Australia has lost one of its last remaining WWII Diggers with the death of former infantry gunner David Bradley at age 94.
Australia has lost one of its last remaining WWII Diggers with the death of former infantry gunner David Bradley at age 94.

WWII hero cracked jokes to the end

DAVID JAMES BRADLEY, 94

PRINTER, WWII GUNNER

BORN: FOOTSCRAY, VICTORIA, JANUARY 27, 1925

DIED: CAIRNS, JANUARY 3, 2020

ANZAC Day in Cairns won't be the same this year with one of the city's last remaining WWII Diggers gone.

Former Cairns Post printer and infantry gunner David Bradley was farewelled at Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Edge Hill on January 14 and buried at Martyn St Cemetery with a wake at Cairns RSL Club afterwards.

While Mr Bradley endured the horrors of war in Papua New Guinea and Borneo, he never let it impact on the family, says son Richard Bradley.

"Dad never got upset or lost his temper. He always stayed calm in any circumstance. I think a problem at home was nothing compared to the battlefield," Richard said.

"No matter what his condition was, he still kept his strong sense of humour. He was still cracking jokes up until a few days before he passed away on January 3 with his children around his bed."

TRIBUTE: Cairns WWII veteran and former Australian Infantry Battalion gunner David Bradley, 94, never missed the Anzac Day dawn service in Cairns. True to form, he turned out with his family at the Cairns Esplanade on April 25 last year. Picture: BRENDAN RADKE
TRIBUTE: Cairns WWII veteran and former Australian Infantry Battalion gunner David Bradley, 94, never missed the Anzac Day dawn service in Cairns. True to form, he turned out with his family at the Cairns Esplanade on April 25 last year. Picture: BRENDAN RADKE

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray, Mr Bradley moved to Cairns at six months old. The third of seven children born to Ernest and Florence Bradley, he grew up in Draper St and attended Parramatta State Primary School.

He left school at 13 to work for car dealer F.R. Ireland as a message boy, roustabout and bowser boy.

"Dad often assisted the tradesmen with car repairs," Richard Bradley said.

But the promise of a mechanical apprenticeship didn't eventuate. So at 16, he changed direction and took up a compositor and linotype apprenticeship with McDonald Printers.

"The English language and spelling were one of dad's excelling points," Mr Bradley said.

On his 18th birthday, David Bradley signed up for the army.

WWII was well entrenched by the time he enlisted in 1943. He was sent to Canungra for basic military training, where he and other soldiers were exposed to phosgene gas that continued to impact him for the rest of his life.

But it didn't stop the young private from taking up his position as a Bren gunner with the 2/32nd Australian Infantry Battalion and helping to hold back the Japanese in PNG and Borneo.

MISSED: WWII veteran David Bradley, 94 at last year’s Anzac Day dawn service at the Cairns cenotaph with Vietnam veteran Steve Watkins. Picture: BRENDAN RADKE
MISSED: WWII veteran David Bradley, 94 at last year’s Anzac Day dawn service at the Cairns cenotaph with Vietnam veteran Steve Watkins. Picture: BRENDAN RADKE

He spent more than a year in the jungle.

"The temperature was 40 degrees, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and every afternoon at exactly 3pm it poured," he told the Cairns Post in 2017.

"After about three days, your nerves are starting to get shattered. After the war it took years to ­recover."

Discharged in October 1946 after 1295 days of service, Mr Bradley returned to the printing trade. He also met Esme Renton that year, courting her for nine years before marrying in 1955.

FAMILY BOND: Cairns WWII veteran David Bradley with his grandson David Bradley (right), great granddaughter Aylah Bradley (top) and great grandson Reece Bradley (bottom).
FAMILY BOND: Cairns WWII veteran David Bradley with his grandson David Bradley (right), great granddaughter Aylah Bradley (top) and great grandson Reece Bradley (bottom).

"After dad's discharge from the Army in 1946, he went back to McDonalds Printers for four years and finished his apprenticeship in 1950," Richard Bradley said.

"Dad then got a job at the Cairns Post's commercial printing section, where he worked his way up to foreman. He worked at the Cairns Post for 35 years and at the age of 60, retired due to ill health."

Richard Bradley said his dad never spoke of the war until after Esme died.

"There were hundreds of stories which are now lost, but the family will remember a few of the stories. They were mainly funny stories that he loved to tell."

When Esme died of cancer in 1991, Mr Bradley continued to live in the family's Pease St home and drove a car until he was nearly 90.

Richard Bradley said his father never forgot his fallen mates.

"Dad always attended the Anzac service in Cairns city.

"On the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, he said he was not going to the service as he was not feeling well, but at the last minute he changed his mind.

PROUD: David Bradley ready for Anzac Day.
PROUD: David Bradley ready for Anzac Day.

"After the service he was swamped by reporters and members of the public. He got to tell them a few stories. You could see he felt proud and excited.

"This put a smile on his face and he was very glad he changed his mind."

But Anzac Day was a time for reflection.

"What I think of on Anzac Day is all my dead mates," he told the Cairns Post in 2017.

And as the years wore on, it didn't get any easier.

Last year, at 94, he again shared his thoughts with the Cairns Post.

"Every time I go to a meeting, I look around for friends," he said.

"It's impossible now to find any. I feel bloody lost, because my mates are all gone."

David and Esme Bradley had seven children: John, Stephen, Jennifer (who died shortly after birth), Richard, Trevor, Graham and Allison. He is survived by six children, grandchildren David (born on the same day as his grandad), Meghan and Daniel and two great-grandchildren, Alyah and Reece Bradley.


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