The newly rebuilt streets of Kure, Hiroshima were a world away from Nellie Melba resident Leonard (Len) Rees’s childhood in Murgon, Queensland.
But, one year after the end of the Second World War, and “virtually immediately after” he joined the Australian Defence Force, Len found himself travelling to Kure, 30km from Hiroshima to join the occupation forces as a supply driver.
“It’s hard to imagine, but in Japan the workmen were so fast they could have a catastrophe and the next day it’s cleaned up,” Len said.
“So, there wasn’t lots of wreckage around, people had got on with it and were fixing it.”
Over the next two years Len came to build a life in Kure, learning “enough Japanese to get by”, helping to unload ships, as well as driving dignitaries.
“A lot of the time I was driving dignitaries here there and everywhere, so I knew the whole surrounds well,” he said.
Later, while doing the same job in Osaka, Len drove Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.
“He had people with him, so I didn’t talk much, but he was very nice, a very decent man,” Len said.
When not working he enjoyed getting to know Japanese culture.
“I made some good friends over there,” he said.
“The food was different, but I enjoyed it.
“I left home when I was very young, and I think I was probably looking for an experience and that’s what I got.”
During his time serving in Japan, Len returned to Australia once for a break, however he was eager to get back to work.
“When I first went to Japan, I went on a ship which took about two weeks, the other times I flew, which was good,” he said.
“But I enjoyed it over there, and I enjoyed the army.
“I learned more in the army than I did anywhere else I think.”
Len was married and had his first child within 12 months of returning to Australia.
While the army offered “very good help” for people returning to civilian life, Len chose to “go it alone”.
“I just went and got a job as a metal polisher and had a family and left it behind,” he said.
“There wasn’t any real reason I decided to go it alone and I didn’t get into any
of the programmes.”
For Len, Anzac Day and Remembrance Day are also no more significant
than other days.
But, the strength of character instilled in him during his time in the army has stayed with him forever.
“I learnt real discipline, which was very important, and I learned to be very respectful of people and that you can learn a lot from different cultures.”
The Ryman Stories of Service tribute book is now published in time to commemorate Anzac Day.
The special commemorative books recall the wartime memories of 62 of our Ryman residents. We thank them for their contribution to the freedom we enjoy today.
The collection of residents' stories are remarkable and diverse and can be read online here.