The lonely tale of a vanishing WWII vet
Almost 40 years after the disappearance of a World War II veteran, a coroner is satisfied the man "described as a loner", died in circumstances that will remain a mystery.
Byron 'Bert' Balfour Woolley served in 2/12 Battalion and was part of the allied amphibious assault at Balikpapan in Borneo in July 1945 where more than 2000 men were killed.
Having survived frontline battle, Mr Woolley returned to live in his home state of Tasmania. He never married or had any children.
"After returning to Tasmania, Mr Woolley, described as a loner, and apparently suffering from depression, worked for the Hydro Electric Commission, as well as running a newsagency ... and spending time as a tin prospector," coroner Simon Cooper published in a report this week.
In October 1982 Mr Woolley vanished from his home.
A keen bushwalker, the 71-year-old left his West Hobart home and was never seen again.
"Contemporary records indicated his backpack, some bread and cheese, walking boots, an army coat, army trousers and a green Stetson hat were all noted to be missing from his home," Mr Cooper said.
Searches failed to find Mr Woolley and no trace of him has ever been found.
While the cause of his death is unknown, the story of his return from combat, to his demise, has shone a light on the plight of veterans.
"It's heartbreakingly painful to hear such stories," Veteran Support Force director Kris Milne told AAP.
"This case is from a long time ago, but there are still people out there today slipping through the cracks."
The charity Mr Milne represents works to support veterans who struggle with ongoing mental health issues after service.
The federal government this year confirmed a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. It is due to provide an interim report in less than a year and a final report on June 15, 2023. Hearing dates are yet to be confirmed.
"What that royal commission will show is the need for a proactive approach to support," Mr Milne said.
"If you look at the veteran community, there is the 'known', who register with (the Department of Veterans Affairs) and then there is the 'unknown'. And the people who are most at risk are often the people out there who we don't know about and aren't getting any support."
Compared to the era of Mr Woolley's reported depression, Mr Milne said "it's more acceptable to speak about experiences and feel comfortable about having discussions".
The coroner said he was unable to make any findings further than being satisfied Mr Woolley died a short time after leaving home.
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