SAD LOSS: Heather and Maurie Connell at their home in Bellingen.
SAD LOSS: Heather and Maurie Connell at their home in Bellingen.

Maurie remembered as so much more than a WWII vet

THERE are only a few people in the town of Bellingen who don't at least know the name of Maurice "Maurie" Connell.

A moving tribute from family and friends exemplified the strong bonds which Maurie formed with those around him as they gathered to farewell the Kokoda Trail veteran who passed away on August 11, aged 95.

They gathered to honour a hard-working family man who retained a life-long dedication his community, to farming, his fellow veterans and to the church.

Maurie was born in Grafton in 1920 where his father was a worker on the Glenreagh to Dorrigo railway line.

The family later relocated to Bellingen where they ran cattle - an occupation that would later take Maurie across the world.

Maurie in his Army uniform.
Maurie in his Army uniform.

When he turned 21, Maurie readily enlisted with the Army Corps - bidding farewell to his family to serve in the Second World War.

Joining the 2nd/2nd battalion, Maurie was posted to the Kokoda Track campaign in 1942 where he battled advancing Japanese troops.

In letters, Maurie detailed harrowing conditions, torrential rainfall, heavy bombardment and the camaraderie with his fellow soldiers.

During combat, Maurie narrowly avoided death after he left his camp to fetch water from a creek.

When he returned, he found the camp had been attacked by the Japanese and his trench destroyed by a mountain gun shell.

Of the 200 men in his platoon, only five survived the lengthy conflict.

Maurie was discharged in September 1944 and in his recovery from malaria, became a participant for research into treatment for the disease.

He later returned to life on the land - alongside his father - and seldom spoke about the war.

In 1953, he met Heather McPhail - a policeman's daughter from Campbelltown - at a country dance.

Heather and Maurie Connell married in 1955.
Heather and Maurie Connell married in 1955.

Romance blossomed and after receiving Heather's father's permission, the couple married in 1955.

Juggling farm work and six children kept the couple busy but they still found time to breed on a cattle stud which they showed across the Mid North Coast and the World Jersey Tours in Australia and England.

By 1983, retirement was on the cards but the couple kept busy - helping out on their son's farm in Bega, and travelling across Australia and overseas.

In recent years, Maurie became affectionately known in Bellingen as "the banana man" for his volunteer work in delivering bananas and having a chat to residents in local care facilities.

Heather said her husband was a "down-to-earth man who never did anything for the glory."

"He was so keen on getting things done - he just kept going whatever the problem," she said.

"Family was everything to him - he survived war, cancer, a huge car crash and he always determined to keep going."