Gazing at the two gaping holes in his helmet where Japanese bullets had penetrated the steel and the dent where a bullet had bounced off, it was as if Major Joe Mullins heard the voice of God saying to him, "Joe, you've no right to be alive. Your only right to live, is to give yourself back to me".
The date was July 28, 1945 and Mullins was commanding B Company of the First Battalion, The Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) in Burma. Rangoon (now Yangon) had been captured on May 6, 1945 cutting off the Japanese 28th Army which then tried to escape to Thailand over the Sittang River. The Queen's had orders to cut off the retreating Japanese forces despite being at half company strength mainly due to malaria and dysentery.
The Battalion had occupied a village called Letpanthonbyin. Leaving a skeleton force behind in the village, A and B companies (all that was left of the Battalion) were ordered to cut the Pegu-Martaban railway line along which it was believed the retreating Japanese were marching.
The attack was delayed until the afternoon to allow the troops to rest and also because of friendly artillery fire which had caused casualties in A company. Mullins was ordered to put in the final attack with covering fire from A Company. The citation for Mullins' Immediate Military Cross stated that the companies "went in with bullet and bayonet. They suffered casualties all the way and were under continual Japanese fire but Major Mullins with complete disregard for personal safety and showing magnificent endurance and bravery kept his men going. They had cleared three quarters of the Japanese positions when they came to the final pocket of resistance round a water tank with a heavy machine gun and a light machine gun."
By the time they reached a temple building, darkness had fallen. Using grenades and bursts of Sten gun fire they leapfrogged from tree to tree arriving under the bank of a reservoir. Mullins' citation continued: "It was dark by now and only the muzzle flashes showed the [Japanese] positions. Major Mullins and four of his men, although with only a few rounds left, crawled right close in under the [Japanese] fire, got on a corner of the tank and shot them off. During this crawl Major Mullins was shot twice through his steel hat ... But for Major Mullins' extreme bravery and powers of leadership the final pocket would not have been cleared and the whole Battalion would have had to start again in the morning. His very gallant determination decided the day."
During this crawl Major Mullins was shot twice through his steel hat ... His very gallant determination decided the day.
Mullins described how they missed him in the following words: "One bullet entered the top of my helmet, ran round and came out the back. The path of the bullet can still be seen in the helmet. I was crouching behind this mango tree and the second bullet in the side of my helmet burst open, ran around inside and came out the other side. So it actually came in near one ear and out near the other. The third one ricocheted off."
Joe Mullins was born at Chevington Grove near Bury St, Edmunds on July 16, 1920. When the war broke out he enlisted in the Fifth Special Reserve Battalion, Scots Guards. He later attended Sandhurst. Following a brief posting to Yorkshire to defend the beaches against possible invasion, he served in Peshawar (now Pakistan) and joined the advance through Burma down the Irrawaddy River. At the Battle of Yenenchaung, Mullins picked up a Japanese flag which is still in the family.
Following the Battle of Letpanthonbyin, Mullins spent eight weeks in hospital in Pegu with infected legs from leach bites sustained while marching through paddy fields. He had time to reflect that up until this point he had been "following Jesus afar off" and it was time to recommit his life to serving the Lord Jesus fully. He therefore resolved to apply for ordination in the Church of England. In 1952 Mullins travelled to India to work with Scripture Union among school children, and for 12 years from 1962 pastored St John's Church in Bengalaru. In June 1955, he met Edith Helen Gooding in Laundaur, North India while Edith was at language school learning Hindi. At a prayer meeting Mullins heard Edith pray and realised this was the woman he wanted to marry. They were married at All Saints Cathedral, Allahabad on December 5, 1956 and had six children, two of whom still live in Canberra. Edith predeceased him in 2009.
In July 1974 the family moved to Canberra where Mullins was senior minister at St Peter's Anglican Church, Weston between 1974 and 1982. His final post before retirement in 1989 was as Senior Minister at St Nicholas' Anglican Church in Goulburn between 1982 and 1984.
In 1998 Mullins was recognised with the medal of the Order of Australia by the Governor of Australia, Sir William Dean "for service to the community, particularly through the Anglican Church and as Rector of St. Peter's Church, Weston".
After retirement Mullins attended St Matthew's Wanniassa where he was active in ministry, preaching until he was 99.
In recent years Mullins was in touch with a Japanese family they met in Jakarta and a Burmese missionary, Philip Aung on the Thai Burma border, who was raised near Letpanthonbyin! Mullins summed up his life's pilgrimage in the words of Psalm 48:14:
'For this God is our God for ever and ever. He will be our guide even unto death'
Joe Mullins died December 2, aged 103.