You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Heroes of Z Special Unit remembered

AAP logoAAP 1/08/2016 Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

Sergeant Jack Tredrea wondered just what he was getting into when, as he prepared to infiltrate Borneo, he was offered a cyanide pill.

It was in event of capture by Japanese forces and the certainty of torture and execution.

The former member of Z Special Unit, the top secret commando organisation recruited during World War II to fight behind enemy lines, said he signed up "maybe because of the word 'special'".

"We didn't know what it was and what we were in for. But we were young and wanted to get into it so we volunteered," he told AAP.

He parachuted into Borneo in March 1945, leading a group of tribesmen in attacks on Japanese forces.

"They were wonderful people, believe me. From day one they welcomed us with open arms. They hated the Japanese," he said.

From the third week in May 1945 until October it was all ambushes, he recalled.

"At that time our navy had stopped the Japanese boats bringing them any supplies so they were sending 20-30 people on patrols into various parts of Borneo, taking all the natives' rice. We'd know 24 hours in advance which track they would be coming in on and we'd just take care of them."

Now 96, he's one of perhaps 30 surviving veterans of Z Special, the forerunner of the modern day Special Air Service Regiment and 2nd Commando Regiment.

After the war Z Special members were sworn to secrecy and their full story has never been told.

But some belated recognition came on Monday with the dedication of a memorial plaque at the Australian War Memorial. In attendance were 23 Z Special veterans, 18 widows and several hundred relatives.

Many Z Special missions were stunningly successful, including Operation Jaywick - the 1943 raid on Singapore harbour - and the Operation Semut patrols into Borneo in which Sergeant Tredrea participated.

Others were less successful, such as Operation Rimau, the 1944 attempt to repeat Jaywick from which there were no survivors, and Operation Copper, the 1945 reconnaissance of a Japanese-held island off northern PNG. Just one of the eight Z Special participants survived.

On Monday, Todd Walklate, grandson of Lance Corporal Spencer Walklate who was among those lost on Operation Copper, recited the ode at the dedication ceremony.

Only in recent years has he learned some of the details.

"The story just keeps unfolding. The more people you meet, the more you learn. It has been an amazing journey for myself and my family to understand and know more about a man we never knew," he said.

Lance Corporal Walklate and another soldier, Private Ronald Eagleton, were captured by Japanese forces, tortured and executed. Their remains were recovered in 2014.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon