World War II 75th anniversary: Young lieutenant died 'while attacking nobody'

Left: Charlie Brennan at war. Right: Buildings and the harbour of Balikpapan, after the area was liberated during World War II. Photo: Australian War Memorial
Left: Charlie Brennan at war. Right: Buildings and the harbour of Balikpapan, after the area was liberated during World War II. Photo: Australian War Memorial

Killed in action less than two months before the end of World War II, Lieutenant Charles David Brennan was one of the thousands of men remembered on the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific (VP) Day.

Born in 1919 in the NSW country town of Moree, in the state's north west, Lt Brennan had enlisted in the army with his older brother Jack, shortly after their father's death in 1936.

Charles first enlisted in the militia and then transferred to the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF), doing his training at Bathurst, while Jack enlisted in the airforce.

Charlie was a platoon commander in the 2/31 Battalion, service number NX110392.

He rose to the rank of lieutenant in the battalion and was killed in action during the Battle of Balikpapan in Borneo on July 3, 1945 - less than two months before the end of the war.

According to the war diary of the 2/31 Battalion, Charlie died while attacking a Japanese strong point named "Nobody" (army jargon).

His sergeant, Robert Askin, who would later become premier of NSW, was standing next to him when he was hit, according to Charlie's nephew and namesake Charlie Brennan, who is the son of Jack.

KILLED LESS THAN TWO MONTHS BEFORE WAR'S END: Lieutenant Charles David Brennan.

KILLED LESS THAN TWO MONTHS BEFORE WAR'S END: Lieutenant Charles David Brennan.

"It is ironic that he died attacking nobody," Mr Brennan said.

"Charlie lasted through five years of war only to be killed a month before it ended.

"My father told me he knew that something terrible had happened the day Charlie died.

"Dad was in the AIF too and was somewhere in Australia training for the invasion of Japan at that time."

Before the war, Charlie worked for a solicitor's firm in Moree and in his honour after the war they had a photo of him hanging in the office for many years.

When he died, Charlie also left behind a fiance, who Mr Brennan said was devastated by his death.

A TIME TO REFLECT: Members of the 7th Division and Ran Commandos at prayer during the thanksgiving service held in the Salvation Army hut in Balikpapan, Borneo on Victory in the Pacific Day on August 15, 1945. Photo: Australian War Memorial

A TIME TO REFLECT: Members of the 7th Division and Ran Commandos at prayer during the thanksgiving service held in the Salvation Army hut in Balikpapan, Borneo on Victory in the Pacific Day on August 15, 1945. Photo: Australian War Memorial

On August 14, 1945, the Japanese government surrendered to the Allied forces, following the surrender of Nazi Germany three months earlier.

The following day, on August 15, the Australian government gazetted a public holiday as VP (Victory in the Pacific) Day, also referred to as VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, celebrating the end of war.

At the time, Australian forces were engaged in campaigns across the Pacific - in New Guinea, Bougainville, New Britain, Borneo, and in the Philippines - and Australian prisoners of the Japanese were spread throughout Asia.

POST LIBERATION: Buildings and the harbour of Balikpapan, after the area was liberated during World War II. Photo: Australian War Memorial

POST LIBERATION: Buildings and the harbour of Balikpapan, after the area was liberated during World War II. Photo: Australian War Memorial