It was a Jungle Out There, John Applegarth

John was born in 1939, at the start of the Second World War. His family lived near an ammunition factory an hour outside of London. “As a child, I would hear sirens going off, and this meant we had to run for cover - so I guess I got used to hearing bombs going off,” said John. “Fortunately, the town I lived in wasn’t as bad as London, which copped the most”.

That little boy grew up and joined the British Army at the age of 19. “I liked the idea of travelling, so I thought joining the army would be perfect. I was in the British Army for 6 years and had several postings with them. Everything at the time was active,” John recalled.

The first two years John spent in the jungles of Malaya. His most vivid memories were fighting in the jungle with an enemy that could attack from any direction, not to mention having to be very careful of tigers and snakes, and many other nasty things. “One group of ours found a baby tiger and they kept it with them and fed it. When I left, it was still there,” John recalled with a smile.

“While in the jungle, we just slept on the ground where we could - and it wasn’t easy. We only had a sheet of plastic to put over ourselves if it rained. And the food wasn’t great but we got by. I kept in touch with family by writing letters - which would take weeks to get to them. I always told them that everything was ok, so they wouldn’t worry”.

While in Malaya, John was chosen to undertake a special airborne test in Singapore. “At the time, they thought it was going to get worse. They wanted a special group who were trained by the airforce to jump out of aeroplanes,” John recalled proudly. “I did the parachute course but in the end it didn’t come to that”.

When asked how he felt about jumping out of aeroplanes, John said, “parachuting was fine. I was quite happy to do it - to get away from the jungle. You have to remember that I had just come out of the Malayan jungle, so nothing could be worse than that!”.

After Malaya, John returned to England and his regiment was sent to Northern Ireland. This was during the time the IRA (Irish Republican Army) were active. The next post took him to Berlin in Germany, where John led an armoured car patrol along the Berlin wall.

The memories of his time there remain vividly etched in John’s mind. “We were in the British and French sectors and the fences were very high. One night, it was raining and we heard a scraping noise. Four refugees were trying to escape through six rows of barbed wire fencing to the West. We kept a close eye on the watch Tower with our weapons at the ready the whole time. I helped to bring them through, and this got me on the front page of the British newspaper,” John said proudly.

After leaving the army in his early twenties, and having heard a lot about Australia, John eagerly made the journey, landing in Perth before making his way to Sydney. There, at 26, he met Carol, the love of his life - and it was love at first sight! Several months later, they married in Marrickville and welcomed two beautiful daughters, Lyndelle and Tracey.

When asked how his time in the army shaped his life after returning home, John said, “It changed my views on life - it gave me empathy. I was more likely to listen to a person when they were in trouble”. John’s daughter Lyndelle said, “I could see it in how organised Dad was. Mum was organised chaos whereas Dad’s drawers were very organised, socks were perfectly rolled up and suits neat and tidy.”

John still keeps in contact with his mates from the war, either by phone or email. He has always enjoyed attending ANZAC day parades - which is a very special day for him. These days, he joins in the ANZAC Day service at SummitCare Penrith, where he also takes an active part.

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