The men who would be the next Anzac legend

April 21, 2018

World War II digger Frank Hazleman. Photo by Luke Hemer.

FOR a man who has been through as much as Frank Hazelman, the 94-year-old veteran remains an incurable romantic.

These days, though, there’s no chasing women. If someone other than his wife Heather (they have just celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary) was to catch his eye the World War II veteran is restricted to a walking frame if he wants to go more than a few metres.

But the touch of larrikin is still there; the signature of the Anzac; and a serious disregard for anyone or anything in authority.

As for the rules, well they were only there to be broken.

Frank was born in Ky and like many of his generation did it tough through his formative years, leaving school at 12 for a series of knockabout jobs and watched his family lose everything, including the family farm, during the Great Depression.

And then, like his father Frank before him, he went to war.

Albeit sooner than he should have, but Frank never met a rule he didn’t see more as a challenge.

He fancied himself in the air force and its distinctive blue uniform so happily fronted up to enlist – and lie about his age.

Sadly the recruiters at the RAAF depot twigged his game and kicked him out.

On his second attempt the army, it turned out, was not so fussy, overlooked mumbled answers about age and parental permission and happily grabbed the skinny little kid and signed him up as a private.

He finally got that uniform, a gun and a slouch hat he has to this day, with its rising sun badge of bayonets still proudly pinned to its upturned brim.

HAVING learnt Morse code with the railways – he started there as a 12-year-old – Frank was custom made for signals but even his best-laid plans sometimes backfired.

“My stationmaster was a World War I veteran so he was happy to help me get out of the job and into the army,” Frank recalled.

“He said if anyone asked him where I was he would say he didn’t know because once I got in it would be too late to change,” he said.

“So I got my last pay, got on the train at Echuca and headed off to war. When we were in Melbourne a sergeant asked me what I wanted to do and I told him signals.

“Only because I heard they were being trained at Bendigo, so Echuca was pretty close.”

Except Frank’s signals training would be in Albury – not so close.

In Albury he got a serious case of measles, so ill at one stage they sent for his father.

“After I had been there a few months I started to learn Japanese as the Allies had cracked the Japanese Kona code, which had 60 letters, so I was trained as an intercept operator,” Frank explained.

“We were sent to New Guinea, to Finschhafen, the old German capital there,” he said.

“That’s where the fun started; we were close to where the Japanese were always bombing, a bit too close I reckon.”

On August 6, 1945 Frank was on Morotai, in what is now eastern Indonesia, when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

From there things in the signals service started changing pretty quickly.

“We stopped monitoring the Japanese and got orders to start intercepting Russian signals,” Frank said.

“Everything we gathered, first from the Japanese and then the Russians, went to Bletchley Park in England.”

One of the greatest secrets of the war, Bletchley Park is now rightly famous for the work its staff did in cracking the German enigma code as well as the work on Pacific codes.

A long time after the war Frank eventually received a medal recognising his role and work with Bletchley.

Like many soldiers he was adrift when he returned to Australia and spent a lot of time getting re-established.

But found a future in Queensland after retraining in carpentry and moving into building (such as the first consolidated school at Lockington before moving back north) – as well as founding the Coolum RSL while he was there.

“We came back here last year and boy, didn’t we feel it with the winter,” he laughed.

“But we’re settled in now and life is pretty good for an old bloke,” he grinned, that twinkle still in the corner of his eyes.

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