Julie, and Tony who unfortunately pre-deceased his father. Dulcie passed away aged 49.

After a period of grieving Jack and Hazel found each other and married in 1980, leading to 34 years of an extremely loving and caring life together. The family expanded to include three more brothers and sisters-in-law and a steadily increasing number of grandchildren. At the time of his death, Jack had 14 great-grandchildren.

Prior to the war Jack showed an aptitude for bicycle racing, and often made training runs and leisurely rides from Benalla to Seymour and return on a Sunday after riding and racing on the Saturday anywhere in the north-east or Goulburn Valley.

When he returned to Benalla following the war he resumed his interest in the cycle racing club but in an administrative position. Although he could still ride a fixed wheel bike, in his own words, he now had only ‘‘half the horsepower’’, with a stiff leg.

His interests in sport and the safety of the town’s children led him to be active in the swimming pool committee in establishing the 25m pool and then to continue on as the secretary of the pool’s management committee.

He was also one of the driving forces in establishing the small bore rifle club and won the annual championship four years in succession. He also shot at the range or big bore rifle club with a .303 for many years and was a driving force in helping to establish the pistol club at the Reef Hills.

Jack was active within the RSL for many years and was a member of Lodge Faithful until health slowed him down.

Jack was very generous with his friendship and his outlook to other people and supported many worthwhile organisations. He also mentored many friends and family in the arts of fishing, hunting and water skiing.

Daughter Julie’s first memory of him was sitting on his knee aged about three.

‘‘Dad brought me up with the belief that having a disability was an advantage, and that I could do anything I set my mind to — and he was right, I did. He would say, ‘If you didn’t succeed today, try again tomorrow, and one day you will succeed,’ — and Dad was right.’’

In 2010 daughter-in-law Gwen completed a memoir of Jack’s wartime and POW experiences. Gwen concluded: ‘‘True to the character of our Australian war veterans, Jack was a fine example of mateship, camaraderie, bravery, determination, courage, and resourcefulness.

‘‘He survived the perils of being detained captive by the Japanese because he managed to stay on top of his circumstances, never giving in, and this in spite of terrible odds. His was an attitude of optimism rather than futility, even in the most dire of circumstances.

‘‘In the face of unimaginable challenges Jack kept fear at bay enough to bring him home again — and to eventually resume normal life activities. With it, a sense of humour not lost on the atrocities of war, or the painful and seemingly unforgivable actions of the enemy, no doubt a life-saving skill.

‘‘Jack was a gentleman. Maybe a little battle-scarred, but a genuine, dignified man known for his integrity.

‘‘He chose to live because he could and so had the unique pleasure of loving faithfully, and living a long life out of determination to not let Hazel down for as long as it was in his strength to do so.

‘‘His last words to us were, ‘Look after my mate’.’’

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