Desmond still sheds tears for those who never came home

Desmond Harper
Share this story

For 31 years, warrant officer Desmond Harper served in the Royal Australian Navy, signing the dotted line when he was just 17-years-old.

Now at age 86, Mr Harper introduces himself as someone who loves to dance, spending his retirement enjoying sessions at St Marys Dance Centre each week.

From a small farming town in Darling Downs, he moved to Sydney after his time at sea.

“When you come ashore, there were two places you moved to if you were in the Navy, it was either Sydney or Melbourne,” he said.

“I met a girl at a dance at Luna Park, and got married here in Sydney, and that’s how I came to live here.”

Through his career with the Navy, Mr Harper saw many ships, conflicts and wars including during the Korean War and the Malaysian Emergency.

“The most marvellous ship I ever served on was our first guided missile destroyers, which were commissioned in Boston in 1965, the HMAS Perth,” Mr Harper said.

“We had three of them, and they were absolutely magnificent ships.

“I always considered serving on one of those was akin to dancing with a beautiful and gracious woman.”

Mr Harper said he is proud to see the ANZAC spirit alive as crowds continue to grow at annual services.

“It means the ANZAC spirit won’t die, and that’s very important,” Mr Harper said.

“But equally as important as the ANZAC spirit is remembering those who never came back and those who were left behind.

“I give it a lot of thought, and shed a tear now and again about those who were left behind.”

Mr Harper’s voice begins to quiver as he recounts a military funeral last year that was attended by many Australian dignitaries.

“Sitting up there in the front row is a woman, with a baby in her arms and two smaller children on each side,” he said.

“That was his family. What happens to them? I could burst into tears thinking about young women like that.

“On ANZAC Day I think of those who never came back, and I think of those who waited in vain for someone to come home.”

Mr Harper received an Order of Australia in 1967 for his exceptional service in the Royal Australian Navy.

Share this story