Skip to main content

Stanley Clarke

Stanley Clarke

Leading Aircraftman, Royal Australian Air Force

 “The sights I’ve seen.”


A kamikaze attack is Stanley Clarke’s most vivid memory of WWII action.

“I saw a Japanese fighter plane, a little Zero, embedded in the top of a big warship,” says Stan, now 96.

It was October 1944, and Stan was under enemy fire in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in the Philippines.

“There was heavy bombing from air strikes,” says Stan, who was then 20.

“Our gunner, who was American, brought down seven little planes. One of our chaps -- Ken McKim from Newcastle -- was helping him load shells. Ken always went bare footed and he got burnt feet from the hot shells.”

Stan was two months shy of 19 in 1943 when he joined the war effort. He’d been working in the Postmaster-General’s Department as a sorter, living in Woodend, and boarding in Melbourne.

“The war had come to Australia and there was going to be conscription. It was far better to enlist than just hang around and eventually be shoved into one of the services you might not wish to go into,” he says.

The Postmaster-General’s was a protected industry so they had to wait until women were trained to be sorters, before the men could be released. Because of his job, Stan knew Morse code. His war role was as a signals interception operator. Their job was to intercept Japanese Morse code messages for use by the Central Bureau Code Breakers. Japanese Morse code was called Kana. “We were Kana men.”

He became part of a highly secret RAAF unit that was one of the very few Australian units to join American forces in the liberation of the Philippines. Stan and his group were attached to No. 6 Wireless Unit just before the invasion forces set out for Leyte Gulf.

The group came under the Central Bureau Intelligence Corps Association, founded by General Douglas MacArthur and set up by General Aiken, American Chief Intelligence Officer.

“History will say no Australians served in the Philippines, but we did,” says Stan of his role in espionage.  Also known as The Eavesdroppers, his unit are little known to this day, even to some war experts.

Stan had come back from serving in New Guinea, before his group was specially flown to Hollandia, now Indonesia, and taken across to Leyte by ship.

“It was the largest armada that ever existed. It was ships as far as you could see looking over from Hollandia. Just ships, ships, ships, ships… The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the biggest naval engagement ever fought. Conditions were shocking; 34 inches of rain fell in the first 40 days.”

No. 6 wireless Unit went ashore on 5 November, 1944. They set up operations amid the “Ugly sights and putrid smells”. Base was a schoolhouse in Tolosa, Leyte.

In Tolosa it was common to flog handmade trinkets to the Yanks. Called “Foreigners”, they were made from coins, and butterfly wings and such, under perspex. Stan was good at crafting Foreigners, and on one memorable day he and Ken lost all the money they’d made in a Craps game against the Seabees (US Marines). “But we won it back by throwing 11 heads in 2 up!”

After Leyte, Stan’s Unit took part in the Battle of Luzon; travelled to San Miguel, north of Manila, and set up headquarters in a large sugar mill. It was there Stan and his mates were told they’d be going with the American Invasion forces into Japan. Intelligence warned them to expect a determined enemy, who had thousands of suicide planes prepared. “An invasion date had been set; we were measured for our winter uniforms.”

But they never got there. At 0845 on 6 August 1945 the mens’ wireless headsets went berserk. An atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Japan surrendered on 15 August. But they didn’t get to celebrate, Stan’s group of operators had been transferred to 7 Wireless Unit at Strathpine, Brisbane.

“We were told we could go home if we could find a way. Seven of us were able to hitch hike out of there – or plane hike I suppose you’d call it. Later we had to sign a 30-year secrecy document.”

Stan had previously married at home on R&R, and had three children. But after the war his marriage ended and he brought up his three boys alone. Later, he married again, became a publican and travelled the world with his wife.

But he brought home a relic of the war – what’s now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - and tried to block out the memories with booze.

“The war wasn’t kind to me. Part of the problem was PTSD – according to a DVA psychiatrist I saw in 2011. In those days we’d call it war neurosis. Go and get a belly full of beer and forget about it. But that didn’t work.”

Today Stanley is passionate about VP Day.

“It was the beginning of the new Australia. All the warring countries had increased their technology to a huge extent to try to get the better of their opponents, and all of a sudden all that knowledge could be put to more useful purposes.

“Australia took in a large number of displaced European people, and many went to work on the Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme. We called them new Australians, but they gave us a new Australia. We bonded together; and it all started with the end of the war on 15 August.

“If we want a date that nobody can disagree with then VP Day, to me, should be Australia Day. To me, it is the most important day on the Australian calendar.”

As usual, Stan will mark the occasion and remember his mates, but this year it may be a small affair, “I have my own flagpole and I’ll be having my own little service. There may be a couple of attendees, there may not, it doesn’t matter. I will think about Australia, the new Australia that came into being on that day.”

A revelation in late life has been friendship with the Japanese, formed through his grandson Bradley, who married a Japanese woman. “You can’t forget but you do forgive. I’m a lot more mellow these days.”


Stanley Clarke with Masayasu Yoshida (Stanley's grandson's father-in-law)

He has seen enough of life to fill a book. And he has filled a couple. He self-published his autobiography at 90, another chapter at 95, and is working on the next chapter, to be released “If I ever get to 100.”

His life story is not an ordinary person’s life story, receiving Citizen of the Year at Beechworth, a Bletchley Park medal, and Medal of the Order of Australia.

“My wife proposed me for the OAM. Wonderful isn’t it? I think she deserves a medal for taking me on.”