Percival James Searant, or Jim to his mates, enlisted with the Australian Army in January 1944 aged 19 and was discharged in December 1946 after World War II ended.
James Searant's service records
“I was very passionate about the war effort and was determined to do my bit for my country,” he says.
“When I first became old enough, I wasn’t allowed to join because I was working for a chemical company in Newcastle which was considered an essential war time industry.”
One of Jim’s most vivid memories of World War II was travelling on a river boat watching for Japanese in the treetops, “which was one of their favoured spots to hide,” he recalls.
“I had movement in my rifle sight, but it turned out to be an orangutan. So we both lived for another day!”
Another moment that sticks in his mind was Beer Issue Day. “Everybody was my mate on those days, because I didn’t drink or smoke at the time.”
Jim was a member of the first wave, of the five thousand Australian troops who landed at Klandasan, two miles south-east of Balikpapan on the morning of 1 July 1945. The airfields were a few miles away from where he landed, which was south of the airfield. There was no aerial resistance as the aircraft had already been moved elsewhere or destroyed.
Jim recalls on the landing at Balikpapan “The 2/9th Battalion (of which I was a part) was part of the 18th Brigade in the 7th Division.”
“We left the island of Morotai (Dutch East Indies) on Sunday morning 1st July 1945. The weather was good, and we boarded HMAS Kanimbla to sail to Balikpapan on the Island of Borneo.
“The landing site had numerous palm trees with the tops blown off (strafing machine gun fire from low flying aircraft) to soften the area for landing as they often hid snipers. Whilst traversing the town, a couple of my mates and I came across a Packard car that was possibly used by the Japanese Commander. We decided against taking it, and later heard through the grapevine that a high-ranking Australian officer had taken possession of it. This was an oil refinery city and everywhere you looked there were oil tanks. Most of the oil storage tanks had been ruptured by earlier bombing.”
Returning to Australia after the war, he remembers arriving in Sydney dressed in tropical gear, a shirt and a pair of shorts, in the midst of winter.
The Searant brothers
The patriotic spirit ran through Jim’s family. His father Lindsay was 36 when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1940, served in Timor, and was discharged five years later. He was in Darwin when the city was attacked by the Japanese.
Jim’s brother, another Lindsay, enlisted in the Army in 1943, served in the tank attack regiment in New Guinea, and left in 1946. His wife Melvie was part of the Australian Women’s Army Services from 1942 to 1945. Lindsay and Melvie were married in November 1943 at Hamilton, Newcastle.
Another brother Max also signed up to the Army in 1944, serving in Australia, and was discharged in 1947. Max also married during this period to Thelma Goodwin in June 1946.
While his cousin Jack was in the Army from 1941 to 1946, serving in Ambon (Dutch East Indies), and was a Prisoner of War at Tantui. Jim’s other cousin Perce served in Australia, for a short period in the latter stages of the war, with the Royal Australian Air Force for 18 months.
After the war, Jim returned to his pre-war job as an accounts clerk with the Newcastle Chemical Company which was owned by BHP and Imperial Chemical Industries Australia New Zealand. Between 1950 and 1951, Jim worked with the Treasury Department in Papua New Guinea.