Former commando salutes soldiers
HE is a former commando in a unit renown for its toughness but there is a sensitive side to Killarney retiree Reg Lahiff.
On Sunday the 88-year-old marched proudly – if a little stiffly – through Brisbane, one of the last members of an elite squadron of men from the 2nd/6th commandos.
Ignoring physical aches to salute fellow soldiers and in honour of the woman who made his post-war life worth living.
Mr Lahiff was one of just a handful of commandos from his unit to return from the jungles of New Guinea after World War II.
“They told us as we shipped out that ours was a one-way ticket,” he said.
“The captain at the time said there would be no hard feelings if we switched to a regular unit, but few did.”
As for the woman he loved: his wife of 27 years died late last year after a battle with cancer and her loss has knocked him more than anything he experienced on the frontline.
“Lyn was my greatest mate, but it was one of those things I couldn’t do anything about,” Mr Lahiff said.
So this week heavy with melancholy he shared the fear and foreboding that galvanised young Australians into action.
“I was 20 when I signed up, a lot of blokes were younger,” Mr Lahiff said.
“We did rookie training near Goondiwindi, then a few were asked to join the commandos.”
He said the preparation which followed was gruelling, of the dozen recruited just three completed the tough mental and physical course.
“I’m not skiting myself up but few people, even soldiers, realised what part commandos played in New Guinea,” he said.
Operating in groups of 10 to 15, they went ahead of regular troops, often operating behind enemy lines, to carry out secretive reconnaissance missions.
“We were given the job of finding out where the Japs were and told to inflict damage,” Mr Lahiff said.
“If we got into trouble we had to get out the best way we could.”
To this day he counts the help of the “fuzzy wuzzy angels” or New Guinea natives as critical to success.
“We got paid six bob a day, that’s about 60c; but the fuzzy wuzzies got nothing but our assistance. But my god they made a difference: they carried out our injured and brought in our supplies and ammunition.”