World War II veteran and Karuah RSL Sub-Branch member opens up on war, fear and Anzac Day

VETERAN: World War II veteran Jim Clayton, pictured with his medals at his North Arm Cove home, will be attending the Karuah RSL Sub-Branch Anzac Day service on April 25. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts
VETERAN: World War II veteran Jim Clayton, pictured with his medals at his North Arm Cove home, will be attending the Karuah RSL Sub-Branch Anzac Day service on April 25. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

It may have taken some years, but Australians from all walks of life - young and old - have embraced Anzac Day as one of this nation's most revered days of the year.

April 25 has come to symbolize the sacrifices and the freedoms, the bravery and the loss of life, but most importantly the respect and honour afforded all servicemen and women, past and present.

And while the number of our World War II veterans continue to decline, it is heartening to know that the crowds who attend Anzac Day memorial services around the country are on the rise and this is nowhere more evident than in Port Stephens.

Once again this year thousands of people will be out honouring our Diggers rain, hail or shine, among them a proud WWII veteran, Jim Clayton, who has being paying his respects at the Karuah RSL Sub-Branch dawn service for close to 40 years.

For Mr Clayton, who each year lays a wreath at the Cenotaph for his lost mates, Anzac Day will take on a different meaning in 2019, having lost his wife of 70 years, Larrie, known as Lal, just last month. "Yes it will be difficult this year."

"I am used to death. Of the four mates I trained with for 15 months in Queensland prior to going off to war I was the only one to come home alive," the 95-year-old from North Arm Cove said.

"I guess I have been one of the lucky ones.

"We had some frightening experiences during the war ... our plane was hit many times but it never stopped us."

Mr Clayton, a wireless/air gunner [referred to as WAGs], flew 30 missions in a British RAF Lancaster plane, dropping bombs on the Germans during the pivotal war years of 1944-45, and survived while so many others perished.

"There was one crew shot down on their very last mission, they thought it was going to be an easy one but you just knew when your time is up," he said.

Born on the outskirts of Sydney, a young and adventurous Jim Clayton recalls a very happy-go-lucky childhood before the family was moved to Brisbane at the outbreak of war in 1939.

He was 16.

I am used to death. Of the four mates I trained with for 15 months in Queensland prior to going off to war I was the only one to come home alive. I guess I have been one of the lucky ones.

- Jim Clayton

"My father was in the wool game and we were sent to Brisbane by the government. I was following my dad into the wool trade but I enlisted when I turned 18," Mr Clayton said.

"It was just something everybody did, I didn't think much about it.

"I was young and didn't have a care in the world."

Jim Clayton and Lal Clayton at the Karuah Remembrance Day service in 2017. Picture: Jack Drake

Jim Clayton and Lal Clayton at the Karuah Remembrance Day service in 2017. Picture: Jack Drake

Following a short stint in the Army, the Air Force came knocking and Mr Clayton spent the next 18 months training as a wireless operator and air gunner. This included a Commando course in Toowoomba, six weeks in Kingaroy and a further six weeks in Evans Head.

At the end of 1943, Mr Clayton, aged 21 and full of bravado, was shipped with his crew to England via New Zealand and the US. A highlight adventure for the 400 crewmen from Australia and New Zealand was a train ride from San Francisco to New York

"We then sailed on the Queen Elizabeth from New York to Scotland in about four days. After some further training we hopped on a train to Norfolk where we were split up into crews comprising a pilot, a navigator, a wireless operator, gunners and engineer."

North Arm Cove WWII veteran Jim Clayton hold his medals including, right, the French Legion of Honour medal, awarded in 2015. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

North Arm Cove WWII veteran Jim Clayton hold his medals including, right, the French Legion of Honour medal, awarded in 2015. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Before long the air raids into Germany and other European enemy territories would begin.

"I will admit the first four or five raids were scary but after that I didn't much care."

With death and destruction all around him, Mr Clayton said that his confidence grew due to a great team, both the pilot and navigator were very skillful.

"There were some very scary times and some close calls. Our plane took a few hits but we always managed to make it back to base."

After successfully accomplishing the mandatory 30 raids - including an astonishing 86 hours during daylight and around 50 night hours - the recently promoted Warrant Officer Clayton took off for a month, enjoying some R&R in London before he was summoned back to Brighton for the sail home.

Back in Australia Mr Clayton was welcomed home by his family and took some leave time but it wasn't long before he was back in training for Japan when the first atomic bomb was dropped. "That was it, I thought I'm glad that's all over."

WOFF Clyaton was discharged and immediately joined a wool buying firm in Sydney.

He met and married Lal in 1949, the couple producing two children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Jim Clayton with daughter Lee Clayton. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Jim Clayton with daughter Lee Clayton. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

After retirement in 1985, the Claytons purchased a home in North Arm Cove and Jim became an active member of the Karuah RSL Sub-Branch.

Now in his 96th year, Mr Clayton says it is both important and refreshing to see so many young people engaged in Anzac Day services and taking a keen interest in the meaning behind the day.

He unashamedly denounces the use of arms to resolve conflict and as one who has had first-hand experience of the atrocities of war, Mr Clayton has a strong message to the politicians and Defence generals the world over:

"We don't need wars. Even the Germans would stop the firing at special occasions such as Christmas time, only to have the war generals order them back to fight."

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