Italian Team of the Century- Charles Pettiona

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By Tony De Bolfo

Charles Joseph “Laddie” Pettiona

Alma only saw Charles on a handful of occasions after she married into the Pettiona family. That was when Charles paid a call to her then address at 69 Poolman Street, Port Melbourne, not long after hostilities in World War II ended.

“At the time I was waiting for Allan to come home from the war in Taracan. Allan came back in ’46 and we would have married that year, only Charles was killed and we put the wedding off until ’47,” Alma said.

“It was very distressing. Allan used to follow Charles around and the family used to call him ‘Laddie’. I’m not sure where that nickname came from, but I suspect from his grandparents.

“The day Charles died he was out looking for work. He’d previously been working at the railways and a few had been put off, I suppose because of the war because things were still trying to pick up,” Alma remembered.

“Anyway he was on his pushbike, cycling from his home in Kensington, to South Melbourne, and he was cycling down Normanby Road when an army truck hit and killed him.”

Charles was laid to rest in Coburg Cemetery, in a grave later shared by his father Joe, mother Annie and brother Albert. His terrible early demise left his wife Gladys (nee Greenaway) Pettiona widowed with two children under six – a daughter Kay and a son Phillip.

Alma kindly made available a photograph of the bridal party on her wedding day to Allan, in which little Kay is the flower girl.

Alma’s marriage would endure for almost 60 years, only ending with Allan’s death in July 2005. But the horrors of war Allan brought home with him made life hard for his devoted sweetheart.

“Allan never played footy. He served in the war from 1941 to ’46, but he got shot in both legs in 1943 in the landing at Lae with the 9th Division[i],” Alma said.

“The Japanese struck the landing craft with machine-gun fire as they got to Scarlet Beach. He was very lucky to get out of that. He went down and two of his mates who took the brunt of the fire were killed falling on him.”

As doctors were unable to remove the shrapnel from one of Allan’s knees, he was advised never to play sport. In later years, having had to favour one leg, undue pressure was placed on his hips, forcing him to undergo two hip operations, which even then failed to fully remedy the problem even though he marched every Anzac Day.

The psychological scars were even greater. As Alma readily admits, “They lasted the whole of our married life”.

“Thesedays if you come back from war with a psychological problem it’s classified as ‘trauma’. Back then you were classified as ‘inadequate personality’ – in other words, ‘You’re a nut’ and when you came back from the Second World War you were told ‘Be a man, get on with it’.

“What happened to Allan impacted on everyone and it’s only now that he’s gone that I’ve realised the full extent of it,” Alma says. “He was very possessive, I couldn’t take my attention away from him, but whatever happened, he was faithful. He and I raised five kids and none of us ever went without food.”

[i] The 9th Division was formed in late 1940. The division was the fourth AIF division to be raised for service in WW2; it was formed mainly in Australia and mostly by the transfer of pre-existing units from the other AIF divisions – with one Batttalion added from England

On April 6, 1941 the retreating 9th Division was ordered to enter and defend the important port town of Tobruk which General Wavell, the commander of the British Middle East Command, had ordered be held for at least two months. Reinforced by the 18th Brigade of the Australian 7th Division and British artillery and armoured regiments the 9th Division successfully defended the port for over 6 months.

The 9th Division’s first task in New Guinea was to liberate the town of Lae in a joint operation with the 7th Division. On September 4, 1943 the 9th Division successfully conducted an amphibious landing to the east of the town while the 7th Division began flying in to the recently captured Nadzab airfields to the west of Lae from September 7.

After establishing their supply bases the two Australian division’s raced each other to Lae. The race was won by the 7th Division which entered the town several hours ahead of the 9th Division on September 16. The 9th Division’s advance had been held up by Japanese resistance and difficulties with crossing the rivers between the landing beaches and Lae.

Led by Australian Brigadier J. V. Windeyer’s 20th Brigade, the 9th Division made an amphibious landing at Scarlet Beach, six miles north of Finschhafen town, on September 22, 1943. After a week of heavy fighting against well-entrenched Japanese troops, the Australians captured the town and airfield of Finschhafen, declaring it liberated on October 2. The fighting would continue, however, as most of a 4000 troop Japanese force had retreated to the 3,000 foot peak of Sattelberg following the Allied landing. The Japanese proceeded to launch a counterattack from there on October 16.

The 9th Division went on the offensive against Sattelberg on November 7. With intermittent and sometimes heavy air support, the Australian troops worked to uproot the Japanese from the strategically important mountain. It fell to the 9th Division on November 25, 1943.

The 9th Division suffered a total of 2732 killed in action, 7501 wounded and 1863 captured. These 12,096 casualties represent approximately one quarter of the men who served with the division. – source, Wikipedia

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