Wheatbelt remembers war hero

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian
Henry Patrick ‘Paddy’ Alford passed away peacefully at the age of 97. He was one of the last remaining World War II veterans from the Wheatbelt.
Camera IconHenry Patrick ‘Paddy’ Alford passed away peacefully at the age of 97. He was one of the last remaining World War II veterans from the Wheatbelt. Credit: Brian McCahon

From the wide-open spaces of Western Australia’s eastern wheatbelt, to the battlefields of Syria, Egypt and New Guinea, former Koorda resident Paddy Alford saw it all.

Less than a week away from Remembrance Day, Mr Alford, one of the last remaining World War II veterans living in WA’s Wheatbelt, passed away peacefully last Monday, aged 97, closing a chapter on one of the bloodiest periods in the Wheatbelt’s history.

During World War II, it is estimated thousands of men and women from the Wheatbelt were killed in action, leaving families bereft and farm and agricultural businesses languishing.

For some families it would be decades before they were back on their feet, both emotionally and financially, having to forcibly find ways to fill the gaps left by sons and daughters who never came home.

Against all odds, after surviving a grenade attack, scrub typhus and dengue fever, Mr Alford was one of the lucky ones who made the Wheatbelt home, living out his days in his beloved hometown of Koorda.

Countryman interviewed Mr Alford at his Koorda home in 2013 when, at the age of 93, he talked openly about his time serving on the front line at the now infamous battle of El Alamein, which is widely recorded as being one of the first major victories of the British Commonwealth forces against the Germans.

During that conversation, Mr Alford was able to recall dates, times and places, remembering clearly the names of the two mates, Chris and Wally, standing beside him when he was hit by a Red Devil grenade in Egypt.

He remembered only 12 of the 140 soldiers there that day survived to tell the story.

Born in December 1920, Mr Alford was only 20 years old when he left Australian shores on the RMS Queen Elizabeth in June 1941, bound for Palestine.

After a punishing training schedule in the Palestinian desert, his Platoon 8 moved to Syria, then again onto a desert location near Alexandria in Egypt.

This was where the group first saw action.

“I was walking along when the Red Devil went off,” he recalled back in 2013.

“It went right through my boot and into the joint of my big toe. It must have been strong because my boots were two inches thick.”

It would be a month before he could walk again, and the next time he saw action was at the Battle of El Alamein.

Mr Alford likened the major offensive of that battle to Guy Fawkes Day.

“On that night, the 23rd October, we sent all these 25-pound shells off at once. The sky lit up,” he said.

“The Germans were giving us a bit of curry.

“There was stuff flying around everywhere, but it all missed me.”

After the battle of El Alamein, he retrained in northern Queensland and was posted to New Guinea, but in his own words he “missed a lot of action” because of the dreaded dengue fever.

“It was on Christmas Day and we were on Sattelberg Hill ... watching all the boats head in for an attack ... and I knew something was wrong with me. I had dengue fever by that time,” he said.

Mr Alford returned to WA at the end of the war and worked in relative anonymity in a whole range of different agricultural jobs — as a blacksmith, a truck driver, a farmhand and a sheep dipper — in towns across the State.

But it was his hometown of Koorda that captured his heart.

“It’s my home. It’s where my parents were,” he said in 2013.

In fact, according to long-time friend Terry Patterson, Mr Alford lived out his days in the house right next to where his parents used to live many years before.

“Paddy’s parents owned a block of farm land on the outskirts of Koorda, where the old drive-in cinema is now,” Mr Patterson said.

“His heart was always in Koorda, and the community there loved him and thought of him as a father.”

Henry Patrick “Paddy” Alford married Elise (known as Taffy) in 1956, and while Taffy had three children from a previous marriage, Paddy and Taffy had no children. Taffy passed away in 2005.

Mr Patterson, whose own mother served during World War II, said Mr Alford represented the many young men and women who bravely went away and never returned.

“Paddy was Koorda’s last remaining veteran, and last Monday the world lost a great Australian,” he said.

“Despite his advancing years and his increasing fragility, Paddy would always go to the local Anzac ceremony, remembering those mates that didn’t make it home.”

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