SA educator and historian Anthony Wege releases third military book ahead of Remembrance Day

Historian and educator Anthony Wege, Barossa Valley, launched his latest book 'Pucka to Purgatory' ahead of this year's Remembrance Day. Photo: Michelle O'Rielly
Historian and educator Anthony Wege, Barossa Valley, launched his latest book 'Pucka to Purgatory' ahead of this year's Remembrance Day. Photo: Michelle O'Rielly

Once faded memories of Australian military units which served behind the battlelines during WWII have now been meticulously captured in print by an educator and historian who calls the Barossa Valley home.

The collection of untold facts, which became a passion of love for Anthony Wege, makeup more than 10 years of research, resulting in three comprehensive publications.

His latest book, 'Pucka to Purgatory' was celebrated in Adelaide late last month, ahead of Remembrance Day in front of 70 people - many of whose family are featured.

Recently released book, ahead of Remembrance Day 2019.

Recently released book, ahead of Remembrance Day 2019.

Mr Wege shares how the birth of the history books evolved from personal reasons.

The longtime high school history teacher and later skilled CFS volunteer, national CFS trainer and SA Fire Industry consultant had stepped into retirement.

A need to "recharge his batteries" was necessary, and the idea of discovering more of his family's history ignited his energy.

Of particular interest were his three uncles - who like he hailed from Mannum on The River Murray - all of whom fought during WWII.

Shoeboxes of military mementos is all that remained of their past.

"I remember being at my grandparent's place and a photo on the mantlepiece of my Uncle Bill (Gass) and my grandparents saying he was my uncle, he was dead and that was it, and off I went to football," Mr Wege recalled.

While the uncle had returned from war, he was tragically killed in a road accident, with none of the family including his daughter ever learning "much of" his involvement with the Australian military.

Armed with his teaching skills, Mr Wege set to researching his subject and soon a biography emerged which he had printed for the family. This in turn led to the two remaining uncles, Max and Harold, having their stories recorded as a legacy to the family.

It was this history undertaking which resulted in Mr Wege unearthing that these men were involved in WWII backlines.

"They were not in combat in the battlefront; although were still in danger of being bombed or shot at," he explained.

A thorough check by Mr Wege revealed that documented details of theirs and other soldiers' service to the Australian Army was unavailable.

First book undertaken by Mr Wege.

First book undertaken by Mr Wege.

This one, yet significant detail would become a catalyst for his first book, 'We left our trucks at Changi's gate : A history of the 2/4th Reserve Motor Transport Company 2/AIF in Malaya, Singapore and beyond 1941-1945', released in 2014.

As Mr Wege explains, this publication showcases history of one of three reserve motor transport companies sent to Singapore and Malaya in 1941 to act as a transport unit for materials and personal for the 8th Division 2/AIF.

The unit was captured upon the fall of Singapore and many soldiers died as PoWs on the Burma Railway, in Japan and at Sandakan.

The book, with its many sentimental photos, was the result of much research and a national army grant Mr Wege achieved thanks to the Australian Armed Forces.

Satisfied with its impact, Mr Wege's thoughts of other military units' and their untold stories led him to his second publication, 'Shiny shovels and valiant hearts : A history of the 8th Division Salvage Unit 1940-1945' released in 2016.

Second book.

Second book.

This edition brings to life a tiny unit of SA soldiers from the Second Australian Imperial Fore brought together in Adelaide, early December, 1940.

Their intended purpose was to salvage equipment, arms and ammunition that lay across battlefields after fighting had moved away.

Months later when the war raged overseas, this newly formed Salvage Unit rarely performed their intended duties.

"Instead they became labouring troops," Mr Wege stated.

He shares how the men cut their teeth in Alice Springs, working to help maintain the road to Darwin and do transhipping labour in the railway yards.

In mid 1941 they joined other units of the 8th Division of the Australian army in Malaya and Singapore.

Eventually forced onto the island of Singapore, the soldiers continued their supply duties under intense bombing and gunfire until Singapore's fall.

Sadly, Mr Wege's research also acknowledges how the unit lost almost half of its soldiers as prisoners of war.

"Groups of the unit's soldiers were sent to slave on the Thai-Burma Railway where a number of them succumbed to the brutality that epitomised this project."

Groups of the unit's soldiers were sent to slave on the Thai-Burma Railway where a number of them succumbed to the brutality that epitomised this project.

educator and history Anthony Wege

When writing his second book, thoughts already loomed about his recently launched publication.

'Puck to Purgatory: A History of 12 Recovery Section (27 Independent Brigade Group Ordnance Workshop) 1940-1945' traces another small unit of SA soldiers attached to a much larger group known as 2/4 Army Field Workshop.

According to Mr Wege, most of the soldiers were tradesmen who brought with them into the army a "multiplicity of technical skills".

Their purpose was to assist with the recovery, maintenance and repair of army equipment and weaponry.

Beautifully replicated photos of war loaned to Mr Wege and appearing in this book resulted in one snapshot of four men being of particular interest during the launch in late October.

Two families members discovered their grandfathers had served together on the 12 Recovery Section; a reunion which Mr Wege referred to as "quite emotional".

Meanwhile, Mr Wege believes his third book finally remedies the untold stories of some units who fought in the backlines in Malaya and Singapore.

Now he contemplates his next move as a self-published author, optimistic that war history in need of documenting will head his way.

Those keen to obtain his books or provide comment, can contact Mr Wege via email: wege@internode.on.net

This story first appeared on Barossa and Light Herald by senior journalist Michelle O'Rielly