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The Man from Katherine ¬– Hyman Tait signs up for overseas

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Men and women from all across the Territory signed up to serve in World War II.

One who who answered the call to serve overseas while stationed in Katherine was Hyman Tait.

Tait joined the Australian Imperial Force in Katherine on 4 January 1944. He was already in the Citizen Military Force and had been so since June 1941 when he joined the militia for duties within Australia. There were derisive names for these troops from some: “chocolate soldiers” as they melted given a bit of heat: underserved as these men gave good and loyal service. Now the Army wanted him for overseas action.

Tait, a cabinet maker, had been a reliable and faithful member of the Army so far. He had qualified as a driver, and looks to have spent a lot of time moving vehicles around Australia, also qualifying as a mechanic.

At the end of 1942 he married, and then overstayed his leave – perfectly understandable but not acceptable – and so his service record carries a reprimand. This was the only one received in his service, apart from having his pay stopped for losing a set of goggles on one occasion.

Upon transferring to the AIF, Tait was promoted to corporal, and soon was disembarking Australia from Brisbane. Moving through New Guinea, he eventually served in the invasion of Balikpapan in what is now Malaysia in July 1945. Given his training and service in logistics, Tait, now a sergeant, would have been moved ashore in support units after the infantry, ship artillery, and air units had pulverised the defences.

The war ending in mid-August would have surprised and delighted the Australians all across the Pacific. Serving in the same theatre of the Pacific, Paul Fussell, a 21 year old American second lieutenant, wrote: “When the bombs dropped and news began to circulate that…we would not be obliged to run up the beaches near Tokyo…we cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow up to adulthood after all.”

Tait received further good news that month – his son had been born back in Australia. He was finally discharged from the Army in January 1946.

Australian troops on an American assault boat at the Battle of Balikpapan. Note the combat cameraman of the US forces standing up, and the bulldozer of the Seabees on the beach, indicating this is a consolidating landing. (Public domain)
The first page of Tait's Service Record. (Australian Archives)
Trucks on Stuart Highway in WWII. (Public domain)