Francis John (Frank) LARKINS

LARKINS, Francis John

Service Numbers: N238632, NX111034
Enlisted: 27 October 1941, Drafted into the Militia as an 'Eligible Male' Arncliffe, New South Wales
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 65th Australian Infantry Battalion (BCOF Japan)
Born: Werris Creek, Northern Tablelands, New South Wales, 8 February 1923
Home Town: Arncliffe, Rockdale, New South Wales
Schooling: Werris Creek Public School / Arncliffe Public School
Occupation: Apprentice Pastrycook & Baker
Died: Natural Causes, Woonoona, Illawarra, New South Wales, 3 December 2010, aged 87 years
Cemetery: Woronora Memorial Park, Sutherland, New South Wales
Woronora Cemetery, Sutherland NSW
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World War 2 Service

27 Oct 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, N238632, Drafted into the Militia as an 'Eligible Male' Arncliffe, New South Wales
10 Oct 1942: Involvement Private, N238632, Army Training Units, Homeland Defence - Militia and non deployed forces
7 Oct 1943: Promoted Corporal, 9 Field Regiment AMF
14 Apr 1944: Involvement Private, N238632, 9 Field Regiment AMF, Homeland Defence - Militia and non deployed forces, AWL reduced to Private
14 Sep 1944: Transferred Private, 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion, Marched in from 3 Arty Bde
9 Jun 1945: Embarked Private, NX111034, 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion, Embarked on Howell Lykes ex Townsville
20 Jul 1945: Involvement Private, NX111034, 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion, Borneo - Operation Oboe July - August 1945, Embarked Morotai for Balikpapan LST 245

Occupation Force Japan - BCOF Service

1 Dec 1945: Involvement Private, NX111034, 65th Australian Infantry Battalion (BCOF Japan)
2 Jan 1947: Discharged Private, NX111034, 65th Australian Infantry Battalion (BCOF Japan)

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Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

Francis ('Frank') John Larkins (1923-2010)

Frank was born in the northern tablelands town of Werris Creek in NSW on 8 February 1923, to John ('Jack') and Lucy Winifred Larkins (nee O'Neil). He was the nephew of James Larkins (/explore/people/351265) who had served with the 2nd Battalion in WW1. Frank had a younger sister Dorothy. Growing up in Werris Creek he was among a large colony of relations, many of whom worked for the NSW railways, including his father.

Times were tough and made more so when the Great Depression took hold. His life in Werris Creek was not to last though as his parents separated and his mother moved to Sydney taking the children with her. They took up residence in the inner southern suburb of Arncliffe.

Frank remained in close contact with his father, even after his parents, who were both Catholic, divorced - an almost unheard of event in the Catholic community pre WW2.

Frank was not particularly academically inclined, although he was an inveterate reader always looking to broaden his general knowledge.  In any case there was pressure to bring in much needed money for his mother and younger sister, so he left school at age 14. He secured an apprenticeship as a pastrycook.  His mother took in boarders to supplement the meagre family income.  His parents' divorce came through in 1937.

His mother formed a relationship with a man named George Wright.  He had two sons, George, known as "Sonny (/explore/people/653323)", and Keith, whose nickname was "Skeeter". Frank became lifelong friends with both.  They used to hang around together and in particular enjoyed going to a gymnasium near Brighton le Sands.  The trainer there had been a 'strong man' in a travelling show and taught the boys a range of stunts.  One of those became Frank's trademark  - he could bear his own weight using just his teeth.  He could also lift a hundredweight bag held in his teeth, a trick that he performed well into his sixties, and always good to win a bet with colleagues.

Frank also joined the Scouts and spent weekends at Heathcote and Waterfall, the former of which was to figure more prominently in his later life.

Frank took up cycling as a sport and raced at the local velodrome as well as in road races. Two of his cycling colleagues were  Arthur Lynch (/explore/people/636978) and Allan Adams (/explore/people/617696). Like many young men at the time they were about to be swept up in events that would taken them on very different paths, and only Frank would survive the war.

When war broke out, Frank Sonny and Skeeter were too young to enlist - initially. In October 1941, Sonny borrowed Frank's Uncle's (Colin O'Neill (/explore/people/795634) - he was only a few years older than the boys) driver's licence and enlisted under the name of C.R.  O'Neil.  Sonny was 16 in 1941, but he looked older and with Colin's licence as 'proof of age', off he went.   Keith was too young to enlist and too small to fake his age like his older brother.  Frank was 16 when war broke out in 1939 and unlike Sonny he was not about to fake his age - he would have struggled anyway.  Colin O'Neill also enlisted in the 2nd AIF - so there were two C.R. O'Neills, each with the same date of birth but different service numbers, and both in  9th Division battalions; Sonny served with the 2nd/13th Battalion, Colin in the 2nd/17th.

Frank was initially drafted into the Militia in late 1941 aged 18.  He was not inducted until January 1942, and was posted to a militia Artillery unit, the 9th Field Regiment, based in northern Sydney where, because of his vocational background, he became a cook.

He did recall being in Sydney the night the Japanese managed to penetrate the harbour defences with a number of midget submarines (31 May1942), one of which attempted to torpedo the USS Chicago, a cruiser.  Instead a small RAN ship, the HMAS Kuttabul was sent to the bottom with the loss of several naval ratings. According to Frank it was pandemonium.

However, he was not at all happy in the 9th Field Regiment. This was largely due to what Dad described as a very unsavoury culture which he attributed to dysfunctional command and personalities. He went AWL and was subsequently detached on a series of training courses which suited him just fine.  In mid 1943 he was promoted to Bombadier, the artillery equivalent of a Corporal.

He was posted back to the  9th Field Regiment and decided it was time to get into the 2nd AIF - but official channels were slow and he did not want to draw attention to himself in his current unit.  He had heard that if one went Absent Without Leave, one could hand oneself in and request a transfer to the AIF, it would be considered favourably.

His advice was proven to be correct albeit in a roundabout way.  After having summary proceedings heard at Victoria Barracks in Sydney, Frank was reduced in rank to Private and transferred to the 2nd AIF and in due course he was off to the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland to join the 2nd/31st Battalion of the 25th Brigade in training for its next operational deployment.

He arrived in the Battalion shortly after it had returned from a tour of duty in Papua New Guinea in the Markham Valley campaign.  Like a large portion of the AIF, they were encamped in the Atherton Tableland region and were quickly engaged in training for their next tour of duty.

The 2nd/31st and its parent Brigade, the 25th, was part of the 7th Division and in due course it and the 9th Division were earmarked to take part in what was to be the last major operation by the 2nd AIF in WW2;  the 7th Division was to stage an amphibious invasion of southern Borneo through the port of Balikpapan.  

They set sail from Townsville for The Dutch East Indies in June, concentrating at Morotai Island.  Frank was off to war at last, perhaps without realising that it would all be over in just a matter of weeks.  The landings took place on 1 July 1945 and the last of the fighting took place around the 21st of  July.  News came though of the dropping of a new and terrifying bomb on Japan in mid August and within days the war was over.

The Battalion was involved in collecting and processing Japanese Prisoners of War.  Some were re-armed to help maintain law and order.  Little did anyone realise that the Indonesians were about to start flexing their 'Independence' muscles striving to shed themselves of the yoke of Dutch colonisation.

Frank returned to Morotai where the word went out for volunteers to go to Japan as part of an Allied Occupation Force.  Frank's sense of adventure had hardly been whetted so he volunteered. Some of his closest mates such as Len Monument and Eddie McCarthy, veterans of several campaigns, decided to return to Australia and demobilise.

After some home leave, Frank was on his way to Japan.

More to follow... Steve Larkins Jan 2015