Sydney Shaw will never forget the day he made it to Switzerland after escaping from a prisoner of war camp in northern Italy during the Second World War.
“In September of ’43, we were out working … and the Italians capitulated, so we took off,” Shaw said.
“Some of the boys went down south, but it was too far to go and you had to go through the German lines, so we went to Switzerland and we ended up having to go through the Alps.
“And getting into Switzerland, [you had to go over] 12,000-foot bloody mountains, and when we got up the top one, the cloud come down and we were lost. Our guides had taken off, because they were the first ones shot as smugglers, so we just had to sit out there amongst the rocks for the night.
“The next morning, [it was] a sunny morning and [there was] a big patch of snow where they indicated … we should go.
“We clambered forward, got up the top, and there was the bell and all that and we were in Switzerland.”
Shaw – who turns 95 next month – was one of 23 veterans who visited the Australian War Memorial to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle of El Alamein.
He grew up in Perth and was working as a butcher when the Second World War broke out.
Spurred by a sense of patriotism and a sense of adventure, Shaw enlisted in May 1941 joining the infantry. “I had two brothers who were in the forces and I went in with them,” he said. “I was a young bloke. I was just 18.”