REMEMBERING: The Stanthorpe members of the 25th Battalion Darling Downs Regiment, who fought in the Battle of Milne Bay.
REMEMBERING: The Stanthorpe members of the 25th Battalion Darling Downs Regiment, who fought in the Battle of Milne Bay. Contributed

The Stanthorpe boys who altered history

AN IMPORTANT and often overshadowed battle of World War II is set to be remembered 76 years on.

Stanthorpe's strong and proud connection to the Battle of Milne Bay is set to be commemorated on Sunday, August 26.

It was the historic turning point in the Pacific War, the Battle of Milne Bay - the first major victory by any Allied force over Japanese land forces.

Most Australians are familiar with the Kokoda Track, where a jungle battle ensued against the Japanese, but victory at Milne Bay played just as an important role in holding off enemy forces.

The 25th Battalion Darling Downs Regiment, mostly made up of boys from Stanthorpe and such towns as Allora, Clifton, Dalby and Warwick, had an important role in overcoming the Japanese.

"Picture in your mind a map of Australia,” author and former officer of 25th Battalion RQR Bob Doneley wrote about the war efforts.

"New Guinea lies across the north like an umbrella.

"Whoever controls New Guinea controls the east coast of Australia.

"If the Japanese could take the island, they would effectively cut off Australia from the US and the outcome of the war may well have been different.”

A young group of fresh- faced farm boys from Stanthorpe were vital in the battle.

"My father, Frank Norman Steele, was a member of the 25th Battalion,” Rodney Steele said. "He and his three brothers all went off to WWII together, enlisted together, all fought at Milne Bay and all come back.

"Stan Steele, Dad's brother, actually won the military medal at the Battle of Milne Bay.

"It's an important event to the people of Stanthorpe because a lot of these blokes have still got family in Stanthorpe which is why we hold a reunion,” he said.

Rodney said pride in his family's involvement has spurred him to carry on the legacy.

"But they never talked about it. Dad would talk about it when he was drunk on rum or something but that was really it.”

He visited the Milne Bay site a few years ago and said the experience was spine- chilling.

"It was just so daunting... this is where Dad was, this is where he done those particular things.”

On that particular visit he took a wreath to a memorial site, the Last Post was played and the response from the New Guinean people still lives with him.

"The (people) actually started crying - it was incredible.”

There are still two surviving Stanthorpe boys from that conflict: Russell Hoult, who now resides in Brisbane, and Clem Waterski in Victoria.

A service to remember the battle will start at 11.30am at the RSL Club Memorial Wall on August 26.

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