At 93, Jack Caple has decided to leave Warrnambool after 65 years of serving the local community to move closer to his family in Melbourne. WHEN Jack Caple closes the door on his Timor Street house for the last time, Warrnambool will lose one of its most treasured residents.
Nanjing Night Net

He’ll leave behind 65 years of community and sporting life in Warrnambool and a unique personal history.

The 93-year-old will head to Melbourne soon where he’ll spend his twilight years closer to his four children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The 1930s-era house he has occupied for more than 50 years will be auctioned on March 31.

“I’ve had a very interesting and satisfying life in Warrnambool,” he said.

“I want to go while I’m fit enough.

“I’ve jokingly said I’ll probably come back again in the back of the undertaker’s ute. My cemetery plot’s here in Warrnambool where my wife, Sheila, is buried.”

When Mr Caple came to Warrnambool in 1946, it had a population of about 20,000. Now its closer to 34,000.

He’s watched it survive and prosper despite the fall of the major employers — Fletcher Jones clothing factory, Warrnambool Woollen Mill and the Nestle dairy factory.

“It’s fantastic the way it has grown — a real go-ahead city,” he said.

Born and bred in the Wimmera on a farm near Warracknabeal, Jack survived three horrific battlefronts in the Second World War before choosing Warrnambool for his peacetime years.

He is one of the few surviving Rats of Tobruk comprising Australian, British, Indian, Polish and Czechoslovakian troops who doggedly held off German forces in 1941 for eight months.

Then he survived two close encounters with German shells at El Alamein before coming back to Australia for training in jungle warfare to prepare for battle with the Japanese in Papua New Guinea where he spent another eight months, including the beach landing to retake Lae.

Amazingly he still drives and is in good health considering he suffered large desert sores at Tobruk, two perforated eardrums at El Alamein and picked up malaria, dengue fever and dysentery in PNG.

On top of that, he smoked for many years.

“My only complaint now is I get a bit short of breath,” he said.

“I exercise regularly and eat a variety of food — nothing special.

“At Tobruk we lived on bully beef, prunes and rice.

“The army doctor did a good job with fixing my ears which were both bleeding from the shell explosions.

“It was only a couple of years ago that I bought some hearing aids, but I don’t always wear them.”

Jack said he would be sad to leave Warrnambool and to hang up the keys to his 1996 Audi which carries the number plates JC.

“It would be too dangerous for me to drive in Melbourne,” he said.

When he returned from the war he picked up work at the Sharp Brothers ginger beer factory in Banyan Street and at Tag Walter’s fruit shop in Liebig Street and a sawmill at Garvoc.

However, his health was deteriorating because of illnesses contracted in the war and he was sent to the Heidelberg rehabilitation centre to recover.

His fortune changed when he was introduced to Fletcher Jones who was keen to help ex-servicemen find employment in his new clothing factory.

“He said married men with young children were the best workers, so I fitted the bill,” he said.

The next 33-and-a-half years were spent at the Pleasant Hill factory where he started as a machinist and rose to department manager overseeing the production of up to 1000 pairs of slacks a day.

He still has several pairs of the famous hard-wearing FJ trousers that he regularly wears. “They should see me through.”

His community involvements including starting a Rats of Tobruk local sub-branch, 50 years as a Legacy club member, golf club member, Presbyterian church member and foundation chairman of the district chaplaincy committee.

His golfing career includes four holes-in-one, several major local tournament victories and years of playing on handicaps above 17.

“I started when the RSL held an ex-servicemen’s golf day,” he said.

“My wife had me gardening every Saturday and as I saw lots of cars passing on the way to sporting events I thought ‘I’m missing out on something here’.”

One of his few sad notes is the state of the former FJ factory with its rundown heritage-listed buildings.

“They should allow something decent to be built there like a retirement village,” he said.

“It’s a bit of a pity so much has been put on the heritage list.

“The factory has served its purpose and should be pulled down.”

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.