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The last of a heroic breed

LONE SURVIVOR: Keith McGilvery is the last surviving Second World War veteran in Gayndah.
LONE SURVIVOR: Keith McGilvery is the last surviving Second World War veteran in Gayndah. Adam McCleery

SECOND World War veteran and Gayndah resident Keith McGilvery will be experiencing his first Anzac Day as the last surviving veteran in Gayndah.

Mr McGilvery joined the Australian Air Force in the early 1940s to play his part in the war effort after being refused admission into the Australian Army.

"I was living in Monto at the time and I didn't get into the army because I had flat feet," Mr McGilvery said.

"So I volunteered for the Air Force as a radio technician."

What followed for Mr McGilvery was a non stop 24 month tour of duty in South East Asia.

"We lasted 24 months while the 24th squadron was only able to last six months," Mr McGilvery said.

Mr McGilvery was living in Monto at the time of his enlistment and would train in Melbourne before being mobilised against the Japanese advance in South East Asia.

"We were mainly with the Americans and General MacArthur and had to move up the coast," Mr McGilvery said.

"I was ground staff in radio and they sent a force to face 100 Japanese soldiers who weren't expecting the Americans."

The war experience for Mr McGilvery is one he can still remember vividly and to this day he carries lessons he learned in the theatre of war.

"I didn't fear not coming home, I could never say that there was no fear of that, but we weren't on the front line," Mr McGilvery said.

"You would think how they must have had decent blokes on the other side too, with families waiting for them at home, that is the stupid part of war.

"I think some of the dive bombers used to miss on purpose."

Mr McGilvery played a part in the major advance of American General and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army Douglas MacArthur.

"His system for taking islands was good, they would grab an island and go from one to the next and keep doing that," Mr McGilvery said.

"That system came about because of the two other big landings, one being D-Day and the other was the D Plus 1 landing."

For the most part Mr McGilvery was lucky not to have to face the front lines as a radio operator.

"The few that were killed in my area were mostly accidental," Mr McGilvery said.

"Because the bombs stopped dropping when I got there in October 1944, they were pummelling the capital of New Britain at the time."

Mr McGilvery said it was this advancement of allied forces that caused a bit of a stir amongst the Japanese.

"The Japanese knew they had to act quickly or not at all because they were being spread too far."

After the war Mr McGilvery returned to the North Burnett to continue the rest of his life.

"I came back to Amberley in 1946 and got out of the service then I moved to Eidsvold," Mr McGilvery said.

Mr McGilvery would go on to marry his wife of 68 years, Phillis McGilvery before moving to Mundubbera and then settling in Gayndah.

There son Bruce McGilvery said the type of men that went off to war form that generation were a different breed.

"When they came back, as another veteran once said to me,after the Second World War most of them came back and got straight back into work to get their mind of all that stuff and find some normality again," Bruce McGilvery said.

"My understanding is that the Americans were short of radio mechanics so that's the main reason he was off shore for so long as they kept moving towards Borneo."

Mr McGilvery said the training he received was crucial to him becoming apart of that advance to Borneo.

"The Americans only had six weeks of training on something and that was it but our training in Melbourne was excellent," Mr McGilvery said.

Mr McGilvery has remained in the North Burnett and is present at every Anzac Day ceremony he is able to attend.

As Gayndah's last surviving Second World War veteran Mr McGilvery deserves more than ever to be honoured for his service to this country.

Topics:  anzac day australian army gayndah second world war veteran


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