Matt vividly recalls scariest battlefront memory

World War II veteran Matt Allen is impressed with the increasing number of spectators who attend Anzac Day parades each year. Pictures: GREG TOTMAN

World War II veteran Matt Allen is impressed with the increasing number of spectators who attend Anzac Day parades each year. Pictures: GREG TOTMAN

ANZAC DAY 2014

As 99-year-old Matt Allen remembers it, the most frightening moment of World War II was when it ended.

An army lieutenant from Wollongong who spent the last 3½ years of the war as a prisoner in Java, Mr Allen was worried he would be killed once the Japanese surrendered.

"I think that was the most fearful time of our lives, the fact we knew the war was over but the bloke in Singapore wouldn't surrender," Mr Allen said.

"He was mad. We reckoned the last thing he'd do was bump us all off. That was the most nervous part of the whole lot - waiting, waiting, waiting."

Mr Allen signed up for the war in 1940 at age 25.

At first, it wasn't what he expected. Life at the barracks in Sydney was dull, so Mr Allen begged to be allowed to set sail.

 "I think they've got to keep the tradition going, and of course the politicians won't let it die.''

"I think they've got to keep the tradition going, and of course the politicians won't let it die.''

He was taken to Singapore aboard RMS Mauretania.

"The first day the war started, we were working with the Indian corp," he said.

"When they went into Thailand we came down the peninsula and it was a matter of leapfrogging - we had no fleet, we had no airport because they [the Japanese] sunk a couple of our ships on the first day."

After spending time in Singapore, Mr Allen and his unit were given a new ship - a 500-tonne Malayan cruiser which had already been bombed.

The Australians then went from island to island under cover of darkness, trying to reach Java until they became stranded on rocks, damaging the ship's hull.

The ship eventually sank. But two years later, while Mr Allen was working in the forced labour camp, he was surprised to see the Japanese had floated the ship.

He said the greatest feeling was when Gurkhas (Indian regiment in the British army) arrived at the camp when the war ended.

"One morning we woke up ... [and] there were Gurkhas all around us," he said.

"That was a marvellous feeling then."

This Anzac Day, Mr Allen will travel in a bus to watch the parade in Wollongong.

He said he had been impressed with the increase in spectators.

"I think it's a day that should never die," Mr Allen said. "I think they've got to keep the tradition going, and of course the politicians won't let it die.

"So it's secure, I think."

Attendance grows at dawn services

Hundreds of thousands of people will attend services to mark Anzac Day across the country and at special locations around the world as interest grows in the day of remembrance for Australia’s war dead.

More than 30,000 people were expected at the dawn service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, an event  at which attendance has grown steadily in recent years.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attend the main Anzac Day ceremony in Canberra later – the first time members of the British royal family have been present for the commemorations in Canberra for 44 years.

Around Australia, the story of growing interest in Anzac Day is the same, with crowd numbers increasing at services and marches in capital cities.

‘‘It’s getting bigger and bigger in every state,’’ RSL national secretary John King said.

‘‘The last couple of years there has been a marked increase in people attending.’’

In Sydney, up to 200,000 people are expected to turn out to watch the march, which will be led by some of the  youngest war veterans: soldiers returned from duty in Afghanistan.

In Melbourne too Australia’s most recent returned servicemen will be a focus, with Afghanistan veteran Colonel Mark Jennings to address about  70,000 people  at the Shrine of Remembrance.

This year is the 99th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing by Australian and New Zealand forces in World War I, and about 6000 people have camped out for the dawn service at the Turkish battleground.

But Anzac Day will also be remembered in services at Villers-Bretonneux in France – the scene of horrendous Australian casualties in the Great War – and at services in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, where Anzac troops served during World War II.

Veterans and those who fell in the Vietnam War will be honoured in services in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and at the scene of the 1966 Battle of Long Tan.

Though  2014 marks the first year that large numbers of Australian troops are not serving overseas –  after the 2013 withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan – many servicemen and women will mark the day while on foreign postings.

About 400 remain in Afghanistan, where dawn services will be held in Kabul and Kandahar.   AAP

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