Z Special Unit member remembered

For 30 years Shannon Thomson's father kept secret any details of the Z Special Unit he was attached to during WWII.

When the papers were released after the 30 year moratorium there was some limited information about the secretive and extremely dangerous work undertaken by these units.

In fact they were not fully recognised until 2016 when a plaque was installed in the gardens of the Australian War Memorial commemorating their actions.

Ms Thomson's father Frank Haley enlisted at age 16 to "serve his country". For many families, post depression, times were tough and Frank took the opportunity to send money back home to his widowed mother and siblings.

I guess you could say my father was a type of spy.

Shannon Thomson

Frank trained as a paratrooper and was in communications as a signaller. It was a perfect combination of skills for his future secretive role and he was chosen to train with the Z Special Forces.

A small group trained together on Fraser Island and also in Perth before being dropped behind enemy lines. Frank mainly operated in Borneo.

"They would report on enemy locations as well as facilitate the rescue of POWs. I guess you could say he was a type of spy," Ms Thomson said.

"But of course he could never talk about this with the 30 year secrecy of war policy," she added.

Frank was involved in an operation named Salmon, which was on the island of Flores (currently part of Indonesia).

He was also part of AGAS V, an operation carried out by the Australian Army's Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) Z Special Unit during the second WWII as part of the Australian Borneo Campaign.

The operation, commanded by Captain Robert Kerr McLaren, focused on the objectives of collecting and reporting intelligence and organising, training and arming local inhabitants into resistance groups to wage guerilla warfare.

"They we looking out for Japanese troop movements, surviving POWs and setting up civilian government behind enemy lines. They set up a number of first aid stations for the locals. Apparently the locals were treated appallingly by the Japanese," Ms Thomson said.

"They were basically working for the British Government, re-establishing British rule over British North Borneo."

The Z Special Unit was a highly secret Australian Special Operations unit formed during WWII to combat the Japanese throughout Asia and the Pacific. Its personnel were mostly volunteers - ordinary people from all walks of life who did extraordinary things. Many died in the process. After years of secrecy Z Special Unit was finally officially honoured at a ceremony - attended by veterans and family members from throughout Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia - at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in August 2016.