MARCHING STRONG: George Cornwall at the Rockhampton ANZAC service. At 96 years old, George takes his grandson Isaac Graham with him in the march (below)
MARCHING STRONG: George Cornwall at the Rockhampton ANZAC service. At 96 years old, George takes his grandson Isaac Graham with him in the march (below) "as a walking stick”. Allan Reinikka ROK250418ageorge1

Rocky's 96yo WWII digger still marching strong

HE MAY have needed his grandson by his side "as a walking stick", but 96-year-old Second World War veteran George Cornwell marched proudly through the streets of Rockhampton yesterday.

It's a special morning for the pair, with George joking young Isaac "keeps me on the straight and narrow".

Despite his age, George still plays golf regularly, although joked he didn't consider it a "good game" any more.

For George, the day is a time to reflect on those who didn't return from war or have since died.

96-year-old George Cornwell marches in the Rockhampton Anzac Day parade with grandson Isaac Graham.
96-year-old George Cornwell marches in the Rockhampton Anzac Day parade with grandson Isaac Graham. Michelle Gately

"I reflect on quite a number of people and regret what has happened," he said.

"It's a mixed feeling because there's a sadness for those who have departed, but at the same time it's good to see the whole thing is remembered and we're still marching on."

George was a teacher in the Atherton Tablelands, boarding on a dairy farm, when he made the decision to enlist.

The catalyst was the Japanese joining the war in 1941.

The son of the family George was boarding with also joined up, preferring the Air Force over the Army.

He was later killed in England.

George was keen to get involved as soon as possible and believed the Army would be a faster way into the war than the Air Force.

Anzac Day Rockhampton: Anzac Day Rockhampton
Anzac Day Rockhampton: Anzac Day Rockhampton

Even so, he said it took about a year before he was on duty in Papua New Guinea.

"I'm glad we won the war," he said.

"There was relief and certainly tremendous joy, not that we could do anything to celebrate.

"We were very happy. Sadly one of my very good friends died on the day the announcement was made that war was over.

"Those sort of things happened and clouded the joy of the whole thing in some ways."

But George didn't return home immediately.

"When the war was over, there were lots of fellows who were married, who had quite large families and they were the ones who got out first," he said.

"I spent a couple of months working on the Army newspaper, Guinea Gold, which was distributed to troops to give them an idea of what was happening back in Australia.

"I thoroughly enjoyed it too.

"We used to get newspapers and find stories that were interesting and re-write them to shorten them."

When it was decided the service would expand to Japan, George decided it was time to head home.

George hoped other veterans had passed on their experiences to family and younger generations because "history pages often don't tell the full story".

"I could never see myself as a hero," he said.

"We all did the same thing: we went there with the intention of winning the war in one way or another," he said.

"Unfortunately, so many didn't come back," George said.