WW2 boy soldier called home by mum

JOHN “Jack” Francis O’Regan served in New Guinea during World War 2 after joining the Australian militia aged 15. 

He was born on 29 December 1926 in Richmond, Melbourne as one of six children and left school aged 10.

Mr O’Regan enlisted on 22 January 1942 as Jack O’Regan, falsifying his age as 17 and saying he had schooled until Grade 7.

He joined because his “whole family” was involved in the Army - his father serving in both World Wars and two brothers were in the Air Force. 

While he never told anyone his real age, he “thought people could tell”. 

Assigned to the 1st Australian Army Corps, he served in Port Moresby where there was only one road of bitumen and the rest was “very, very dusty”.

He drove a Chevy three tonne water truck supplying water, a job which required two people to pump out the water by hand. 

One of the worst moments was being told the Japanese were coming to take Port Moresby, and there would be no retreat and the Australians would have been taken prisoner or killed.

Fortunately for Mr O’Regan the Japanese were stopped in the Battle of the Coral Sea. 

The Japanese planes would drop bombs on Port Moresby and Mr O’Regan remembers once they set fire to the hospital and bomb depo in the city.

He said “you could feel the wind going past your ears four miles away”, and he was called with his water truck to help douse the blaze. 

When he was lining up with the rest of the men to get their tea, an Australian plane crashed to the ground and blew up near him. 

Mr O’Regan mainly lived on porridge and beans for months, resulting in him suffering dysentery twice. 

The only shooting he did was crocodile hunting, except he couldn’t find any crocodiles so shot coconuts instead.

One of his best memories was when he was given four days off in the town of Rego, after trucking down rice for two Air Force coast watchers.

The New Guineans took him out in their canoes, and he would give them cigarettes to climb trees and get him coconuts.

After serving for 12 months, his mother became concerned for his welfare and contacted the army informing them of his true age, and on 29 December 1942 he was shipped back to Melbourne.

He spent a week in a prisoner’s compound before being given a dishonourable discharge for falsifying the date of his birth.

However, in 1950 his discharge was changed to honourable after pressure from the RSL. 

When he turned 18 in 1945, he went back into the Army, serving in the 41/2 Australian Infantry Battalion, but as the war was ending he did not serve overseas again.

He performed duties such as pulling wire off the beach at Newcastle, and drove a truck for the English army in Melbourne until he was discharged in 1947.

He married Joan on 12 May 1945 and they had two children, John and Linda.

In 1972 the O’Regans bought a hobby farm near Quaama, which they ran for 32 years before selling it and moving to Bega. 

Mr O’Regan said about 32 under age boys served in WW2, and after the war he joined the Under 16s, which was made up of men who served aged under 16.

When asked what he thought of a 15-year-old going to war today, Mr O’Regan replied they would be “crazy”. 

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