Albany digger’s loss leaves a void at Hellfire Pass dawn service

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Australian World War II veteran and former prisoner of war, 102-year-old Harold Martin, glances at Krishna Vanderweide, granddaughter of late Australian WWII war veteran Neil Macpherson, as she is consoled by a member of Australia's Defence Forces at Hellfire Pass.
Camera IconAustralian World War II veteran and former prisoner of war, 102-year-old Harold Martin, glances at Krishna Vanderweide, granddaughter of late Australian WWII war veteran Neil Macpherson, as she is consoled by a member of Australia's Defence Forces at Hellfire Pass. Credit: EPA, EPA/Diego Azubel

With a slouch hat resting where her grandfather usually sat, Krishna Vanderweide could no longer bear the weight of her emotions.

Hellfire Pass is a stirring place at the best of times, but at dawn on Anzac Day, the air is thick with a history of unimaginable suffering.

A member of the Royal Australian Navy came to her comfort, holding her together when it seemed she might fall to pieces.

Her grandfather, Thai-Burma Railway survivor Neil MacPherson OAM, was a regular at Anzac Day services in Thailand.

He was due to give the address at Kanchanaburi on Thursday morning before he died in Albany last month, aged 96.

Instead, it was read out in his honour.

His death left a void on the Quiet Lion Tour — an annual pilgrimage, usually involving Australian students, which he had made more than a dozen times.

A slouch hat on Neil MacPherson's seat next to Harold Martin at the Hellfire Pass dawn service.
Camera IconA slouch hat on Neil MacPherson's seat next to Harold Martin at the Hellfire Pass dawn service. Credit: Krishna Vanderweide

“It was very difficult. I didn’t realise I’d fall in a mess at the dawn service,” Ms Vanderweide said.

“It’s a very emotional place, very spiritual.

“Being there with the hat next to me just got to me. It was comforting that Daniel the naval officer came to my side.

“Right after the ceremony, he came straight over to me.”

Mr MacPherson’s death also left fellow Albany man Harold Martin as the sole survivor of the Death Railway at Hellfire Pass last week.

Harold Martin at the Hellfire Pass dawn service.
Camera IconHarold Martin at the Hellfire Pass dawn service. Credit: Krishna Vanderweide

At 102, Mr Martin returned to the railway with the help of Albany woman Roseanne Gilpin.

He recited The Ode at Hellfire Pass and again later that morning at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

Ms Vanderweide said he still had his sense of humour, but it was clear the memories of his service weighed heavily on his mind.

“I saw Harold at granddad’s funeral and he said he was travelling up to Thailand again,” Ms Vanderweide said.

“He said, ‘I don’t mind if I don’t come back. ‘I’ll be with my mates’.”

Despite their physical frailty, Mr MacPherson and Mr Martin were determined to fly to Thailand to pay their respects to the fallen on Anzac Day.

Their aim was to make sure no one forgot the horrors of war and the Australians who did not make it out of there.

Mr Vanderweide said she would try to carry on her grandfather’s legacy by continuing in her role with the Burma Thai Railway Memorial Association.

“We don’t want to ever forget what these men did for our country,” she said.

“What happened up here on the Burma-Thailand railway was horrific and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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