John Stephens enlisted in July 1940 at the Show Grounds, Wayville West and joined the 2/3 Machine Gun Battalion commanded by Brigadier Arthur Blackburn, VC. The Battalion left Australia in 1941 and saw active service in Syria. When returning to Australia Stephen’s troop ship was diverted to Java where the men were offloaded to help prevent the Japanese advance.
With the capitulation of the Dutch forces Stephens became a POW and spent nine months in POW camps before being transported by ship to Singapore in appalling conditions. He went in a cattle truck by rail to Thailand where he worked on the notorious Thai section of the Thailand to Burma Railway. John Stephens considers his survival the result of always having a positive outlook and, despite having had thirty-nine bouts of malaria, avoiding serious illness. The strength of spirit and mateship of the Australian men during these difficult times remain an inspiration to him.
For 45 years from 1948 John Stephens practised as a public accountant and became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Accountants.