He was cut off from his platoon for 14 days with only a couple of biscuits to eat, and was shot by the Japanese at Kokoda. But Cyril Allender, now 98, still considers himself to be lucky.
“All my life, I’ve had luck,” he said with a smile.
“There were 13 of us and we got cut off. We had to fight our way through the bush to try and get in front [of the Japanese]… We got to the Japs when they started to say that they’d had enough and they turned around, so we were lucky that day… It was just one of those things…
“You just tried your best to keep yourself alive."
For Allender, the memories of the Second World War remain vivid and he will never forget hiding from the Japanese in 1942 as he and his mates fought their way through the jungle to get back to their platoon.
“We were given two biscuits each that was to last us whatever,” he said in an interview with the Australians at War Film Archive.
“And so my mate Johnny Adams, we were very good friends, he said to me, ‘Well, you can have the biscuits because if I take them I will eat them today.’ So that was okay, so I used to break a piece off and say, ‘Johnny, there’s your breakfast.’ ‘There’s your dinner.’
“So after 14 days, when we got back, I said, ‘Guess what, John?’ He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘I have still got a biscuit left.’ And he said, ‘You miserable bastard, I could have died of starvation.’ So we had four biscuits last us 13 or 14 days ...
“Fighting our way through the jungle, we were trying to get back in front of the [Japanese] all of the time, but they were on the track … We had to cut our way through the jungle and they kept beating us, they kept getting in front of us all of the time. We couldn’t get in front, so we just had to keep going and going …”
Today, Allender laughs as he remembers being shot during the fighting in the Owen Stanley Ranges.
“I got a bullet in the big toe,” he said.
“We were pinned off and we were getting shot at. We had to go around [the Japanese], so we got in there, and we were not very far apart, about three or four yards away ... We were pinned down there and my mate Johnny Adams … was laying down and I didn’t realise what was happening to me. The bullets were all hitting under [the trees near him] and they were … just going past the top of my head …
“All these bullets were hitting [just near his chin] and putting all the dirt all over his face, and I said to him, ‘Move from there you silly B, you are going to catch one of them in a minute.’ And while I was saying that, this bullet came from the other way, and it got me in the toe.
“I was jumping around, and he was saying, ‘Get your bum down, you silly bugger.’
“So that’s how lucky I was, or how close I came ... So I was lucky again.”
Allender, who was visiting the Memorial as part of commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the campaign, enlisted in June 1941 because he “thought it might be a bit of fun”.
“Put it this way,” he said with a laugh. “My friends were joining and I thought, well I’d go with them. It was as easy as that.”