Perth insurance agent Ted Dubberlin didn't have the faintest idea of what he was getting into when he put his hand up to join the elite Z Special Unit during the darkest days of World War II.
He was one of the 19 Z Special Unit survivors hailed as heroes by thousands of people from all over Australia who braved a blustery winter Canberra morning during a long overdue plaque dedication at the Australian War Memorial on Monday.
"I'd started in the artillery [after enlisting on December 19, 1941]," he said. "They broke us up because they didn't need the artillery in the jungle. I was sent to transport and then I volunteered [for Z Special Unit].
"I didn't know what it was about. There was a committee there interviewing 10 chosen men and my mate, Jack Delacey, and I just fronted up. They said 'you're not on the list' but they looked us over anyway."
The two blow-ins, both of whom survived the war, were grilled on whether they would do "certain things" should the need arise.
"We were then told it was a special unit, very top secret. I ended up on a patrol boat. I was the wireless operator, signaller, port gunner and captain of the heads – it was my job to clean the toilet."
Z Special Unit was the teeth and claws of Special Operations Australia, an entity modelled on the British Special Operations Executive.
It mounted 80 operations, involving a total of 264 missions, over the course of the war. Members paid a high price with 164 killed, 75 captured and 178 more missing in action.
Australians were not the only members of the unit. British, Dutch, Timorese, Indonesians and New Zealanders also served.
The unit's most famous exploit was Operation Jaywick, the voyage of the Krait, in which 11 Australian and four British members snuck into Singapore Harbour on September 24, 1943, and destroyed 39,000 tonnes of Japanese shipping.
Vessels such as the one Mr Dubberlin served on infiltrated enemy positions to scout out fortifications, troop movements and other information strategists needed to plan the landings that were to come.
"We were off the coast of Borneo down towards Kuching and in the southern Philippines," Mr Dubberlin, who left the unit as a gunner at the end of the war but then rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during a 24-year career with the Citizens Military Forces [now Army Reserve], said.
"My unit was the Far Eastern Liaison Office, that was our cover name. It was all behind the lines. We went in by stealth, we weren't meant to be seen."
Asked what Monday's ceremony meant to him personally, a visibly moved Mr Dubberlin said: "It honours my mates; it just honours my mates. I wouldn't have missed it for the world."