Tasmania has lost another war hero.
Robert “young Bill” Russell, the second last surviving member of the 2/40th Battalion, died in his nursing home on Saturday morning – one month before his 97th birthday.
He was one of 919 soldiers sent to Timor, shortly after Japan had entered World War II.
It was the only battalion in the Australian Imperial Force made up almost entirely by Tasmanian recruits.
They earned themselves the nickname the “doomed battalion”, having gone up against 23,000 Japanese troops.
All the men from the battalion were either killed or captured as prisoners of war.
Of the 919 soldiers, 264 were killed – 74 in battle, and 191 in captivity.
Young Bill outlived all of his comrades, except Hobart’s Lloyd Harding, who remains the last known surviving member of the battalion.
Beyond his actions on the battlefields, young Bill was known for being a “quiet and humble man”, according to friend John Hill.
“He was a lovely man, he didn’t say much about the war and was very quiet, he just liked to potter around in his garden,” Mr Hill said.
“He will certainly be missed, he was a thorough gentleman.”
Friends of the 2/40th Battalion coordinator Rod Stone said while a chapter of history was coming to a close, with only one surviving member, the battalion’s bravery in World War II should never be forgotten.
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“Tasmania’s only battalion is down to its last member – we salute the late Bill Russell, and we wish continued good health to Lloyd Harding,” he said.
“To survive all they did, and live to their 90s is remarkable. It is testament to their courage and training, and true Tasmanian spirit.
“The most ironic thing is Lloyd Harding was the first man to wear the 2/40th Battalion uniform in 1941, and now he is the last man alive.”
This week marks 75 years since news the war was ending spread across the world on August 14, 1945, before Japan signed its official surrender on September 2.
Mr Stone said many battalion members died young after returning home.
For some, the mental weight of war became too much to bear.
For others, including Mr Stone’s father, it was the physical toll that eventually caught up with them.
Ernie Stone survived being a POW, and the Nagasaki atomic bombing, but died of a heart attack.
“He was only 57, he got out of bed one day and just dropped dead,” Mr Stone said.
“He always used to say to me he didn’t want me to join the army, because there are no winners in war.”
Launceston’s last surviving member Ron Cassidy died in 2015. Another late member of the battalion was Tasmanian Veterans’ Affairs Minister Guy Barnett’s great uncle Laurie Thyne.
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of the second last surviving member of the 2/40th battalion – the only unit in the Second AIF recruited almost entirely from Tasmania,” Mr Barnett said.
“On the eve of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific Day and the end of the Second World War, we say thank you for the service and sacrifice of this extraordinary generation.”