Gilbert Jan is a third generation Australian-born Chinese man, born in Darwin in 1924. After living through the Darwin bombings in World War II, as soon as Mr Jan turned 18 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he trained in navigation aid electronics and communications, and flew in Catalina Flying Boats.
After serving in Darwin, the Philippines and Borneo during World War II, Mr Jan’s most harrowing experience came after the war had ended. Whilst on a supply run from Hong Kong to Vietnam in 1946, his crew’s C47 transport plane lost both motors and was forced to crash land in rough seas.
“We had nothing else to do but ditch,” Mr Jan recalled. Six of the nine crew made it into three rubber dinghies and after a harrowing 12 hours at sea that stretched into night, they were rescued by a British destroyer, HMS Tenacious.
His survival at sea earned him membership in the Goldfish Club, an exclusive club for aircrew who owe their lives to a life jacket, dinghy or other water rescue equipment.
Mr Jan, who now lives at home in Sydney, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease twelve years ago. However, to this day at the age of 95, he can still recall some of what he learnt whilst serving in the military.
“He is normally involved in the ANZAC commemoration at RSL LifeCare Narrabeen, where he attends a day program. He will still follow the drills at these events,” said his daughter, Sharon Jan.
Since Mr Jan was involved in communications during his days in the RAAF, Sharon and her father often keep each other busy doing games with the Morse code he used during the war. She also keeps his brain and body active with skills learnt after his dementia diagnosis including playing jigsaw puzzles, find a word, bingo, table tennis, indoor bowls, quoits, Connect 4 and dominoes.
This ANZAC Day, Dementia Australia paid tribute to Mr Jan, his daughters Sharon and Roslyn, all those who served in all wars and armed conflicts past and present, and their families. We honour you and we thank you. Lest we forget.
Mr Jan, We do indeed honour you and thank you. Go well and stay well.