War legend dies

HONOUR: Alf Maskell holding the prisoner of war Melbourne cup trophy. Picture: PETER WEAVING

HONOUR: Alf Maskell holding the prisoner of war Melbourne cup trophy. Picture: PETER WEAVING

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LOCAL World War II legend Alf Maskell died last Friday, 69 years to the day that the war was declared over.

Bendigo RSL president Cliff Richards said Mr Maskell was true legend who likely never fired a single shot.

He said Mr Maskell was just 18 when he went to war, in 1941.

He had met his sweetheart, Val, while completing military training in Bendigo, a few months earlier.

Mr Maskell was deployed to Singapore, fighting in the Anti Tank Regiment, and was taken captive by the Japanese almost immediately.

He never spoke to Val again until after the war was over.

Mr Richards said Mr Maskell survived incredible hardships.

"In four short years he experienced life in Changi Prison, life on the Burma Railway and life in the Japanese mines."

He said Mr Maskell was forced to live in filthy conditions while undertaking backbreaking, dangerous work and was regularly beaten.

"Alf would have taken with him many secrets that we probably would not want to know about," he said.

"We would be horrified about some of the stories Alf kept to himself."

But while Mr Maskell would undoubtedly have undergone abhorrent experiences as a prisoner of war, Mr Maskell's daughter, Belinda Tankard, recalled a lighter memory of the camp that her father had shared.

She said to mark his twenty-first birthday Mr Maskell's good friend Rolly Hull hunted a wild pig, which they cooked up to a make a feast.

Mr Richards said Mr Maskell and fellow prisoners also commemorated the Melbourne Cup in 1943, by holding a mock race in which some men were horses and others were jockeys.

Mr Maskell was in Nagasaki, Japan, when the war ended. 

"Alf tells me and his mates often wondered what the big flash was in the sky," Mr Richards said.

It was the explosion of the atomic bomb.

On returning to Australia, Mr Maskell reunited with Val and the couple had five children: Gary, 68, Tony, 67, Robert, 64, Belinda, 52 and Trent, who died in 1975 at the age of 20.

Ms Tankard said her father was proud of each of his children and encouraging.

"Dad was a very proud man and very proud of how he looked and managed. We were brought up to take pride.

"He was proud of all of us in his own way."

She said he was a talented pastry cook and worked in that profession for most of his life.

She said he shared a special connection with fellow retired soldiers.

"He always attended all the reunions and Anzac Day," she said.

"They all shared a special bond - you could tell from the way they spoke and looked at each other."

Mr Maskell is survived by wife Val and children Gary, Tony, Robert and Belinda.

Mr Maskell's funeral will take place on Thursday at William Farmer chapel in Eaglehawk at 10.30am.

This will be followed by a private cremation and a wake at Bendigo RSL.

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