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The Gold Coast’s last remaining Kokoda veteran saw the front lines of one of World War II’s most famous battles…..
- By Andrew Potts | Gold Coast Bulletin
JIM Stillman never considered himself a hero, only a man lucky enough to wake up each day.
The Gold Coast’s last remaining Kokoda veteran saw the front lines of one of World War II’s most famous battles, but rarely talked about it until the latter years of his life. Instead, he preferred a cold beer and watching his favourite AFL team, the Geelong Cats.
Mr Stillman, 94, died early yesterday surrounded by family.
The Mermaid Beach Digger is being remembered as a humble man who considered every day a gift.
Son Geoff spoke fondly of a father whose life as a veteran he only got to know in the precious final years they shared together.
“My Dad was a true gentleman and everyone has talked about his integrity,” he said.
“He never thought of himself as a hero and really didn’t like it when people brought up the idea because he was not comfortable with it. The way he saw it, he was just lucky to have lived and every day after was a bonus.”
Mr Stillman was born in the rural Victorian town of Alexandra in 1921 and signed up for the Australian Army in 1941. He was assigned to the 39th Battalion, taking part in the Kokoda campaign which ran from July to November 1942.
More than 625 Australians died fighting the Japanese on the treacherous stretch of mountain in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Stillman married the love of his life, Olive, in 1944 and they had a son, Geoff, and three grandchildren.
After decades working as a builder, truck driver and caravan park owner in Victoria, he moved to the Gold Coast where he indulged in his love of fishing at Mermaid Beach and The Spit’s sand-pumping jetty.
There are now less than 40 remaining veterans of the Battalion.
George Friend knew Mr Stillman for more than 15 years and paid tribute to his decades of work, mentoring young students and passing on the Kokoda legend.
“He was part of the greatest generation who survived a depression and confronted a hash, unforgiving and formidable enemy which was stopped in its tracks,” he said.
“Jim was on the frontline and always thought he was lucky to make it but always loved the fellowship and mateship which came from his service.
“There was never an opportunity he knocked back to be there for his mates.”
Mr Stillman will be remembered on Monday at the annual Kokoda Day Memorial Service at the Cascade Gardens. A date for his funeral is yet to announced.