Merv Clark OAM may be 98-year-old, but he is full of life, his eyes sparkle with wisdom and shine even brighter when he smiles. Merv was honored as part of the Remembrance Day Red Run Event in Brisbane. He is proudly dressed in a day suit and his lively personality overshadows any signs of aging. This is one extraordinary man, who has an even more extraordinary story to match. “My father was killed in the First World War on the 1st of February, 1917. “I was born on the 8th of March, 1917,” Merv says.
Over 400,000 men enlisted in World War I, over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. Every year, on 11th day of November, when the guns fell silent on the Western Front, Australians pay tribute those who sacrificed their lives. Leaving behind a young wife and his unborn son, 23-year-old Frank Clark made the ultimate sacrifice. Merv grew up in Gympie and years later, when duty called, he listed in the RAAF and was sent off to war as wireless mechanic and later as a radar mechanic. He says the hardest part was leaving his wife, Edith and two young children. “My wife raised them all on her own,” he says.
From Perth, to the Kimberly, to New Guinea, Merv was never in one place for very long and found it hard to keep in touch with his family. “They never really knew where I was, but I sent letters when I could.” When the World War II finally came to an end in 1945, Merv was in New Guinea. But the end of the war was not the end of the road; the long, extraordinary, journey home would prove to be a mission on its own. Merv remembers finding containers filled with surrender posters made of calico from Australia. “The planes dropped them all over.”
“We didn’t know it the war was over… it was chaos,” Merv says. It was days before official confirmation of the news reached the isolated camp. “The RAAF Chief came to talk to me, he said, ‘what about going home?’ “Things were happening so fast, I was bewildered,” he says. Merv, with his true Queensland charm replied to the Chief, “’Fairdinkum,’ I said to him.”
It was not as simple as boarding the next flight, Merv would have to find his own way, thousands of kilometers, home to Gympie. With only the clothes he was wearing and few possessions, the 98-year-old casually describes how he ‘got a lift’ from a pilot in Finchhaven. “We flew over Gympie on the way and clipped the trees at home,” he laughs. The plane landed back on Aussie soil at the RAFF base in Amberly. But the journey was not over yet… “I just wanted to get back home to see my wife and kiddies,” he says.
Still dressed in boots and all, Merv arrived at Roma Street Station. “The train wasn’t stopping at Gympie so we had to jump off… we jumped into the early morning darkness.” Finally, Merv was on the last leg of his journey, home was closer than ever. “There were no taxis is those days remember, so I walked the rest of the way home,” he says. “My wife didn’t let me in the early morning I arrived as she was of course home alone and protecting the children, so I waited on the front lawn till dawn and my wife let me in when she realised it was me,” Merv laughs. “That night, I couldn’t sleep, I was eager to see my wife and children,”Merv says.
Merv Clark was celebrated in honor of the inaugural Remembrance Day Red Run.
Written by: Hannah Kotaidis