Corporal Ernie Stone bravely fought off guards savagely attacking a fellow soldier at a medical camp in Thailand during World War II. Ron Cassidy was being stabbed in the chest with a bayonet, with guards threatening to make him bleed and force him to swim back to Australia and let the sharks at him.
That was when Cpl Stone stepped in, telling the guards Private Cassidy suffered brain fever and would be a good worker for the imperial army – so they let him go.
The two Tasmanian-born soldiers were part of the 2/40th Battalion.
It was the only battalion in the Australian Imperial Force made up almost entirely by Tasmanian recruits. During their time in battle, they became prisoners of war, and survived the Nagasaki atomic bombing.
There were 919 Australian soldiers fighting 23,000 Japanese troops to protect a Dutch airbase at Timor. All of them were either killed or captured, and forced to spend the next 18 months working on the Burma Railway.
Many were then shipped off to Japan to work in the Mitsubishi factory as slave labour.
Making it back to Tasmania after the war ended, Pte Cassidy went on to become the last surviving member of the battalion from Launceston, dying in 2015 at 94-years-old. While the man who saved his life, Cpl Stone, died of a heart attack when he was just 57.
His son, Rod Stone, said the physical and mental trauma of war caught up with his father. When he left for the war, he was a strong, 6 foot 2, 20-year-old man. When he returned, he weighed about 38 kilograms, having been starved while a POW.
Before his sudden death, Cpl Stone spent his post-war days contributing to his community.
He met his future wife, and moved to Greens Beach, where they built and ran a general store before having their sons, Frank and Rod.
But even life by the beach was not enough of a distraction for Cpl Stone to deal with his post-war struggles.
While post traumatic stress disorder was not officially recognised until 1980, Mr Stone was sure his father suffered from the mental illness.
“He used to go down to Willow Court Asylum to get electric shock treatment, to try and forget about the war,” Mr Stone said.
“I remember sitting in the car with my mum, and she said ‘we are not to talk about Japan, we are not to talk about the war, and we are not to talk about the sun, as in the rising sun’.”
Beyond his mental health battles, Cpl Stone also suffered amoebic dysentery, an infection of the stomach, after living off rice for years while captured as a prisoner.
Despite the effects it had on him, he never talked about the war with his children.
There were a few things he shared with his sons but, and one of those was how he met Colonel Sir Ernest Edward “Weary” Dunlop, an Australian surgeon who saved wounded, sick and malnourished men, and ultimately became a prisoner of war himself.
Colonel Dunlop’s Australian War Memorial biography reveals he “put his own life at risk as he stood up to the brutality of his Japanese captors”, and his name became “a legend among Australian prisoners of war and an inspiration for their own survival”.
“Weary was a godsend, a man they only make once in a life time my dad said,” Mr Stone recalled. After his death, Mr Stone began to discover more about his father’s time on the frontline.
It was when he met Pte Cassidy, he learned of how his father had saved him from the Japanese guards.
“A story appeared in The Examiner with Ron Cassidy, and he wrote how Ernie Stone saved his life, so I found out where Ron lived, and went to meet him and he told me so many stories,” Mr Stone recalled.
“I saw Ron again on his 90th birthday, and he opened his shirt and showed me the three stab wounds in his chest from where he was bayoneted, and when Dad stepped in between the three guards.
“He also told me about a young soldier who collapsed during their first parade in front of the Japanese commanding officer, at their Timor camp Usapa Besar when they were captured as POW – Ron told me they stood for an hour in the sun.
“They called the commanding officer the black pig, he was an atrocious man. A Japanese guard grabbed the boy, and said you have to stand on your feet, so he dragged him to his feet and said ‘stick your head out’, and he cut his head right off. Ron said after that it just got worse, it was absolutely brutal.”
And it was that brutality Cpl Stone never wanted his own sons to endure, urging them not to enlist.
“I was a Company Sergeant in cadets, then leader of the school pipe and drum band, and my brother Frank was a piper in the band, and that made Dad very happy, but he always said nobody wins in war,” Mr Stone said.
“He would say ‘it wasn’t your war son, leave it alone, it was in my era, you will spend the rest of your life regretting it’.”
Memorials to the 2/40th Battalion have been erected in Kings Park, Launceston, in Hobart and at Greens Beach.