World War II 75 years anniversary: Share your family's stories with the Department of Veterans Affairs One In a Million project

New Guinea, July 1945: Troops of the New Guinea Infantry Battalion wade through a stream on their way to attack a Japanese position.
New Guinea, July 1945: Troops of the New Guinea Infantry Battalion wade through a stream on their way to attack a Japanese position.

Don Collins doesn't like to talk about the war. A sergeant with the Second New Guinea Infantry Battalion, he was wounded in New Guinea and lost two of his mates within days of one another.

"I got a bit of shrapnel from a grenade," he said. "The head piece came into my arm here, but that was nothing ... A lot of fellows went through a lot worse than I did...

"[You were] frightened to death; but one compelling thing you knew, you knew you didn't want to be buried in that place."

Born in Melbourne in March 1923, Matthew Donovan Collins was studying commerce at the University of Melbourne when he signed up in 1941.

"I had just turned 18," he said. "I went off to university and at the end of that academic year, there was compulsory military training.

"We were at war with Germany, and my brother, John Collins, was overseas in the 2/11th Army Field Regiment. He would have been 21 or 22, and he was a sergeant in the artillery. He was in the Middle East in Syria and then went to New Guinea and Bougainville ...

"We [students] had to do compulsory military training, and the date that we had to go up to Bonegilla in New South Wales happened to be 7 December 1941; the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

Don Collins: 'A lot of fellows went through a lot worse than I did.'

Don Collins: 'A lot of fellows went through a lot worse than I did.'

"We had assembled on the platform at Spencer Street [Station], and by the time we got to Bonegilla we were at war with Japan as well, and then all of us - all of us students - were in the army."

Mr Collins was sent to Darwin, and was there for most of the Japanese air raids.

"It was only a small town, and all of the civilians had gone south," he said. "The Japs [sic] used to come over on a Sunday - I think they didn't like us going to church, or something like that - and I spent the first six months digging slit trenches."

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Mr Collins was then sent to New Guinea where he served as a lance sergeant with the 2nd New Guinea Infantry Battalion. The battalion, which was formed in New Guinea in 1944 to augment Australian troops fighting against the Japanese, was primarily made up of Papuan soldiers, who served under the command of Australian officers and NCOs.

Almost one million Australians served during the Second World War. Each memory from the largest global conflict of the 20th century is as unique as it is remarkable.

Share your family's stories by joining the One in a Million project

In the lead up to the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Australians are encouraged to capture and share the stories of the nation's Second World War veterans by holding an image of a relative, taking a picture and sharing it to social media using the hashtag #OneInAMillion.

This story and its accompanying photos, published in full here, was reproduced courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. The story and more photos are online at awm.gov.au

This story A Digger's harrowing one in a million story from the New Guinea front first appeared on Newcastle Herald.