John William Henry Toon's story
Reflecting on my father’s war service and my own military service, national service. I remember how my father John William Henry Toon OAM. valued camaraderie of fellow soldiers during and after the War. At 19 he volunteered for WW II after spending a lot of time living with carers and learning life on the streets of Melbourne. With the capture of Singapore by the Japanese and forced surrender of some 12000, troops were interned into Changi prison, some going off to Japan to work in coal mines, while others forced marched to Thailand to build the infamous Burma Thailand Death Railway.
Myself, given the name William Stewart Toon, was called up for national service in 1970. This for me was an escape from the family businesses (farming / Manchester), rag trade and sense of adventure. My father didn’t want me to go, but proud I was serving the country. My father was a generous, patient “self made man”. He was always busy, hard working and closed to what happened during the war.
It was only later in life, after retirement, and years of being a legatee helping war veterans families, that he started to talk about his experiences as a prisoner of war on the Burma Railway, dealing with death and brutality. I visited, with my children, Hell Fire Pass Museum on the Burma Railway and Kanchana–Buri Museum at the “Bridge on the River Kwai” in the 90’s with Dad. An emotional time for everyone to be present among so many war graves and have explained the conditions they had to endure for over 4years. Before Dad past away, he introduced me to his mates who were in his Unit or fellow prisoners of war in Changi and on the Burma Railway. Mates were everything.
Dad always made a point of never glorifying war. It was always about remembering those that never came back. Dad emphasized the breath of human behaviour in war, in incarceration that left memories (good and bad). I am a proud son of a father who gave so much.