Leslie John Hildebrandt
With the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan
Leslie John Hildebrandt was living in Bendigo in the family homestead when he decided that a career in the army was the direction he wanted to take. This is quite a decision for a 14 year old and one that needed all of the support he could get from his parents Harold and Annie.
Leslie Hildebrandt aged 12 on his way to school.
So, accompanied by his father they set off to the local recruiting office on the 29th May 1941, and Harold signed him over to the care of the Australian army which was then gripped in a fearsome conflict in the Middle East and soon to become embroiled much closer to home fighting the armies of the Empire of Japan. He received the Army number PMF 7389.
He was lucky to be accepted really because at his tender age it was only the fact that for the first time in its history the Army had introduced an apprenticeship scheme and was looking for 100 young men to boost the stocks of various trades needed to inject valuable skills into the field forces. So looking back young Les was just in the right place at the right time for the direct he wanted to take.
Craftsman Leslie Hildebrandt playing for the AEME team - Darebin Oval Preston in about June 1944.
He was initially directed to the L of C (Line of Communication) Area workshops AEME in Broadmeadows camp in the outer Melbourne fringe at a place where the original 2nd Infantry Brigade had formed and trained in 1914 at the outbreak of WW1. At the same time the Army wanted their apprentices to have a fully rounded education, so Leslie attended classes during the week at the newly opened Essendon Technical School where he attended to complete specialist subjects while he received his practical training at the Base Workshop.
At the same time the young and headstrong Leslie John did get into quite a few scrapes and was subject to unit discipline on a number of occasions as evidenced in his Army records. After completing his training and apprenticeship on 22nd March 1944, he was transferred to the AIF as a Group 1 Fitter & Turner and allocated a new army number VX128342. Here he remained in Australia at Broadmeadows and there was no time for a war assignment for this eager young man.
While living and socialising in the Essendon area he had met Shirley May Peat and even though they were both engaged at the time they broke off those relationships and started going out together. This new relationship however had to be put on hold as Leslie had been accepted into the forces being assembled for assignment to Japan as part of the BCOF (British Commonwealth Occupation Forces).
Pachaug Victory embarking from Sydney March 1946.
The 348 LAD (Light Aid Detachment) after forming sailed with the very first detachment, travelling to Sydney for embarkation on the ex-US Victory ship Pachaug Victory on the 29th March 1946 headed for the port of Kure in Japan which was just 8 km’s from the devastated Hiroshima on Honshu Island.
Leslie John had just been promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal with a fortnightly pay of five pounds eight shillings.
While in Kure the role of the 348 LAD was to support the 1 ACS (Armoured Car Squadron) and attend to urgent tasks associated with repairing the shattered infrastructure of the port of Kure and the environs of Hiroshima.
The Japanese inhabitants were still very resentful toward the occupiers and there were several fire-bomb incidents causing army casualties and other attempts to sabotage the work of the detachments.
Being a country lad, Leslie delighted in the rolling country-side and saw snow for the first time and made many mates in his unit and other units they encountered. This was to be a unique opportunity to travel, enjoy social experiences and further improve his skills under adverse conditions.
During this time he was promoted to Lance Corporal T/3 Star (Fitter & Turner) showing that he was learning from his team and the harsh environment.
L/Corp Leslie Hildebrandt top right in full dress uniform 1946, members of 348 LAD
On leave he would go to Hiroshima with his unit buddies and enjoy the surroundings and buy many local pieces that took his eye and which would become family treasure in later years.
After 20 months of service in Japan with the BCOF, L/Corp Leslie John Hildebrandt completed his assignment and embarked the troopship HMAS Kanimbla and headed for Australia arriving back on the 18th November 1947. He was then transferred back to 3 M.D. workshops until and allocated the Army Service number 3/637 which he kept for the rest of his career.
L/Corporal Leslie Hildebrandt at his December 1949 wedding with his wife Shirley.
Leslie John married his sweetheart Shirley on the 17th December 1949. Robert John would be born to the couple on 28th January 1951 and shortly thereafter Leslie was promoted Corporal.
The newly married couple were living in married Quarters at the Broadmeadows camp but Shirley would soon put her foot down and enforce a move back to her parent’s house in Napier Street Essendon where they lived until 1966.
Leslie would rise quite quickly through the ranks from that point to become a WO2 by 1955 when he was posted to Malaya but that is another story. Two more children would follow in time; Richard Leslie in 1952 and Stacey Anne in 1960.
Sergeant Leslie Hildebrandt 1952 with his two boys just outside Bendigo. Robert in front, Richard being held.
We would always have a steady stream of army visitors at home and they were wonderful people to be around.
Leslie John was a larger than life character with sometimes a short fuse but a very loyal and ethical man who made many friends in the Corp and across the army units he encountered in his job. He was an easy man to idolise as I grew up and his memory has not faded with time.
Article written by -
Robert John Hildebrandt