Large crowds gather at the Cenotaph in Pottsville as part of the Anzac Day service.
Large crowds gather at the Cenotaph in Pottsville as part of the Anzac Day service. Nikki Todd

GALLERY: Special Forces tale ignites crowd at Pottsville

MORE than 1200 people lined the streets of Pottsville today to remember the lives of those lost in war, both in the distant past and more recently in the Middle East.

The early morning service saw veterans, school children, friends and families march through the main street of Pottsville before gathering beneath the gum trees at the Cenotaph.

Members of the Pottsville and District RSL estimated the crowd to be around 1200 people - the biggest yet - who came to pay their respects to those who have given their lives for Australia.

Guest of honour at the Pottsville Anzac Day service, Flight Sergeant Jim Banks OAM, who flew in top-secret missions to drop special force agents behind enemy lines over the Pacific during WWII.
Guest of honour at the Pottsville Anzac Day service, Flight Sergeant Jim Banks OAM, who flew in top-secret missions to drop special force agents behind enemy lines over the Pacific during WWII. Nikki Todd

Guest speaker was Pottsville resident, Flight Sergeant Jim Banks OAM, 92, who joined the Royal Australian Air Force on his 18th birthday in January 1944, serving as a bomb aimer and navigator in the top secret 200 Special Duties Flight.

The unit operated in 1945, the final year of World War II, where they were involved in clandestinely dropping special agents from 'Z' Special Unit behind enemy lines in the Pacific.

Jim Banks: Behind enemy lines

Mr Banks told the crowd of his great admirataion for the Z special men, who were jumping into unknown hostile territory, recalling the tale of one agent who, having lost three fellow operatives who were killed by the Japanese, was forced to crawl, injured, through the Borneo jungle for three weeks, before coming across friendly natives who took him in and fed him.

"Casualties were quite high for our small unit,” Mr Banks said.

"From February to August 15 (1945), we lost three aircraft, 32 aircrew and 14 Z-unit operators who died either in aircraft crashes or were killed by the Japanese on the ground.

"We should always remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice with their lives. Nor should we forget those who returned home, many with serious injuries, and finally, the mums and dads back home with their worries, pain and suffering for their own children and family who had enlisted.”

Private Reece Maloney, who served in 6RAR in Iraq, laid a wreath at the Pottsville  Cenotaph in memory of his fellow soldiers who lost their lives in the Middle East.
Private Reece Maloney, who served in 6RAR in Iraq, laid a wreath at the Pottsville Cenotaph in memory of his fellow soldiers who lost their lives in the Middle East. Nikki Todd

Also in attendance at the service was Private Reece Maloney, 30, who served for seven years in the Australian Army's 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, including extended periods in Iraq and Afghanistan before discharging in 2013.

Pvt Maloney placed a wreath at the Cenotaph in memory of those friends he had lost during his service, including Murwillumbah's Nathan Bewes.

Speaking after the service, Mr Maloney said Anzac Day held special meaning for him.

"It's about being there for your brothers and paying respect for your brothers that you no longer have in your life,” he said.

"I lost a lot of friends from my unit and other units, which has been hard to deal with but it has come to the point where I've had to confront it otherwise it is hard to move on with your life and your past can keep dragging you back and keep haunting you.”

He said it was crucial returned soldiers were supported, particularly those suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"We've lost a lot more servicemen since the end of the war with PTSD,” he said.

"People are still recovering from going over there, they are struggling and need support from wherever they can get it, otherwise there will be more veterans commiting suicide every year and struggling with life.”



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