LONGBEACH RSL members cherish the company of their last surviving World War II prisoner-of-war, Tom Jones.
The club, in Thames Promenade, Chelsea, is a home-away-from-home for the former British veteran, who emigrated from England “for the better weather” with his family in 1967.
The time since then is in marked contrast to the four years spent in captivity under the Japanese, first in Java and then in Japan.
Memories of the last weeks of the war, when he was a labourer in a Fukuoka prison camp tending the commandant’s pigs, are etched deeply in the 93 year old’s memory.
Japan was being bombed by the Americans and the horrors of war were getting too close to home for the proud Japanese who began to glimpse the dreadful prospect of defeat.
There was a feeling in the air, he recalled. “A woman said to me: ‘It can’t be much longer’. The Allies were getting ready to invade.
Of great concern were threats by the guards to kill all the prisoners. “We had been told we would never go home,” he said grimly.
When Nagasaki was levelled by the atomic bomb things went into fast-motion. “We heard the explosion from miles away,” he said. “Thousands of people began dying and we couldn’t understand why but we had never heard about radiation.
“Then we heard the emperor’s fateful broadcast: ‘The war is over’ and we saw some guards committing hari-kari.”
Planes began dropping food parcels and the emaciated prisoners glimpsed hope for the first time in years. “We had certainly been knocked about – I was only seven stone – but at least the war was over.”
Mr Jones and his colleagues travelled by train to Nagasaki and then by US Navy destroyer to Okinawa and Manila, and later an aircraft carrier to Pearl Harbour, Vancouver and across to Nova Scotia by train. The cruise liner Il de France sped them across the Atlantic to Southampton and home.
Moving to Melbourne in 1967 with his wife Ethel, daughter 16 and son 11, Mr Jones worked for automotive parts manufacturer Joseph Lucas, near the present site of Southland, before a stint in Western Australia. Back in Melbourne he retired at 60 and now lives in Chelsea.
“I really enjoy coming to the Longbeach RSL,” he said. “I may be 93 but I don’t feel it.”
A mainstay at club events, Mr Jones places a wreath on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day memorials commemorating those old soldiers who have passed away.
He’s eagerly awaiting a club function to celebrate his position as the last remaining prisoner. “There have been some wonderful men,” he said. “Now I’m the last.”