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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Brailoss Pass

A few years before Kevin Byrne died, he told me an amusing story about that horrid day on 6 Jun 1941. At 3 o'clock in the morning, the POWs who were on the first leg of what was to be a horror train ride to Wolfsberg, Austria, were herded out of the rail wagons.

The rail bridges had been blown up by Allied troops during the withdrawal and the men, already exhausted, had to march 40 kms over the 5000 ft pass to a rail head near the town of Lamia.

“I recognised a fellow who cane from Benalla. His nickname was ‘Possum Bill.’ He was marching with a bloke called Jim Laracy from Rushworth. These two blokes were older than most of us. They could see that I was in distress so they helped me reorganise my pack. They gave me the encouragement I needed to keep on going.'

"When we arrived at the rail head, a standard gauge train was waiting to take us the rest of the way. Possum Bill walked up to the locomotive. He calmly opened his pack and pulled out some tea leaves. With a wink he told me to sit tight and proceeded to open a valve. Steam gushed out and he filled his mug with boiling water and made a brew. He generously shared his tea with me and Jim. After this I began to recover.”

It turned out that Possum Bill knew all about trains. He worked with Victorian Railways before the war. 

In 1960, when we were living in Wangaratta, the Melbourne-Albury railway line ran past our back fence. A new standard gauge line was being constructed parallel to the existing broad-gauge line.

One day my father heard a familiar whistle. He looked over the fence for the source and there was Possum Bill grinning and waving. “G’day Kev, ‘ow ya goin’ mate?”

Jim Laracy

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