John Rodger HOOPER

HOOPER, John Rodger

Service Number: PA5290
Enlisted: 23 April 1945
Last Rank: Able Seaman
Last Unit: Not yet discovered
Born: Redfern, ( Now Cumberland Park) South Australia, 30 July 1927
Home Town: Port Adelaide, Port Adelaide Enfield, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Orroroo and District Roll of Honour WW2
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World War 2 Service

23 Apr 1945: Enlisted Port Adelaide, SA
23 Apr 1945: Enlisted Royal Australian Navy, Able Seaman, PA5290
11 Mar 1947: Discharged
Date unknown: Involvement

A Recital of the Ode at a Ceremony Like No Other


WORLD War II veteran John Hooper is an old hand at reciting the Ode Of Remembrance .

He reckons he’s done it about 100 times over the past 70-odd years.

Initially, it was at Anzac Day reunions with his old wartime mates. In the past few years, it has been to farewell many of these same men.

This week, however, Mr Hooper has been preparing to recite the Ode at a ceremony the likes of which he has never experienced before.

With dawn services around the nation cancelled because of the coronavirus, Mr Hooper was called on to lead this morning’s driveway tribute at Life Care’s Parkrose aged-care village in Everard Park.

The 92-year-old former navy able seaman was set to be joined by fellow ex-service personnel , other residents and staff as part of the RSL’s national Light Up The Dawn initiative .

“I’ve been marching in the Adelaide parade for 73 years,” Mr Hooper told The Advertiser in the lead-up to this morning’s service.

It will be just the third time since he left the navy in 1947 that he has missed the Anzac Day march. The other times were in 1971, when a freak storm forced the cancellation of all Adelaide commemorations , and in 1995, when he was recovering from a heart attack.

April 25 is a day he always looked forward to, a day of catching up with old mates, swapping stories and remembering their time aboard HMAS Westralia as they repatriated troops from various southwest Pacific theatres of war.

Born in Adelaide, Mr Hooper enlisted in the navy in 1944 but was not called up until April the following year because he was under 18. He was in training to be part of a seaborne invasion of Japan but on August 6, 1945, US planes dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, forcing the Japanese into surrender.

So Able Seaman Hooper spent most of his active duty with 700-odd crewmates on the Westralia, collecting soldiers from battlegrounds spanning from New Guinea to Japan. During one journey to Japan in 1946, Mr Hooper and his mates were taken by truck to inspect the wasteland that had become Hiroshima.

The explosion, months earlier , had wiped out 90 per cent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people. Three days later, the Americans dropped another nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, killing 40,000 more. Mr Hooper said inspecting the ghost city of Hiroshima so soon after the bomb was an eerie experience.

“There was just nothing left there,” he said. “They just cleared the streets. There was nothing left. Buildings that were built with concrete were still standing but there was nothing much left of them – windows were all burnt out …

“It was just silent. Nothing. No activity or anything. There was nobody there. Not a soul.”

His tasks on the Westralia ranged from cleaning the toilets – for sixpence a day extra wages – to manning the barges, scrubbing the deck and painting various parts of the ship to prevent rust.

He returned to Adelaide after he was discharged and worked for years in the Mile End flour mill. He married Joyce, who lives next door in the village’s nursing home, and the couple had four children. Mr Hooper was secretary of the SA Armed Merchant Cruisers/Landing Ship Infantry Association for 37 years. The association’s annual Anzac Day reunions drew crowds of up to 300 people in the 1950s and ’60s, but the organisation disbanded in 2014.

Mr Hooper’s naval service started a family tradition. One of his sons, a son-in-law and granddaughter also signed up for the navy, and a grandson was in the army.

He still looks forward to marching every Anzac Day, even if he is a bit slower than he was in his pomp, and says he’ll be back in 2021 after this year’s hiatus.

He is one of several returned servicemen who live at the Life Care village. Also looking forward to today’s 6am service were Laurie Gillespie , 96, who fought at Kokoda , pilot Leslie Diercks, 102, who flew Catalina flying boats in World War II, and David Kidd, 71, who did two tours of Vietnam as a tank driver.

Other village residents and staff also planned to take part in the tribute, and neighbours said they would stand silently in their driveways to pay their respects.

“We have staged Anzac Day services every year since Parkrose Village opened in the 1950s,” village manager Ann-Marie Hogan said. “Due to coronavirus, our residents can’t leave the facility and there are limitations on who can visit from outside.

“We thought it was important to hold this year’s service differently to honour the day and pay our respects to our residents who are ex-service personnel , those who have fallen, and those who continue to serve our country. It is testament to the resilience of our staff and residents that we’ve found a way to adapt and overcome this challenge to ensure we continue to observe the Anzac Day tradition.

“We hope it will provide comfort for our residents, many whom have not missed a service for decades. This year’s commemoration will certainly be one to remember.”

Copyright © 2020 News Pty Limited

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