Meat and Three Veg

I’m writing this post on Sunday night with the smell of a beef casserole simmering on the stove in the background and remembering that as I was growing up the food we ate was very much a part of the daily and weekly ritual.

I wrote in the post Of Chow Food and Other Things about our regular Friday night feeds of Fish and Chips but there was a fairly standard menu served in hour house when I was growing up.  One night would be chops, sausages, mashed potatoes and peas, another sausages eggs and chips, yet another spaghetti bolognese,  and of course the Sunday lunch time roast when we weren’t out visiting relatives or having barbecues.

Karen and I had to either set and clear the table each night or dry the dishes. For some reason we used to fight over the former, mainly because it meant we could sit down earlier in front of the TV and watch the Flintstones or Gilligans Island.

Most nights, Dad wasn’t home.   Most nights he wouldn’t get home before we went to bed but would come in some time later, under the weather and smelling of the front bar and any of several pubs he frequented over those years.   But this is a post about the food we ate, not the bad times, I’ll leave that for another time.

Sunday nights we usually had something light, usually toasted sandwiches in front of the telly.    A night without having to set the table was bliss.   I know there are families who share meals around the table and Raels and I try to do that now.   Maybe it was the fact that eating at the table reminded me too much that Dad was absent that it wasn’t a tradition I had with my own kids as they were growing up, but is something I enjoy now when they do come around for meals with us.   But I digress again.

Mum was a good cook, but not an adventurous one and that may have been because we had fairly spartan tastes and any time she did stray from the meat and three veg, like the time she tried to serve us sheep brains and I came very close to vomiting, or when she regularly tried to serve up Brussels sprouts.  To this day I don’t like them.

But the roast potatoes, ahhhhhh, I still haven’t tasted better, even after all these years.   And Dad’s barbecues were as good as anyone could ever cook, charcoaled chops and snags, and best of all, flat round chips fried in dripping over a wood BBQ in the back yard.

Another memory from the kitchen table is of my sister Deb, sitting in her high chair breaking up bread crusts and stirring them into a bowl of ice cream.    She still makes her cakes the same way even today.  Just kidding.


Bill Smith – ANZAC – Rat of Tobruk

I grew up in the shadows of World War 2 being born only 12 years after it’s end in 1945.   Now in 2011, 1999 seems far closer to me than World War 2 did as I was growing up.    Having said that though, I was conscious of the impact it had upon both sides of my family.

Dad had a brother and several cousins who served and a sister who became a war bride when she married a US Serviceman.   In my grandparents home a photo of my Uncle Keith in uniform took pride of place in the entrance hall and on another wall a velvet belt hung encrusted with brass unit badges my grandfather brought back from his time in the middle east and France during World War 1.

I later learnt that another of Dad’s cousins, Uncle Wal, had escaped from the Malayan Peninsula as the Japanese invaded.  It was the subject of a book by Colin Frisch Heroes Denied. The Malayan Harrier Conspiracy  “the amazing true story of 15 Australian soldiers who refused to surrender when the Japanese steamrolled down the Malayan Peninsula early in 1942. They fought their way back to Australia over several months to be met with disdain and disbelief. Unbelievably, they were treated like deserters and given the title ‘Malayan Harriers’.”

On Mum’s side, my Grandmother had 13 immediate members of her family who served.  There was Uncle Perc who got captured in Singapore and was a POW in Changi and later on the Burma Railway, Uncle Laurie who was part of the 2/22nd Battalion who was killed on the day the Japanese invaded Rabaul and of course my Grandfather Bill Smith who with the 26th Brigade Headquarters, 9th Division, was a Rat of Tobruk, and if memory serves my correctly this is the 70th anniversary of the commencement of the siege.  

On 25th April 2007 I posted the transcript of my Grandfather Bill Joyce’s War Diary.    Today I’ll post letters my other Grandfather Bill Smith’s letters to his cousin Dot.

Prior to leaving his birthplace at Cassilis for Melbourne, Bill SMITH worked as a Dray driver hauling timber from the surrounding forests. He moved to Melbourne with his family around the time of the First World War. His son and daughters believe he may have served in the Navy during those times having put his age up, but if he did it was under an assumed name because neither the Army nor Navy have any record of this service.

On 6 August, 1940, he went to enlist in the army with his brother in law Laurence MAYHEW. He was aged 39 and gave his wife Lily as his next of kin and his address as 25 Davison St., Brunswick. His hair was dark, his eyes blue and both arms were tattooed.

The intention was for he and Laurie to join the same unit and serve together but for some inexplicable reason when the recruits were lined up and told to step forward if they could drive trucks, Bill stepped forward and Laurie didn’t. So they separated, Bill to the Middle East and Tobruk, Laurie to Rabaul where he was killed in action.

On 03/09/1940 Bill was posted to the 26th Brigade Head Quarters in Albury. On 16/11/1940 he had returned to Melbourne and there embarked for the Middle East where he remained until 31/01/43. Whilst in the Middle East Bill wrote a number of letters, some of them written to his cousin Dot have survived and are transcribed here ‑
19/07/1941 “Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter which I received a couple of days ago & I am pleased to hear from you & all at 19 Verdon St. You say that Mum & Dad are both well & also Ern and his wife & family well give them all my regards & Best Wishes to Mum and Dad & tell them that I am in the best of Health & spirits & every thing is fine & Dandy up to the present. 

The only thing is the Jerry pays us a visit sometimes & gives me a bit of a run to the slit trench but I always manage to beat him to it & a lot of my mates too. I tell you he has got me as thin as a whippet pup so don’t go telling me that you are long & lean if you could only see me now I think that you could just about give me a couple of stone & that is only through running to the trench so if I am over for a couple of more years I think that I will just about fade out. 

Well Pal I suppose you want to know something about the place. Well to tell you the truth I could sum it up in about 1/2 Doz words but of course I will have to skip those words and do my best to explain it to you. The very first thing that greets you in the morning is sand, dust & flies of course. Flies are the first thing as they come in to the dugout just at day break & start crawling all over you until you have to get out of the flea bag, that is what I call the blankets as no matter what you do to them you cannot get rid of the fleas out of the blankets & when you start after them they just dodge around the other side. 

Oh that is getting away from the subject now so I had better go back to the flies. Well when you get out it is as I have told you, sand, dust & flies & then the work starts. Attend to my truck & then have breakfast of bacon out of the tins * be around to the ordley room for to take the boys down to the beach for a swim in the old Medi. 

In fact I am writing this letter on the beach waiting for the boys to come out of the water & return again to camp, have lunch out of more tins, you can guess what we all have, the good old stew & not bad either. Then another trip down to the beach with some more & back again for tea & some bully beef this time out of tins again. 

So now you have the army menu & know what a good cook we have here with us in the form of tins. Now Pal you should almost be able to guess what I would like for the shape of a parcel hat. You ask me to tell you what I would like of course I am leaving it all to you Dot to do the packing of it & as regards to woollens well you can put in a pair of mittens as they are the only things & lng sox that we wear over here. At present there is no use for the mittens but during the winter it gets very cold. So just pack what you think I would like most. The only thing I have not received your parcel yet & I am counting the days when it will arrive so I can chamge my diet a little. 

I am sorry that I was unable to get down to see you & Mum & Dad before I sailed as I suppose Dad told you all about firm claiming one & it was a busy week for me but when I can get leave I will have my photo taken and send you one of them that is if you would have it. Well if you should see Auntie Lizzie tell her I hope that she is alright again &give them all my regards & anyone else that cares to write to me & don’t forget Bob & Ern if he is not working too hard. 

Now I hope you can read this letter O.K. as paper is scarce & these are the only thing that I can get in Libya so the first chance I get I will write you a long & interesting letter about the places I have seen since I have been over here. There is a lot of places I have seen & I would like to tell you about but I am unable to cram in to this letter as the space is not big enough to tell you all so you had better be contented with this for the time being Pal & if you should happen to see Mum or Dad ask them what has happenned that I have not got any mail from them for over 3 months & I have wrote a lot to them in the past month. 

Well Dot I think I have come to the end of my letter for news as well as to the end of my paper so I will close this short note hoping to hear from you again , I remain your loving cousin, Bill. P.S. Remember me to all in Williamstown & all at home I hope to see them all in the near future & don’t froget Ern & Paula & Little Alex give him this for me XXXXXX.”
On 21/10/1941 he  wrote ‑ 

“Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter that I received a few days ago but owing to the things that was coming my way in the form of work & other things I have no had much time to answer it before & I tell you Pal if I answer them all today I will finish with the writers cramp. I have just finished one to Mum & Dad & one to Lil so you can see that I am flat out like a lizard drinking & now before I forget it Pal I must thank you for that parcel you sent I thoroughly enjoyed everything that it contained in fact  I have the sox on at the present & they are keeping the old feet real warm as it is pretty cold in Palestine at present, raining like the devil outside & what a picture it is after the dust, flies, fleas, etc. Not only that where I am now the hot showers are great. I was down this morning & I laid under them until the water soaked right through me & was it great (I’ll say). So I think those knitted bands that you wa telling me about will not be wanted now not for the present anyhow they might come in handy later on you never can tell. 

Well Dot, you say that you have only received one letter from me well you should have more by now as I have written straight back again as soon as I have received them all bar this one & the reason for the delay I am not at liberty to tell you but you can understand that I hope so you will have to except my excuse for this one & you say that you have been having a tussel with a jumper for Dad that someone knitted for him & made it big enough for three of us to get into well it must be a size as I have got a snap of both Mum & Dad in their last letter & he looks about 19 stone although you cannot judge a book by its cover he might be just as he always is in the winter chocked up with his old complaint & have Mum going with the mustard plasters as they are only things that seems to do him any good but anyway Dot I am glad that he is OK again & was able to hold that wool for you. 

Now Dot you ask me the name of the chap that I met over here well to tell you the truth I forgot his name but he was a chap that used to serve you with green vegetables he said that he was a mate of Erns perhaps Ern would know him. He would be about Ern’s build with fair hair incline to be ginger that is about all I can tell you about him for the time being but if I can see him again I will remember you to him & get his name & now Dot I have sent you along a few papers from over here the A.I.F. News is what it is called so let me know if you get them after you have finished with them you can give them to Dad to read. 

Now Dot I think that I have run out of news for the present so I will draw to a close hoping this finds you & your Mum & Dad just like me right in the pink & in the best of spirits. So cheerio Old Pal hoping to hear from you again, I remain your cousin Bill XXXX P.S. Remember me to all in Williamstown & to Ern & Paula & wee Alex & all at home & tell them all that I am in the Pink as I have told you before with no cares or worries for the time at any rate may be a longer letter next time Pal. For wee Alex XXXXX.”
From Egypt on 28/07/1942 he wrote ‑ 

“Dear Dot, 

Well old Pal here is a few lines to let you know that I am still in the Land of the Living although it is quite a while since I have had any word from you I know that you all are wondering how & where I am. 

Well Pal I know that by the time that you get this note you will or should at least know that I am back among the flies, fleas, dust & sand that is blowing all over my face as I am writing this to you so if their are some mistakes & blotches in it Please forgive me for them all. 

Well Dot as I have said before I am still in the land of the living & in the best of health& spirits as it has always been said the latter is always hard to break in us Aussies & that goes for all our loved ones at home as well as I know that Lil has not let her dear old chin drop yet & my God never let her & every one else at home for I think that If ever the boys over here that are left were to think that they had, well god help them I don’t know what they would do for I tell you Pal they are doing a wnoderful job & at present deeds I know they will never be told until we get home, if ever. I mean if god wills it. I suppose this sounds like a moan to you Pal well to tell you the truth it is when you sit & read in the papers & also your letters about this one & that one getting home, some only a few months away & all us boys being 2 years or more away & been through what we have in the desert. To come back to it I tell you Dot it hurts like H    but still i suppose we have got to take it & do what others are doing, just carry on what do you say, well lets forget about it & get on to another subject. 

I had a letter from Lil the other day & she tells me that she has got to work long hours & that every 3 weeks she has got to start at 3 O’Clock on Sunday & finish at 11 O’Vlock the following Saturday & by the time she finishes she is too tired to go out anywhere so I think that is the reason why she has not been down to see you so please excuse her won’t you Pal & as regards Billie well she tells me that she has not heard from him for quite awhile since he has been drafted out to his unit somewhere in N.S.W. & I have only received one letter from him since he joined up but I know that he won’t forget me or his mother & sisters no matter where they send him. 

Well old dear how is Mum & Dad keeping as well as yourself. I hope that you are all enjoying all the best of health & also Ern & Paula & wee Alex remember me to them all & give Alex this from me XXXX & do the same to all in Williamstown & give Bob & Emily my regards & wish them all the best of health & happiness & tell them both I hope that all their troubles will be little ones. 

Well Pal, there was a bonza one put over one of my mates the other day. he received a letter from his wife & in it she tells him that we are known only as the 9th Div at home as the Tobruk rats are all home. Now I ask you Pal, would that not be enough to break your heart without having to come into it for a second lick. The only thing I hope & pray for is that when they think fit to take us out of it again they take us right home & march us, what is left of us, through the streets of Melbourne & other citys & I think that their will be a lot of blank files to be filled & I hope that they will not be filled with those said same heros of Tobruk that is home there now, as there are a lot of things that I can say about them that I cannot put on paper as that man the censor has a very sharp knife & he likes to play around with our letters sometimes so I don’t like to give him any chances with my letters if I can help it. 

Well Dot, I am camped at present close to the old medi & I tell you I make use of it every chance I get the first thing in the morning & the last thing at night & it sort of cleans one up for a good nights sleep for there is no chance throught the day for the flies & of course the night well after you get going & catch a few of your bed mates you can get a bit of a sleep until their family comes along looking for the ones that you have already caught & then away you go & course them through your blankets & get rid of them & by that time it is time to get up as your mates the flies have started & so life goes on in the Desert, one damn thing after another & then along comes Mr. Wind & covers you & your blankets & everything he can find with dust & Dirt including your eating gear & by the time the meal time comes along & you go for dinner or tea as the case may be your temper is frayed to a frazzle & the old cook gets a bit of your mind & he starts after you with a knife or axe or anything he can put his hand onto as his temper is worked up a bit higher than yours & he starts chasing you around, you finish up with more sand in your Dixie than stew not that their was not enough got in when he was getting it ready without more blowing in when he was serving it out & so it goes on day in & day out

it makes one disatisfied with everything & everyone around about you. There is only one thing that you have not got & that is a lot of wogs about asking you for Buckshees & other things. Thank god for that much. I think that what stops them more than any thing is the Boom Booms as they call the shells. I tell you Dot, they have the wind up properly. I often sit & think what would happen to Egypt if it was left to them to defend & then they sit around & talk about you when you are not listening to them & they ask you if you speak Arabic & of course you say no until you hear them say something that they should not say & then it is the boot for them & pretty hard too & that is the only way of stopping their wagging tongues. 

Well Pal, I think that I have come to the end of my tether as regards news so I will have to close this for the time being & try & get rid of some of this sand out of my dugout. Perhaps I had better be like a rabbit & go a bit deeper& see if that will stop it from getting in. In fact I only wish I was like a snail sometimes so that I could crawl in & pull a door in after me to close things up tight enough to stop it. 

Well Pal I will have to say cheerio until next time, I remain your loving Cousin, Bill 

P.S. Remember me to all at home & all in Williamstown as I have said before & another thing Pal I am still waiting for that photo of yourself & let me know if you know that chap by the name of E.J. RILEY that I was asking you about in my last letter to you Pal so you had better give these to Wee Alex XXXX & these are for yourself XXXXX, Bill”
12/09/1942 ‑ 

“Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines to let you know that I am in the best of health & sparking on all six & I hope & pray that you & Mum & Dad are the same as well as Ern, Paula & wee Alex & all in WIlliamstown give them all my regards & tell them that I am still alive & kicking & hope to remain the same for a long time to come yet the only thing that I am wild about is that I am still over here in this godforsaken desert but it has its good faults as well as its bad ones the one good thing about it is it is the right place to fight a war in no women or children to suffer or make homeless like there is in other parts of the world & nothing to hurt as regards the growing of crops or anything that goes with farming only a great sandy waste no matter where one looks now & again in the distance you can see a hill or two & that is all 

for the life of me I cannot see what they want to fight over it for of course when you get down on the other side of Cairo & get into the Nile Valley you can understand why & that great piece of work the Canal they are the things that the Jerry wants we all know & as far as the wogs are concerned they have it they don’t seem to care just who wins they say they will be alright 

of course they are not all alike there are some of them that would give us anything but most of them all they think about is to try & rob you if they can not get their hands into your pockets they rob you when you go in to the shops to buy anything so I have just been thinking of leaving all my buying until I get home ( of course that is if ever I do) not only that Pal the mail question is so uncertain of getting there now as I know that letters are not getting home & it is not right to try & send parcels now is it 

I know that the postal people are not to blame or the boys that are doing their best on the boats but it is those slant eyed mugs with their tin fish that is causing the trouble but it won’t be for long now that the boys that are doing such a good job over there are starting to get into their stride I think that there is a hot time coming to them what say you & it is coming to others as well & not far off either. 

Well Pal while I am writing this to you their & a big flight of our planes going over to pay Jerry a visit & Oh Boy do they look nice I’ll say. I tell you Dot they are a sight for sore eyes to see them eighteen & twenty‑one at a time I am thankful that that I am not on the receiving end. There are all sorts with fighter escorts they are like a lot of poodles around one big St Bernard but can they do their stuff I’ll say. Yanks, tommys & Aussies all in together it is a great show after being up here before seeing nothing but Jerrys over you all the time I can hardly believe my eyes for the start the only thing is the sound of the engine the Hun plane seems to say when he is going over is (where you will have it) over & over again but ours is just a straight out purr with it that is the only way that I can tell which is which unless they are low of course you look for the markings then & if you see a big white cross on them then it is legs do thy duty & dive for a slit trench no matter who beats you to it in you go on top of them & if you are underneath you fell safer as you get the impression that he cannot see you but still it puts a nasty feeling in your mouth. 

Say dear here is a bit of news for you while I am writing this it has started to rain the first I have seen since I was in Syria & the first in the Desert since last March 12 months ago not much but a little & that is something by the look of the sky I think that it has blown right over us & gone down south for I am camped on the beach but I hope that it lands in the right place & lays the dust a bit for these boys that is out in it what say you. There has just been two more flights gone over eighteen in each of them how’s that good work I should say. 

I think I spoke too soon about the rain as the sun has come out hotter than ever & brought more flys than ever with it I was wondering where they had got to the last couple of Days they have not been so thick about as they have been but they sure making up for it now they are getting like swarms of bees again so I am in for a bad time I suppose. Oh that reminds me Pal before I forget it I must thank you for that parcel that you sent me in June I enjoyed every thing that you snet in it received it in the right place in the Desert & I sent you a cable right away & have just received yours in answer so that is not bad is it I send Lil one every fortnight I think that is the best thing to do as it keeps her from worrying so much over me as I know that she does a good bit of that & over Bill as well but I hope by the time that you get this that he is out of it & if so that will take some of the worry off her. Don’t you think. I suppose some people will have something to say about him but 16 is a bit young for him to be in the army but it shows that he was game to have a go at it & that is one thing in his favour Don’t you & say Dot how is Bob getting along I suppose he is an old married man by this give him & family my kindest regards & also Uncle Bill & Auntie Lizzie & also the rest of the family. 

Well Dot old Dear I think that I have run right out of news for the present other than Don’t go & sell all the eats at the Dug‑out save a little for the 9th Divvie when it gets home. Of course I don’t know just when that will be after it is all over I suppose as it looks that we are what I told you in the last letter the M.A.F. (Men Aust. forgot) what do you think or at least that is what we are called over here & we have changed our name from the Tobruk rats to Ali Barbers Morseheads Twenty Thousand Thieves as the other name was taken by someone else so I will draw to a close with tons of love & kisses XXXXX to you & Mum & Dad, I remain your Cousin Bill P.S. Remember me to all over there & give Wee Alex these for me XXXX Paula XXX tell Ern not to get jealous, Bill XXXX”

Egypt, “Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter I received yesterday. You wrote it on the 26‑7‑42 & I am pleased to hear that you are all well over there & enjoying the best of health just as I am here. Of course that is in health I mean, as one can not enjoy being in this place too long after spending all the time that I did in it before, but I suppose I should not complain but thank the good lord for small mercies after the way things have turned out over your part of the globe but how we would all like to be over there for all that. 

Well Pal I have had some bad news since I received your cable a couple of weeks ago of which you should know all about but I suppose we have all got to go that way some time or other but I only wish it had not occurred until I had got home & then I would have been able to have shared the trouble with Mum & perhaps taken a big load off of her shoulders but I suppose the Lord has laid it down that way & that is all there is to it so I will only have to grin & bear it just like others have done that are over here with me. But for all that I would have liked to have known just what the complaint was if it was the old one or not which I think it was judging by what you tell me the weather is like over there & it always played up with Dad you know & you say that it is playing up with your Dad as well. Lets hope that the shock of losing his brother does not hurt him any as I know that he will worry a lot knowing that there is only 3 brothers left now. You know that Dad & Uncle Jack were the only ones that used to stick together. The others, ah well I have no need to tell you anything about them as you know more about the happenings than I do as Dad was not one to tell me much about the happenings down home. He was what you call an oyster where they were concerned but I suppose it was better that it happenned while I am over here. But I will miss him when I get back again more than anyone will ever know. 

Well Dot you ask me if I get the papers that you send over to me, well Dot to be truthful I have only received about 4 balls of them other than what you put in the parcels. I may say that perhaps they may go to the hospitals as a lot of them do if papers happens to go to the wrong unit they never readdress them like they do the letters but pass them around to the boys in the unit that they happen to go to. I think that the last lot of papers that I got from you was in Palestine & I wrote & thanked you for them but never mind Pal if I don’t happen to get them someone else does just the same as us boys in my unit gets someelses & hands them around the camp. But as you ask me Dot about them I have got to tell you I know that it is hard for all you good people to got the the trouble that you do in sending them over & not to reach the ones that they are  intended for but that is the way that they have in the army & that is the way we have got to abide by for if the postal people were to readdress them they say that they would be carting papers around all the time & while I am on the subject I must thank you for that last parcel that you sent. I thought that by sending the cable thanking you for it it would be quicker than by letter that is the reason for me doing so as I know that you always want to know that I get them O.K. & it is nice to know what pleasure that it gives me to get them & to tell you the truth Dot did I go to town on all those nice things that you sent. It reached me in the right spot in the desert & if all goes well I may be able to show you one of these days before I get some for by the look of things I think that it will be a long time yet before I see Aussie’s sunny shores agian. 

It is almost 2 years now since I left them & god knows when I  will see them again but to tell you the truth it can not be quick enough for me as I am sick of it all & I miss Lil & the kiddies more & more each day I am away from them God bless & keep them safe from harm while I am over here & also your Dad & your Mum. 

Well Dot, you say that Alex is beginning to get to that mischievous age now & getting stuck into all the trouble about the place well he wouldn’t be a Smith if he didn’t as they are always into all the mischief about the  place. At least I was & by the way you speak I think that he must take after Ern as he used to do his share when he was young I’ll bet yes & you as well and you say that he is having a go at the bread tin well what is wrong with that, a Smith failing, you must look after the inner man you know so why worry over that while he eats like that it is better than paying out a big Dr’s Bill isn’t it at least I think so & I’ll bet his grandad  thinks so too & you say that he has had a tumble that will do him good, make him hard for when  he starts playing football for that mug football team Williamstown Ha ha, one to me. 

But I am sorry to hear that he burnt his hand the way he did & I am glad to hear that he got over the gastric flu alright as that knocks the stuffing out of the kiddies when the weather is so cold like you say it is over there at present & I know just how cold it can be in Melbourne at this time of the year but over here it is perfect, a bit cold at night but during the day all I walk around with is a pair of shorts & my boots & sox on as it is too hot for anything else in fact Dot if some of those Beach Sheiks were to see any sun tan they would give me a thousand pound for it in fact some of my mates call me the wog. The only thing is I talk English too good to be one of them but I think that if us boys are over here much longer & get much blacker the heads of Aussie will be asking for our permits to land there for I think that we will be all taken for wogs & we’ll have to apply for naturalisation papers as they won’t know us. 

Well Dot I done as you ask as regards A.J. REILLY but he did not know you by name but when I showed him you snap he remembered you & he sends his regards to you in return he said I did not know that you had a cousin working there I said now Jack you did not know that I existed until I joined this unit did you but I knew what he meant just the same for when one is with men for over 2 years they think that they know you all your life & you all become like brothers instead of mates & that is what the Army does to you when you are in it long enough & now Dot I will have to finish this letter tomorrow as I have just heard the bell ringing for tea did I say Bell I meant the cook going crook at me for not hurrying up, if I don’t I will miss out. 

Well Dot here I am again having another go at this. You will notice that I could not carry on until this morning owing to the black out & no electric light in my house over here but I expect to have it on any time now of course that is if Jerry will allow us for as soon as it gets dark he starts his taxi service & makes things very uncomfortable for us but not as bad as he was in Tobruk but almost it looks as if he has the wind up to come out in the daylight or when any of our planes are around as our boys have a Hoo‑Doo on him for our boys are just giving him H‑‑‑ over here now as regards his air force. Of course they pay us a visit through the day sometimes but they are that far up that you cannot see them with the naked eye & you take no notice of them until the eggs start whistling down & then it is legs do thy duty for the slit trench & (Oh boy do I go I’ll say) but I think that I am getting too old for I am nearly always last so I think that I will have to go into training again what say you. 

Well old pal I see by the papers that there is quite a number of cases over there of young girls & women being molested in the streets at present what is wrong with them why haven’t they got a lot of men that is unfit for the services patroling the streets to try & protect you women from that sort of thing Dot. I think that it would help the police for they must be very busy at present with a lot of other things that is appearing in the papers & I think that it would not hurt to try it anyway do you if they were to give them permission to give them a real good hiding with a strap or something it might have a lot to help & clean up that sort of thing & then a respectable young girl or married women could walk about with safety don’t you think as there is no mistake a woman when she has been working in a factory or business of any kind does want a little fresh air sometimes. 

And now Dot as regards the papers that I spoke about in this letter I must say that the postal ordley has just handed me a page of them so I think that I spoke a bit too soon when I said that I never received them but never mind Pal, I am pleased that I received before I had finished this letter so now I think that I have just about run right out of news for this time so I will close hoping that this finds you & all at 19 Verdon St right in the Pink & in the best of spirits, 

Your Cousin Bill 
P.S. Remember me to all in Williamstown & tell them that I am still alive & kicking & remember me to Ern & Paula & give wee Alex these for me XXXXXXXXX Bill. Yourself XXXXXXXX.”
Egypt 04/11/1942 

“Dear Dot, 
Just a few lines in answer to 2 of your welcome letters I received yesterday & also the card of the day out. They were dated 6‑9‑42 & the 13‑9‑42 so they were not too long in getting over to me although by the dates that you gave in your letter about mine well they have certainly taken there time in getting to you. There is a few in between April & July’s letters but lord only knows just where they are perhaps the fish are trying to read them by now, if so God help them if they can understand my writing & spelling as you know that I am not too good at either but anyway Dot I do my best & that is the main  thing. 

Well Pal, I am glad to hear that Mum & Dad & yourself & all In Williamstown are enjoying the best of health & sparking on all six just the same as I am over here as well as can be expected but the spirits are at a low ebb after the blow of losing Dad. he was a great Pal & Father to us all & I tell you Dot I will miss his smiling face more than anyone will ever know. All the others will have got over it by the time I get back, all but Mum & I but I think that I can take it on the chin for her sake what do you think. 

I must thank you for telling me all about his sickness but Lil (God bless her) sent me a cable telling me that he had passed away so all the letters that came after was not so hard to take but by the way that Lil spoke in her letter she was not going to tell me until I got home but I am glad that she did as it would have been worse then than it is now, what do you think. A funny thing I received her letter the same day as I did yours but as usual I had to open hers first & yours next so they both came together but as I said before I will miss him a lot. There will be no more games of crib & no more football matches with him like there used to be & no more tug of war contests with him but never mind I suppose we all have got to face it some time or other it is something that we all cannot miss & when it comes my turn I will know that he will be waiting for me there with all the Aunties & Uncles that have gone before him. The only thing is that I hope that Mum gets over it alright. I only wish that I had been along side of her when it happenned as I know that is what Dad would have liked more than anything in the world but god willed it that it must happen while I am away so I hope that Lil took my place with her like I know that she would as she knows that it would be my wish that she did. 

How did your Dad take it? O.K. I hope, as they thought a lot of one another in fact they all did for that matter, but they seemed to be different to the others somehow what do you think & Uncle George & Aunt Polly & Lizzie. I hope they are all O.K. but tell Dad from me to take the greatest of care of himself & now with that part over I think that I had better get on to some news thanking you once again for all you have done although I know that you do not want thanking for it. 

Now Dot what is this I see in your letter that you have been on the sick list. That is not right, look come over here in the desert with me & I bet you will not get sick again. All I can get here are a few wog sores I think had better explain that no matter when you knock a piece of skin off your hands they seem to fester & no matter how you look after them you cannot heal them I think that it must be caused through the snad & flies but the climate is wonderful it is supposed to be winter here now but through the day all I wear is a singlet & shorts sometimes no singlet but at night that is the time that you want the clothes on for it gets like an ice box towards morning & is it cold, I’ll say. A cold day in Melbourne has nothing on the nights here & you say to take care of myself now I ask you did you ever see a Smith that did not take care of themselves if not here is one that will & I don’t mean maybe so don’t worry over that part but leave it to me. You know what Lord Haw Haw said about us in Tobruk He said that we were 20 ft under & still digging well I am still the same, can’t get low enough in the ground when his planes come humming around which is not very often now thanks to the boys in the air. The only time we hear them now is at night. They are  not game to come out in the daylight they have got the wind up properlky so don’t worry over me not taking care of myself when I know that Lil & the kiddies & also all you down home are praying for my safety how can I do anything else.

And so you have met that big son of mine & you do not know just who he is like. Well Dot I can tell you & I have not seen him for 2 years.  When I left home he was getting more like Dad every day but of course he can alter as he gets older & by the way you speak he must be but if he only follows in his footsteps I will be pleased & grow up the man his Grandad was, that is all I want & I think that he will as he promised me that he would look after his Mum & sisters until I got back & by the way that Lil writes I think that he is doing it now that he is out of the army.

Well Dear you say that dog & horse racing is being cut down well it is about time for by the A.I.F. News that we get over here with all the latest news from home there seems to be a lot that could be doing something to help win this war other than visiting those places & the same goes for the football as well.  When one sits & reads about the players the same names that was playing before the war started & still going & younger men than me by far it makes one sit & think if they have any conscience at all or are they just sitting back & waiting or trying to get as much money as they can while others are protecting them.   I do not mean those that are doing their bit in the munitions or any other work but those that arejust waiting for the call up instead of hopping in and doing it will not do any harm if they were to cut them out all together now would it & as regards the beer question well that has gone beyond me for their is not any Aussie beer to be had by us boys over here.  All that we can buy if we want it is Yankee beer or local & the yankee costs 2/3 per bottle & the local costs 1/6 per bottle.  So the only thing to do is to go without.  If it was Aussie that you could get it would be O.K.  then you would know that the money was going home again.   But I think that the Canadians and the Yanks are getting enough now & the same goes for the wogs.  So myself;  well beer & I have had a falling out for some time past in fact for over 12 months now for that reason so it won’t hurt those at home to go without now. Well Pal since starting this letter darkness overtook me so I had to leave it until today 5‑4‑42 so I had better get going if I want to try & catch the mail so here I go.

Just get an earful of this the time is 10:30 a.m. & one of my mates has just bought me over a big mugful of cocoa & is it any good (I’ll say) some of mutual stores all the way from Melbourne & am I going to town on it.  Well I will leave that to you to think what I would be doing with it, the only thing is that I have got to eat army biscuits with it & that is not too good but my mate has a good name for them, Desert Creams, all you have got to do is to close your eyes & you think that you are eating bricks they’re that hard, but still why growl, they are better that having none at all, what do you think.  The only thing that worries me is that I don’t break my plate on them. 

Now Dot you say that young Alex is in tp all the mischief about the place, tell you what, get him some Desert Creams & see if they will keep him quiet.  I’ll bet they will, but never mind he is better like that than being sick & regards that offer for that air raid shelter.   I am afraid that you will have to contact my mate Stan as he has been lucky enough to be taken home with the Commanding Officer as Batman driver the reason is that he has been driving him for the past 18 months, not only that his wife has been very sick she has been operated on twice for her spine and the officer knows all about her so he got permission to take him with him.  So as I was saying you had better get in touch with him & get him to do it for the war may be over by the time I get home & you won’t want it so that will let me out in fact I think that you should try & get in touch with him.  He is a great scout.  He was just like a brother to me & I miss him a lot I can tell you although I still have Tom here with me but Stan was different somehow.  If I wanted any advice  would go to him & he would do the same to me that is how him & I got along over here together all through everything from the start & then home he goes, but good luck to him as he deserves it for if his poor wife has what I think she has he will be needed there.  Here is his address Dot, his private one I mean,  Mr S BIGGINS c/o Mr J BIGGINS (Northfield) 16 Elizabeth St., Malvern SE4, Melbourne.  That is the address that he gave me so if you was to get in touch with his father he would be able to tell him all about him. I don’t want you to think that you are a stranger to him because you are not as I have shown your snap to him, in fact I have read your letters out to him so do try & contact him for my sake & he will be able to tell you all about me over here he may take a walk into the dugout & ask for you as he knows that you spend a lot of time there.  If he does just tell him to fix the shelter & save me doing it O.K.  

Well old dear (that sounds like the lady with the shawl that used to follow Richmond HA HA) this Rats of Tobruk question.  Let us forget all about it & the (MAF) as well.   I did not mean that we would be forgotten by our loved ones but by the heads of the country as they don’t worry as long as there hides are safe that is all they want & the rats part of it,  well if you see Stan Ask him what he thinks about it & he will tell you as his views is the same as mine.  

Oh By the By i have sent you a book that is being printed by the government called Soldiering On. it deals with the war at home & in the M.E. it is not much Dot but love the giver just the same.   Well old Pal I think that I have come to the end of my tether as regards news so I will close thanking you for all those kind words & everything you have done for me in my sad loss.  They cheered me up a lot & made it a bit easier for me to bear I can tell you so give my love to Mum & Dad & my regards to all in Williamstown & tell them that I will do as you say take care of myself never fear & wish them all a Merry Xmas & a Happy New Year for me, not forgetting Ern, Paula & wee Alex, so I will say Cheerio until next time, 

I remain your Cousin Bill 
P.S.   Remember me to Uncle George & family & give them all the compliments of the season for me & give Alex a big hug for me & tell him that I hope to see him soon as this strife is over so Cheerio once again,   Bill
Give these to Alex XXXXXX Mum & Dad XXXX thanks a lot for the photo of the dugout I think you you are the one up.”
He arrived back in Melbourne on 25/02/1943 after the battle for El Alamein.       On 16/07/1943 he was given a ‘B’ medical rating which classed him as fit for only restricted duty and so he was assigned to 2nd Aust Corps which at the time was in Ravenshoe or Ravenswood on the Atherton Tablelands. On 09/03/1944 he was discharged after a total of 1209 days service of which 832 days were spent on active service abroad.

His was awarded the 1939/45 Star, the Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp, the Defence Medal, the War Medal and the Australia Service Medal.

On returning to Melbourne he found his only son Billy had also joined up and so went in to Vic Barracks where he kicked up a “helluva stink” in an effort to get him out. By that time however Billy was somewhere in the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea. Bill was convinced to leave him in.

His first job after his discharge was as a truck driver with Yellow Express Carriers Ltd. He later worked as a wharfie.

Of course his time as a soldier wasn’t the only thing that defined his life and like most men of his generation he didn’t talk much of his time away.  I do recall a story he told about when he finally did get told that he would be returning from the Middle East and how he went into a tent to tell the cook the good news only to find that he had committed suicide.    In reading these letters again I wonder if this was the same bloke who had moaned and groaned and joked about the food with Grandad.

Usher Nazis and Choo Choo Bars

Nana and Grandad Smith lived at 25 Davison Street, Brunswick when I was growing up.  It was a single fronted brick terrace house with blue stone cobbled gutters on the street and in the lane that ran down the back of the house.

As with Dad’s family many of Mum’s relatives lived in the same general vicinity and so when we visited their were always other members of the family present.  When I was a toddler my great-Grandmother Janet Woolley lived there and I still have memories of playing hide and seek where she would let me hide my head under her apron. It was out of sight out of mind, if I couldn’t see anyone then obviously they couldn’t see me either.

Nana’s brother, Uncle Alf, who won the Military Medal in World War 1, had lung cancer and Nana nursed him until his death which seemed a long time coming at the time.  I don’t remember too much about him but I did inherit his 3/4 size bed [a bit smaller than a double] and thought I was a king when I got into it.  It was the bed I slept in until I got married in 1982.  It never occured to me at the time that it was the bed an old uncle had died in.   Incidentally the citation for his medal states that it was awarded when he entered the trenches and captured thirty Turks alone.  Must have been a pretty gutsy effort.

That bed had one other unfortunate accident.  At my 21st Birthday, Dad had invited a young bloke he worked with.  He was always bringing home people he’d met for meals and the obligatory sharing of the beer.  Unfortunately this bloke got absolutely paralytic and was put to sleep in my bed which he promptly wet.   Took days for the mattress to dry.

But as I sometimes do, I’ll move from the digression back to the topic at hand, which I should have said early on is about what we did in Brunswick on Saturday afternoons.  Often if we weren’t at the footy watching our beloved blues play at Princes Park, we would be sent off to the pictures at the Padua Theatre in Sydney Road, Brunswick.    It was a big deal for little kids to walk to those places by themselves in those days and generally there were at least four of us, Karen and I and our cousins Gavin, Kerry and Phillip at various times.

This was a typical art deco theatre of the time, the stalls down below and the expensive seats where the more well off could sit up top in the dress circle.

The Padua had been built by Hoyts in 1937 and was closed in 1968 much to our sorrow.   It was then leased to a couple of Itialian blokes Tony and Franco Zeccola who re-opened it in August 1969 as the Metropolitan playing Italian language films which wasn’t much help to us.    This continued until December 1981 when the doors closed for the last time before it was demolished in January and February of 1982.

A full page article in The Argus Newspaper in Melbourne was published on 23rd July 1937 announcing the opening.   It seated 2000 people, had such luxuries as foot warmers, air conditioning and a crying room for children.  The first weeks entertainment included Charles Rainsford and his Swing Orchestra on stage with screening of the Errol Flynn and Olivia De Haviland movie The Charge of the Light Brigade.   The paper also announced that there would be short screening of the Walt Disney Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey’s Circus in full colour.

In 1954 a cinemascope camera system was installed which allowed the display of wide screen movies and I can remember one in particular that stuck in my mind.  How the West was Won was a mind blowing movie on the big screen at the time.

But I had other favourites that still stick in my mind to this day.   Such classics as Snow White and the Three Stooges.


The Black Knight

And what was a trip to the pictures without lollies. Favourites were White Knights and Choo Choo Bars which turned your entire mouth black and which would last almost the entire movie they were so chewy. And of course there were the boxes of jaffas. I wasn’t one for rolling them down the aisle, much better to eat them but maybe the reason for rolling them was in the hope that an usher Nazi might step on some and fall over.

When the theatre opened in 1937 The Argus reported that the entire work force was male.  Certainly by the time we were going in the mid sixties many of the usherettes were women.  I am pretty sure that they were women, but some of them had mustaches that would have made Groucho Marx proud, and voices that reminded me of the bad guys in the World War 2 movies.  “Feet off Seat” and “Quiet Down” were growled at the kids whilst London Blitz Spotlights were shone into our faces.  I truly thought they may have been Nazis in disguise and I feared for the lives of the kids who were occasionally grabbed by the ear and escorted out never to be seen again.  Woe betide anyone who was actually found to be in the wrong seat.  I was pretty certain that such a heinous offence must have meant the gas chamber or hanging for them.

What movies stick in your mind from your childhood?

The Ghosts of Christmases Passed

I loved Christmas as a kid.  The whole day was one big present.  The weeks of excitement and anticipation were fantastic and the memories are powerful and sunk deep into my psyche.   When my own kids were born we tried to make it the same for them and only they can answer whether it was or not and this post is about my reflections of my childhood Christmases.   The good times that lurk in the shadows and seem probably much better looking backwards than they did then, although they were pretty special.

Decembers were the time when the days warmed up and the north winds sometimes blew so hard they could suck the moisture from you as soon as you stepped outside the door.  This was the herald of Christmas in our part of the world.

The tree would go up in the early days of the month and it was a family affair – those very same decorations that lived on that tree year after year for more than half a century were lovingly wrapped in tissue paper each year by Mum and packed away, and this year when we were cleaning out her place after her passing we again unwrapped them and shared them amongst the three of us.  On my tree this year is a bird, one of three, that were the favourites of my two sisters and I, that we used to argue about who would put them where.

And with the winds and heat would come the Christmas cards.  Each of us kids received them from aunties and uncles and cousins, and how exciting it was to rush to the letter box after hearing the postmans whistle to see what he would bring.  They would then be hung across the windows on bits of wool and it seemed like there were always 100 or more each year which we would also reply to.   That appears to be one of the lost arts of Christmas, I guess social media, texting and emails have bumped that tradition aside.

Each year we would visit Father Christmas at Myer.  In those days the only store was in the city because it was well before any of the shopping malls were built in the suburbs.    Mum would dress us in our Sunday best and we’d trek into the city in her old Vauxhall, line up to see the magic in the Myer Christmas windows and then make our way to the toy department to see Father Christmas.  I was sometimes confused that he looked a little bit different each time I saw him but I knew that he would be visiting me on Christmas Eve.

We would then go and do most of our Christmas shopping in Coles and walk up and down the aisles picking out stuff we thought our cousins would like, because we would buy something for every one of them.  Guns for the boys, dolls for the girls, Enid Blyton and Biggles books, California poppy hair oil or brylcreem for those who were a bit older and for the oldest ones the old chestnuts socks or hankies.

And when the night came we’d leave out biscuits and cheese and Dad would insist on leaving him a bottle of beer, not sure whether it was for Father Christmas or the reindeer, but each Christmas morning it was standing on the hearth of the fireplace bone dry.   I remember the year we had the briquette heater put into the fireplace cavity I was really worried that he wouldn’t be able to get down the chimney so I insisted that Mum leave the front door open.

The sacks would be placed side by side on the hearth and we also found them at Mum’s place recently, faded and somewhat tattered but lovingly folded and kept as the echoes of our childhood continued to resonate with us.

Oh the excitement of Christmas Eve was unbearable.   I’d toss and turn for hours thinking I would never get to sleep and then suddenly it would be time to wake up.  I’d creep into Karen’s room and later Debra’s wake them both and rush up to the loungeroom.  Before we touched anything though we’d rush back down to Mum and Dad’s room yelling at the tops of our voices “He’s been!  He’s been!”

So what did we get?   Well it’s a little too long ago to remember these things in chronological order but some of the things I remember are a triang train set, a fort with cowboys and indians, a scalextrix car racing set.    Each year their would be a book and I still have two Tarzan and two Eagle Annuals that turned up in my sack on various occasions.   Always there would be some clothes, usually some sort of short sleeved shirt and shorts that I wore on Christmas Day and most years new bathers because on Boxing Day we’d be off on a camping holiday.

When the sacks were emptied we’d exchange our own gifts and then rush outside to see if the rest of the neighbourhood was awake.  There would always be kids out and about on brand new bikes or scooters.  Then we’d do the rounds of the neighbourhood with gifts for the other kids and collecting more presents ourselves.

Some time late morning after a few drinks with neighbours we’d be in the car and off to Merlynston for Christmas with the Joyce’s and then onto the Smith’s for dinner in Brunswick.   By the time we’d get back home on Christmas night we’s be lugging home a boot full of presents and be exhausted.  Usually Mum would be driving because Dad would inevitably be under the weather.

As Grandparents aged, and the days became to hard for them to host, we would have the lunch and dinner at our place in Box Hill, but as the cousins got older and partnered up the numbers coming gradually dwindled until the cycle began again with our own children.  And now I wait with some anticipation for the time when I too will be graced with Grandkids and have the wonder of Christmas rekindled.

Funny how little snapshots are appearing in my brain as I write this – the year I told Mum that I knew who Father Christmas really was and how I cried when I told her and she held me and said that it was OK there would always be a sack on the hearth for me as long as I wanted one, and there was until my little sister Deb finally fessed up to knowing the truth when I was around 17 years old.   I remember dropping my dacks and showing off my leopard skin jockettes, the first adult undies I had after years of white Y fronts and arguing that it didn’t matter who I showed because they were just like bathers anyway.    I remember the year Nana and Grandad Smith gave us Mark 10 guns, complete with spring loaded rocket launchers and grenades and how we ran around the back laneways of Brunswick.    One really hot day when a bottle of loys softdrink sitting in the sun outside exploded and a shard of glass cut my chin.   I remember waking to the news of Cyclone Tracy wiping out Darwin in 1974.

Mostly I remember how lucky I was to have been in a time and place when we lacked for nothing, when even the hardest times still saw plenty of food on the table and gifts under the tree.   I lived a privileged life.

I wish all of you who read this a very Merry Christmas and hope that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we also celebrate the birth of a special person who changed the world for the better more than 2000 years ago, and irrespective of what beliefs you hold you should remember that.

Cemeteries, Dairies and Nut Trees – Merlynston Part 1

So my earliest memories of space are of the immediate neighbourhood in Box Hill South.  If I may digress before I even get into this post, I found out this week that one of the blokes I now work with lived around the corner from me and in fact knew some of the kids I went to school with.  It is a small world.
And back then it was even smaller.  Childhood memories sometimes play like incomplete scenes in a movie and different days run into one another so we end up with an amalgam of images rather than distinct chapters and such are my memories of Merlynston.
Most people in Melbourne have never heard of this tiny suburb north of Coburg and on the edge of the Fawkner Cemetery.   For a time my Grandfather was a grave digger there and a Chapel is named after my Uncle who for a long time was on the Board of the cemetery trust.
I was born not far from there and Mum moved back into a bungalow at the back of my Grandparents place at 55 Orvieto Street after I was born whilst they were saving for their own home.   They had been living in a flat at Mordialloc for a few years. 
But my memories of Merlynston don’t stretch back quite that far, they in fact begin on any one of dozens of weekends when we visited Nana and Pa which seemed to be at least fortnightly, usually on a Sunday.  Now here my cousins may in fact say that my memories of Orvieto Street may well differ from theirs but for me they are very vivid.
Pa would generally meet us on the front porch and usually he’d have a 2 shilling piece to give us.  Pa had his voice box removed after getting cancer of the larynx the year I was born and it was a source of grim fascination that he had a hole in his throat covered with a gauze square.  He sort of talked with a wheezing croak that was really hard for me to understand.   I wonder what his voice was like – did ne sing, did he have a baritone or tenor?
On the wall in the foyer was a crushed velvet belt containing badges that Pa had collected during his time with the New Zealand army in the First World War.  On a cabinet at the end was a photo of my Uncle Keith in uniform and I have this vague recollection of a photograph of the Queen.   On the side wall was a portrait of Nana’s Mum and Dad.
But it is the smell that stays with me mostly.  Nana would inevitably be baking and the smells of fresh scones and roasting meat would greet us as we walked inside the front door.  I loved the scones piping hot from the oven covered in melted butter and smothered in vegemite.
The lounge room to the left had a piano and Nana would sometimes sit down and play it for us and my favourite part were the big club chairs which I would perch myself in and read from the set of encyclopedia from a bookcase against one wall.   In later years Nana had a huge 26 inch black and white TV with a hard wired remote control.  I remember being fascinated by being able to actually sit in a chair and change a channel or turn the volume up and down.  It was to be years before we had one at home.
The back yard had a lemon tree which legend had it was well watered by the men of the family.  At the back of the yard was a wood shed and a chook house and if we were lucky, Pa would allow us to go down and collect the eggs.  There was a massive nut tree – walnuts I think – that dominated one corner of the yard and my cousins Paul and I spent a fair bit of time climbing it.
But the magic place was Pa’s garage which we used to sneak into and poke around.  It was full of tools and the cut down wagon that Pa used to push around the streets of Coburg whilst he collected beer bottles for return to the brewery.  I still marvel at him as an octogenarian with one leg shorter than the other because he got blown up in France in the First World War, and no voice box because he had it removed as a 72 year old, pushing a cart laden with hessian sacks full of beer bottles for miles oblivious to the traffic he was holding up.  In 1974 Pa was the first of my Grandparents to pass away and I have always counted myself lucky that I had all of them with me for so long.

There is much more to write about Merlynston and that will come shortly.  I have asked my sisters and cousins to make a contribution as well and will post them as they come.

Catherine Wheels, Tom Thumb and Penny Bungers

It was Guy Fawkes night a few days back and I remembered that I had previously posted a story that I’m going to resurrect here with a few additions given I am going through that reminiscence stage again.

Talk to kids these days of Catherine Wheels, Tom Thumbs and Penny Bungers and they may well think they were three of your school friends but a long time ago they were synonymous with Guy Fawkes night. A celebration of the plot to blow up the British Parliament something I didn’t know at the time and probably something that didn’t really matter either because for us it was just an excuse to blow up letter boxes, stick sky rockets in milk or beer bottles and stand in front of a bonfire for hours with all the other families from the neighbourhood.

In the old orchard estate where I lived there were still plenty of vacant lots in those days and in the weeks leading up to Guy Fawkes night all the kids and most of the dads from the neighbourhood would spend every spare minute dragging whatever the could find into the middle of the lot and building a bonfire that seemed to stretch for yards into the sky. It didn’t matter what you threw on there either as long as it could burn – there’d be old furniture, mattresses and plenty of old car tyres that burnt with thick black acrid smoke. The blacker the better.

For weeks in the lead up to the night we’d be dragging rubbish from everywhere usually with the Dad’s leading the way. In the end the pile would literally reach yards into the air and Dad, as he did, would pour a can of petrol over it on the night to make sure that it burnt properly.

The nights would start with a gathering on the corner with the fireworks our fathers had brought home and we’d watch in amazement as the catherine wheels spun and the rockets burst high overhead and when ours were finished it seemed to be a signal for more to begin rising from other parts of the neighbourhood and the show would go on for what seemed like hours.

There were no huge symphonies of fireworks. Each rocket and penny bunger were to be savoured in their own right. The odd fizzer didn’t matter, the ones that leapt spluttering to the moon more than made up for those.

We’d all be dressed in our pajama’s and dressing gowns and be allowed across the road to watch the lighting of the bonfire where the sparklers would be brought out and we spend what seemed like hours writing our names with the light. We never saw the bonfire go out because at some stage the Mum’s would gather their kids together and usher them off to bed. I’m not sure, but if I know my Dad, he would then break out the beer and I’m sure the Dad’s would stay out there watching the fire burn down. It would have been for safety reasons of course.

Do you remember the sound of penny bungers being set off in letter boxes or down drains and for days after the stacato sounds of a strip of tom thumbs being let off in the school toilets.

Now kids have all their fingers but a lot less fun so I count myself lucky to have lived in the days before fun was banned.

When we were Hobbits – Mind Maps 1

I wrote in Home at the Golflinks Estate about growing up at Richardson Street and in The Five Longest Years I wrote of the first five years of my life.   Whilst when you are moving through the world at that age it seems a huge place, the reality is that our mind maps in those years are very tiny indeed.  Looking back I see snapshots of places I frequented, how I got to them is a blur and the strength of the memories is directly proportionate to the time we spend in each place.  Thus my home looms large in my memory and as I grow older the geography locked into my brain expands.
In those earlier posts I spoke at length about home – 24 years distilled into around 2,000 words which hardly seems enough to do it justice so in this post I want to explore how I came to know a bigger world.
The open drains running along Massey and Richardson Streets were a playground.  When I didn’t have to worry about Dad throwing gallons of petrol on the water and lighting it, or dodging the rats that ran from the conflagration I spent hours playing along the edges and in it.  Funny, it never seemed dirty, the water was just waste from the houses, the sink drains and the storm water runoff.  
There were myriads of fascinating creatures that lurked in the weeds that grew bigger than I was.   Caterpillars of all colours and sizes and the butterflies and moths that they later became.   There were spiders everywhere too, Daddy Longlegs, which we were told were one of the most poisonous on the planet but had a mouth too small to bite a human, even a little one like I was at the time.   Sad to say that the real story of the Daddy Longlegs is very different to the myth and if you want to know what it is you can check it out at Misconception Junction.
In the water were red worm type things that looked like singular anemone tentacles and I can say that none of them ever bit me either
I remember the warm, balmy nights of late spring and summer, and a young boy with skinny legs and baggy shorts listening with wonder to the song of the crickets somewhere beneath the ground. It amazed me that as I approached them attempting to find them beneath leaves or wherever they happened to be hiding, that they would fall silent.
One day I discovered that if I walked very softly I could locate the crickets burrow and with a quick stomp of my foot I could stop the song. This was a great game and the song nearly always began again. One day the grandfather of the girls next door was visiting them. He was obviously watching me creep around the garden stomping on cricket songs but as he was hidden by a screen of shrubs alond the common fence, I did not see him. Suddenly a deep gruff voice yelled at me across the fence.
“Why are you killing those crickets? What have they ever done to you?”
I was ashamed. I didn’t know that stomping on cricket sounds would kill crickets. I didn’t even know what a cricket looked like. From that day on, although the sounds still fascinated me, I tread warily near the cricket burrows and never stomped on one again.
Gradually the neighbourhood expanded.  Firstly the homes of neighbours were mapped in my mind and as we got older we were able to venture a little further afield.   Dinner time saw the Mum’s of the neighbourhood come to their front doors and call out in our case “Laurie and Karen.  Dinners ready.”   And no matter where we were we seemed to be able to hear it.
There was a vacant area along Eley Road which is now a park.  Back then though it was the dumping ground for the excavations of the houses and it was full of piles of clay.  It was a BMX track before there were BMXs and we spent hours riding up and down the piles doing jumps and generally racing each other around the various tracks. 
Winding through it was a creek which is now barrel drained.    It was actually a storm water outlet on the corner of Swinburne Street which eventually found it’s way into Gardiners Creek near the golf course on Station Street.  The outlet pipe was huge, at least to someone under three feet tall hobbit sized that we were and we explored it up the hill towards Nash Road.  Yeah I know it might have been dangerous, but it was fun and we all did it.  We could only force ourselves to go as far up there as we could as long as we could still see the light at the end.
The clay piles bordering the creek were also great places to have battles.  We’d break up into groups and toss yonnies and brinnies at each other like they were grenades.   Oddly enough I don’t recall anyone ever getting really hurt.  Falling off your bike caused far more scrapes of legs and bloody cuts and bruises.
Further down the creek near where the lane way came through from Roberts Avenue to Brook Crescent was a pond which filled up when the creek was raging and in flood.  It was surrounded by blackberry bushes and like Brer Rabbit us hobbits used to crawl through the brambles to the edge of the pond where we’d catch tadpolesto take home and keep in a bucket.  I managed to raise quite a few to frog hood and at one time Dad built me a small pond lined with plastic to keep them in.   Oddly enough as soon as they got legs they disappeared.  I always hoped that they’d find there way back to the creek eventually.
If we followed the creek further downstream towards the golf course we’d come across an abandoned farm house.  Of course it was a place we explored even though it was haunted by the ghosts of thousands of murder victims from past centuries.    There were plenty of times we scared the crap out of each other and ran all the way home as fast as we could.
So the world got a little larger when we were hobbits in a slow methodical manner.   More about the world beyond the neighbourhood to come.

Bill Joyce – My Pa

Bill Joyce was born in Tasmania on 1st April 1885.  He always used to say “I was born on April Fool’s Day and I’ve been a fool ever since”.   He was the grandson of four Irish convicts but I’m not sure if he ever knew that simplay because it wasn’t something that was boasted about back in those days.
At some time around the turn of the century, aged about 13, Bill JOYCE left home and worked his way by ship across to New Zealand where he was to remain for some time. He worked at various jobs including laying railways but seems to have landed a regular job with a transport company called MULHOLLANDS which was probably based in Dunedin.
                                 In 1914 the world found itself at War and young men in Australia and New Zealand answered the call to arms and rushed to defend the empire. “…news that Australian and New Zealand contingents had been thrown into the fighting at the Dardanelles had an immediate influence upon recruiting.” Initially the casualty lists and the report of the landing had a marked effect with the Australian enlistments amounting to thousands per month, reaching a peak in July when 36,575 men enlisted Australia wide with 21,698 of those coming from Victoria[1].
                                 Across the Tasman, similar levels of recruiting were occurring. Four months after the landing at Gallipoli on 25 August 1915, Bill JOYCE was attested at Trentham, New Zealand, as a Trooper in D Squadron, 7th Reinforcements. He gave the following details on his enlistment papers ‑
Religion: Presbyterian, Marital Status: Single, Occupation: Labourer, Address: 44 Bay View Road, South Dunedin Employer: Dunedin Drainage Board Description : Height 5 feet 6 inches   Weight: 158 pounds      Complexion: Dark  Eyes: Grey  Hair: Brown Next of Kin: Mother, Mrs Mary A. JOYCE 4 Grant St., Launceston, Tasmania.
09/10/1915 ‑       Embarked from New Zealand on His Majesty’s New Zealand Troop Ship
30/11/1915 ‑       Disembarked in Suez, joined the Otago Mounted Rifles.
                                At this time there was a flood of reinforcements arriving in Egypt, the campaign at Gallipoli was winding down with the decision to evacuate having been made  and the reorganisation of the ANZAC Corps began. The first and Second Divisions “…were concentrating in the growing camp at Tel el Kebir, where the units, which at first had to sleep under their transport waggons or water proof sheets, were now housed in a spacious tented camp. In similar but rather greener surroundings, at car junction near Ismailia, the New Zealand and Australian Division was assembling”[2].
23/01/1916 ‑       Left for the Suez Canal from Zeitoun
                                With the failure of the campaign on the Dardanelles the ANZAC forces withdrew to Egypt where they were met by 35,000-40,000 reinforcements with another 50,000 promised[3].   It was in Zeitoun that this expanded force was assembling and General WHITE was given the job of reorganising the Corps and in a memorandum dated February 12th he stated:
“Out of the sixteen veteran battalions in the A and NZ Army Corps (1st to 16th) it is intended to form 16 new battalions…This will be done by dividing the veteran battalions into two wings as shown below – a headquarters wing and a second wing.   Both wings will then be filled up by reinforcements…
(1)          Headquarters will not actually be divided, but the following details will be transferred to the second wing –
                Pioneers 5
                Signallers 12
(2)          Machine-gun section will not be divided; it will remain with Headquarters Wing.
(3)          Companies will be fairly divided into two parts…”[4].
                                About three quarters of the men in all battalions were reinforcements.   The bonding of these new units into efficient highly trained forces was hampered by the formation of a number of specialist service units drawn from within the ranks of each battalion.  They included the machine gunners, engineers and pioneer battalions.   The latter were made up of men less expert than engineers but more highly skilled than the general infantry.   “These, though organised as infantry, were not intended, except in emergencies, to live in the trenches, but usually came up for their daily, or nightly, task, returning to their camps or billet when it was ended”[5].
14/03/1916 ‑       Transferred to the NZ Pioneer Battalion at Ismalia
09/04/1916 ‑       Embarked for France from Port Said.
                                The country around the french city of Armentieres had been regarded as a form of nursery for untried troops as the arrived from Britain.   In an unofficial truce the germans refrained from shelling Armentieres whilst the British held off from shelling Lille.   It was for this reason that this sector of the line was relatively quiet.   By the time the ANZAC’s arrived the British had begun to move their forces south to Amiens in preparation for the great offensive[6].
                                The advance parties in which Bill JOYCE found himself arrived in the area at the beginning of April in “motor-lorries or old London omnibuses, painted grey, windowless and dilapidated…After motoring fifteen miles through the normal flat green Flemish country side, along cobbled roads frequently fringed with red-tiled farms and smaller cottages, these parties reached Croix du Bac, a small village containing the headquarters of the [British] 34th Division.   A mile farther on they passed over the River Lys, a brimming stream, wide enough to carry a fairly constant traffic of barges loaded with road metal and other supplies, and on its far side entered the straggling villages of Sailly, Bac St. Maur, and Erquinghem, built along the roads running parallel to the river and near its bank”[7].    It was here that they saw the first signs of war with many of the cottages damaged by shells and many others fortified with sand bags.   Closer to the lines all motor traffic was halted and the men had to make their way forward on foot along roads lined with hedges and elms, which gradually became more unkempt and showed greater signs of damage as they got closer to No Mans Land[8].
                                The ANZAC command had to learn the British method of organisation and how they held the frontlines.   In brief, the country was divided into parcels held by different battalions.   Each brigade held about a mile and a half of the front line with about two to three miles of hinterland behind them.   “Two reserve battalions would be billeted farther back, in farmhouses or cottages along the country roads.    In the same neighbourhood would be the brigade headquarters, the machine-gun company, some of the divisional pioneers and engineers responsible for work in that region, and the field artillerymen whose batteries were grouped at that distance from the front”[9].
                                At this time Bill JOYCE began to keep a diary. Written in pencil in a small note book 8cm by 12cm it covers the period from May 13, 1916 to September 14, 1916.
                                On 13/05/1916 he wrote “raining, heavy setting in brick yard, food light”.    On Sunday 14 May he attended church parade and then on Monday 15 May they “shifted from Salay [Sailly] to Armentiers arrived 1 o’clock at night.”
                                On the 16 May he wrote “Spell all day, a few shells flying about”. By the 18th the work of the Pioneers had started in earnest and from then to the 3 June, Bill JOYCE’s time was spent building trenches. The Australians had entered the lines at Armentieres on 20th May, 1916. Two Divisions each with two brigades in the front line and one in reserve were side by side on the front lines with the New Zealand Division behind them in training.
                                “Before the New Zealand Division entered the line it had become practicable ‑ probably by the postponement to July of the main Allied offensive ‑ to send it to Amiens to take part in the projected attack. This course was on April 26th proposed by G.H.Q., which justly placed a high value on that magnificent division. The commander of the Second Army, Sir Herbert PLUMER, however informed the staff at G.H.Q. `most definitely’ that the division was `not sufficiently trained for any offensive at present. In two and a half months from now it ought to be.’ Consequently the arrangement previously made was adhered to, the 17th Division, from the left flank of the Australians, being sent to join the great concentration on the Somme; the New Zealand Division on May 20th took over the line immediately in front of Armetieres on the left of the Australians.”[10]
                                On 5 June 1916 he wrote “started day work repairing sap, just got going and BROOK was killed”. This is fairly typical of the entries in the Diary. Events are recorded sparsely with no complaint over conditions nor much mention of the danger the Pioneers faced. It was up to them to repair the trenches, to lay the barbed wire that stretched between the lines in No mans land. Much of this work  was done under the cover of darkness and Bill started night work on 6 June, 1916. The nights were short “darkness lasting only from 9.30 to 2.15”[11].
                                On 8 June he wrote “shelled out of bilet, some killed and wounded, a few mates and I went up town and arrived home pretty full
                                The diary continues ‑
09/06/1916 ‑       Day work
10/06/1916 ‑       going on guard for 24 hours
11/06/1916 ‑       day work blaster arr.
12/06/1916 ‑       13/06/1916 ‑
14/06/1916 ‑       raining, marched to work but never started, marched home again at night, there was a fight, it was very funny to watch
15/06/1916 ‑       trenches
16/06/1916 ‑       daylight caving bil [billet] started
17/06/1916 ‑       on picket
18/06/1916 ‑       trenches
19/06/1916 ‑       bathing poraid [sic], trenches at night, berying [sic] telegraph wires
20/06/1916 ‑       25/06/1916
26/06/1916 ‑       bombardment 2 hours
27/06/1916 ‑       bombardment 1 1/2 hours
28/06/1916 ‑       bathing poraid, trenches at night
29/06/1916 ‑       roused out at 10.30 AM but only for a short while. Returned for dinner, drink of tea, dry bread. Leftenant COOPER killed with a shell Saturday.
30/06/1916 ‑       cleaning bilet in the morning, medical inspection 12.30, had dinner then were filling holes about yard. Some were washing transport waggons 1 1/2 hours AM then trenches and arrived 2.30 back home and found they had been shelling our bilet, just had a drink of tea then all picked up their bed and proceeded to the edge of the canal close by where we ly till over, then back and had something to eat
01/07/1916 ‑       Saturday, then had to start making a dugout so never had any sleep 6 PM sleeping in the open beside road.
                                The terrain of this part of France could hardly have been more different than that which the ANZAC’s had found on the Dardanelles.   “The River Somme ambled towards Amiens, coiling in long, lazy loops through a marshy valley, joined by a score of minor tributaries that turned it, here and there, into a waterscape of struggling streams and islands.   Just behind Corbie it met the Ancre, flowing down through Albert from the north-east, where the British Army stood astride the river, on the edge of the high chalk downs where the German Army was entrenched”[12].
                                In the Autumn of 1915 the French held 400 miles of the front which stretched from the Belgian coastline to Switzerland.   The British held 70 miles and the hard pressed French demanded that they shoulder more of the burden.   “So the British Army came to the Somme, took over the French Front where it faced the arc of the German line from Hebuterne to Thiepval, on the Ancre, from Thiepval to the banks of the River Somme itself.   The Germans had been there for almost two years and had chosen their position well.   Every advantage was taken of terrain; ridgelines and gullies, woods and hilltops were all utilised to maximise the Germans advantages and so the trenches zig zagged across the landscape.   “By the summer of 1916, every hilltop was a redoubt, every wood an arsenal, every farm a stronghold, every village a fortress.”[13]
                                The men of the Pioneer Battalions worked day and night fortifying the British positions; building trenches, raising duck board walkways above the swampy grounds, and laying barbed wire between the lines, often at night and under fire from the German positions.   By July of 1916 there was a stalemate and the British High Command needed a breakthrough.   With the French hard pressed along much of the front, the Somme became the centre of the attack plans.
                                On 1st July, 1916, as Bill JOYCE was trying to sleep beside a road the attack began.   The plan was for the infantry to assault behind a creeping barrage by the artillery which had been pounding No Mans Land and the German lines incessantly for several days.   For some unknown reason the barrage ceased ten minutes prior to the troops going over the top giving the Germans ample time to man the ramparts of their defences.   As the Tommy’s climbed from their trenches to begin the assault the machine guns cut them like chaff before a scythe.  On that one terrible day 56,000 allied troops died and three times that many were wounded.   But that wasn’t the end of the First Battle of the Somme.
                                The ANZAC’s at this time were still located in the northern part of France and their first real test under fire was about two weeks away.   Bill JOYCE wrote –
02/07/1916 ‑       started work in Gloster Av filling sand bags, one of the…planes brought down
03/07/1916 ‑       Gloster Av filling sand bags, bombardment at night, Estamenit burnt not far from where we were sleeping then it came on raining we all shifted back to our old bilet and a…several of our boys wounded and some missing.
                                Many of the trenches were named after British Counties, for example two of those near Bois Grenier were called York Avenue and Devon Avenue [14].
                                “On the 3rd [July], General GODLEY having returned some days previously, the staff of II ANZAC moved to la-Motte-au-Bois and at midnight took over from I ANZAC the command of the Armentieres sector.   Thus it came about by July 8th, although the 5th had not yet completely arrived, of the 338,005 troops in the Second Army, 100,000 were Australians and New Zealanders”[15].   For Bill JOYCE things continued in much the same manner as they had for the previous couple of months.
04/07/1916 ‑       Tuesday, berrying wires not far from Pentenipe. Len ROWLANDS went to hospital. Came on wet after dinner, some of the boys were putting a roof on the new home 6.30 PM were all lined up before the Curnel [sic] tiling fore a lecture about rading parties
05/07/1916 ‑       raining early but cleared up then we wnet to work berrying wires through a crop of oats it is now 12 AM, arrived home 2PM to bed 3.0 PM, roused up 11 PM. gardlarm [?] I got a sleep then started a bombardment but sleep through it all
06/07/1916 ‑       turned out 6.30 AM had breck then went to work berrying wire got the trench finished 11 AM and all went to the pub for a beer had 2 hours for dining, arrived home 3.30 then made some toast and after tea I went and dug some new potatoes for breakfast.
 07/07/1916 ‑      still laying wires, left home 8.30 AM arrived back 3 PM, on the way home met Jollie, we had a yarn about old times, weather shourie, we also seen the boys who were doing time cleaning up the yard at the YMCA
04/07/1916 ‑       We were in bed and a bombardment started the shells were flying all over the town set fire to five different places one not far from us and some of the boys were up on the building and some one saw them lite their pipe and said it a spie so out came Captain DANSEY and Major Perry COOCK [?]. DANSEY fired and the man jumped down and then Perry COOCK fired five rounds back at DANSEY so they are grate at catching spies. It was a great joke with all the boys.
07/07/1916 ‑       One of the cooks and I went for a walk after tea to have a look at some of the buildings where the shells smashed. it is a real shame to see the… and after that we went into some of the gardens and had a good feed of strawberries, red currants, black currants, cherries, raspberrys, then got a bag of spuds. There was a few shells landed near us so thought it time to go so we left, came home, had a cup of tea, then went to bed.
08/07/1916 ‑       Revaly 6.30 AM. Had some new spuds for breakfast then fell in 8 AM. Marched to work berring [burying] wire. It was very hot work so did not do much. Arrived home 3.30 PM had tea 4.30, then got paid and after pay went and visited some of the gardens had a good feed of strawberries and then went to bed.
09/07/1916 ‑       Revally 6.30 AM. Breakfast 7 AM, then went on picket, 2 hours on and four off, one of the pickets had a fight with a…because he would not allow him to cross the bridge and at night the…went out to make a raid but did not get over because the wire was not cut, there was five wounded and two killed
10/07/1916 ‑       Monday, weather fine, 8 AM and six of us are still on picket. 11 AM the Germans are landing shells into the town not far from us then have set fire to a big church. It is now one big blaze still boring on with. Picket finished at 9.30 PM all well.
11/07/1916 ‑       Tuesday, Weather fine still carrying on with the picket just came back from stealing some spuds, we are going to have them fried for dinner. I met a good number of chaps I knew while on duty we got dismissed 10 PM, all well.
12/07/1916 ‑       Wednesday, 6.30 PM setting on the edge of a canal which runs past our bilet and two mates are fishing, but don’t think they will catch many. To finish up the day we got dismissed at 10 PM then my mate and I went and made a cup of tea and some toast and then retired at 10.30 PM till morning.
13/07/1916 ‑       Thursday, 7 AM then went on picket, but there was a cold wind blowing all day. Went on duty at 8 AM till 11 AM then went and made a good dinner, fried potatoes, fried bread, then went on again 3.30 PM till 6 PM, finished 10 PM, all well
14/07/1916 ‑       Friday, Armentears, Revally 6 AM, breakfast 7 AM then packed up the swag, marched out at 8.30 AM from Armentears. We marched about three miles to an old farm not far from the firing line. There are two batterys, hear one on each side of us, time is now 2 PM just finished dinner, dry bread and a drink of tea, went to bed 8.30 PM slept well in a cow bire
15/07/1916 ‑       Saturday, turned out 6.30 AM, breakfast 7AM then marched to work but never started the  boys enjoyed lying about in the sun. Time is now 12 AM just had dinner, one piece of bread and jam. Time is 3.30 PM still doing nothing. Our guns are sending some shells and fritz is returning some, and we are all hugging the parapret [?]
16/07/1916 ‑       Sunday, Revaly 6 AM, breakfast 7 AM, then went to work, we had about 2 miles to walk but when we got there was plenty of work but no one knew what to do so we all sat down and smoked until 1 PM then came home, worked for one hour pulling bricks around our bilet then at night a few of us went for a walk, had a few beers, spent a nice evening.
17/07/1916 ‑       Monday, Revaly 6 AM, had breakfast 6.30, a little fried bacon then some of the boys were told off fore day work and some night. I was one of the night workers, so three others and  I went fore a walk, we had a good look round some of the gardens and enjoyed some fruit then came home had dinner, done 1/2 hour baynet drill, now we are finished till 8.45 PM some of the boys were singing a few songs then twelve of us left at 10 PM to carry timber up the trenches, we got home 2.30 AM got to bed 3.30, got up had dinner and set about waiting for night
18/07/1916 ‑       Tuesday, I have had a good tea with the cook, new spuds, roast beef, cabbage, and a big piece of cake one of the boys got had send to him
19/07/1916 ‑       Wednesday, got out of bed 12 AM had dinner a piece bread and jam, drink of tea then went and had a look from one of our poasts, could see our shells bursting in the German lines. It is now 3 PM and our grins are still going strong. At 7 PM there was a big bombardment, it lasted seven hours, my mate and I had to go out to unload the waggon so we could see the do place lit up it was a fine nite to see, we arrived home 10.30 PM.
                                Bill and his mate were watching the opening bombardment of the Battle of Fromelles.   With the 19th July, dawning bright and clear the bombardment program was set down as follows –
“11 -11.30 a.m.  Registration by divisional artilleries and trench-mortars.
11.30 – 1 p.m.                     Registration and bombardment by 9.2-inch and 12-inch howitzers, and registration by 6-inch howitzers.
1-3 p.m.                               Wire-cutting by 18-pounders
3-6 p.m.                               Wire-cutting by 18-pounders and medium trench mortars.   Bombardment by 18-pounders, 4.5-inch howitzers, 6-inch howitzers, and (from 4 p.m. onwards) by 9.2-inch and 12-inch howitzers.
6 p.m.                                   Artillery to lift to “barrage lines” (that is, to lengthen range, the field guns placing a curtain of fire about a hundred yards or more beyond the objective, and the howitzers bombarding communication trenches, cross-roads, and villages farther back).”[16]
                                The jubilation shown by the troops as they watched the barbed wire of No-mans Land blown apart and the fortifications of the German line pounded, soon dissipated as the German guns returned fire.   As the Australians waited in the trenches for the shelling to stop they began to take casualties not only from the German guns but from a number of Allied shells which dropped short[17].   At about 5.30 p.m. with the sun still high in clear skies, the assault began.   As the Australians crossed the lines between trenches they were met by machine-gun and rifle fire.   All across the line of assault officers and men alike fell.   Although both the British and Australians managed to capture part of the German trenches the fierce thrusting and counter thrusting which carried on throughout the night eventually forced them to withdraw.   On that one night of the Battle of Fromelles the 5th Division lost 5,533 men and the 61st Division 1,547 [18].
                                In the meantime, still in the vicinity of Armentiers, Bill JOYCE and the Pioneers continued their work –
20/07/1916 ‑       Thursday, Revaly 6 AM, breakfast 6.30, there are still a good deal of…flying they have been going all day, it is now 4 PM and I am just going to have a good tea, some roast beef, coleyflour, potatoes and jam tart and plum pudding then got to load some timber, arrived home 2.30 AM feeling tired had breakfast then turned in till twelve.
21/07/1916 ‑       Friday, just out of bed 12 AM, had dinner which was bulie and bread, then went and gave the cook a hand and things went on all right for tea, roast mutton, cabbage, potatoe and plum puddin, went to work 9.30 PM, arrived home 2 AM went to bed
22/07/1916 ‑       Saturday, got out of bed 12 AM had dinner which was a mug of tea and a piece of fat bacon, then we all went fore a bath to Frontenep [?], and when we got back home I again went and gave the cook a hand with tea, also had a good feed, some jam tart. It is just 6 PM and everything is set again ready to go to work at 9.30 PM. The officers have got the grapphone going well.
23/07/1916 ‑       Sunday, Arrived home from work 3 AM had breck, turned in till 12 AM, got up had dinner, the cook gave me some puddin, it was real good, then I went and give the sargeants cook a hand to get the tea ready, so got another good tea. Are now waiting fore 9 PM to go to work again at 9.30 PM.
25/07/1916 ‑       Tuesday, Just out of bed 12 AM had dinner which contained tea and bread and jam. I have just had tea, a beef stake pie, mashed potatoes and pickles, so am feeling well and ready for a good nights work at 9.30 PM till 3 AM. Things were quiet.
26/07/1916 ‑       Wednesday, First out of bed 12 AM, had a little dinner, bread and jam, then we had to do 1/2 hour drill, then I went and picked some plums fore tea and they were good, so feeling fit fore work again.
27/07/1916 ‑       Thursday, Arrived home 3 AM, had breakfast, went to bed, got up at 12 AM had dinner, then we all went to Armentears to go through gaes [?]. We arrived home 5 PM had tea of bed 12 AM, alls well, just going to give the cook a hand with the tea, roast beef, coleflour, potatoes and carrots, rubarb pie. We all enjoyed tea so feel fit for work at 9.30 PM.
29/07/1916 ‑       Saturday, Just going fore a bath then when we come back we get paid, we are getting  fifteen franks, 10/9, then had tea and goe to work at 9.30 PM, barring timber up Wellington Avenue.
30/07/1916 –       Sunday, holiday
31/07/1916 ‑       Monday, day work filling sand bags with bricks and carring them about 1/2 mile
01/08/1916 ‑       Tuesday, the same old thing
02/08/1916 ‑       Wednesday, having holiday today, nine of us start night work at 9.30 PM. Night work cutout. Shifted from Rue Karie [Rue Marie see Figure_] to trooplines, left 4.30 PM and arrived 6 PM where we were put into an old malt house, the floor is verry hard.
03/08/1916 ‑       Thursday, Weather fine and we have been fixing it up, all having a look around some of the old ruens, all so a good deal of shells have been landing about 300 yds from our home.
04/08/1916 ‑       Friday, filling sand bags all morning and after dinner I went to portinelp [?] to see Jolley and we had tea together then went for a walk. I arrived home 10.30 PM, all the boys were in bed so I soon turned in.
05/08/1916 ‑       Saturday, I have been helping the Sargents cook to fix things up and all the others were still fixing our house making it safe and 1.30 PM they went for a bath. I never went.
06/08/1916 ‑       Sunday
07/08/1916 ‑       Monday
08/08/1916 ‑       Tuesday, Still carring on with the building bivies and at 3 PM over came a few shells. One small shell landed near the yard and just about cut one of the chaps arms off and blew three of his toes off but we all scattered about so they could no get any more of us.
09/08/1916 ‑       Wednesday, having holiday and going on gard at 6 PM fore 24 hours.
10/08/1916 ‑       Thursday, things are verry quiet all day, we got relieved 6 PM
11/08/1916 ‑       Friday, went to work 1.30 AM building up the saps, a verry fogie [foggy?]. Arrived back home 10 AM had dinner, then had a sleep till tea time, then three of us went fore a walk to see if we could find any curios.
12/08/1916 ‑       Saturday
13/08/1916 ‑       Sunday, Went to work 5 AM, arrived home 11 AM then packed up, had dinner, marched out 1.30 PM with full pack up, marched up to the old bilet which is one mile from trooplines where we put our blankets on the wagen, then we all marched to the edge of the canal where we slept all night. We got up to 6.30 AM had some bisc and bully.
14/08/1916 ‑       Monday, At 8 AM we all lined up with full packs and were kept standing fore 1/2 hour then had to take them off and some of the men had to clean up all rubbish. We left Armentiers 1.30 PM and it just teamed , we all got drenched to the skin. We arrived at Steen Worck [?] 4 PM which was six miles and I wated till 6 PM for the train. We passed through Hazelrock [?] and arrived at Eblingham [Erquinghem?] 1/2 8, then walked three miles where we put in an old barn at 1/2 past ten. There is plenty of straw so we all slept well.
15/08/1916 ‑       Tuesday, We got up at 7.30 had some stew and a drink of tea then we went on with sloping arms by numbers, then at night had a foot inspection
16/08/1916 ‑       Wednesday, Revaly 6 AM, half hour fisical drill, after breakfast 8 mile march with full pack up. Lecture 7 pm to 7.30 PM.
17/08/1916 ‑       Thursday, mess ordley
18/08/1916 ‑       Friday, Revaly 6 AM real blan, pack kits 8.30 marched out with full packs up went 3 miles then had a foot inspection. After dinner done the washing.
19/08/1916 ‑       Saturday, Revally 6 AM, break 7 AM, then went for a march with pack up, after dinner, play, then No 5 and seven cricket match, general leave from 2 till 8 so we had a good time six of us had a goose for tea
20/08/1916 ‑       shifted Sunday from Etaples, walked 9 miles to St Amer [Bac St Maur?] arrived 7.30 had tea, left by train at 10 AM, arrived Longpre 5 AM Monday 21/8, then we all marched past a can of tea where we got a drop of tea and a piece of cake, then we marched seven miles where we was all bileted in old barns.
22/08/1916 ‑       Tuesday, Lecture by leftenant cournel King after dinner started with G. SAnds in the bar mess, we are cooking in a privet house and there are two old french ladies there and they want to do all the work.
23/08/1916 ‑       Wednesday, still cooking
24/08/1916 ‑       Thursday
25/08/1916 ‑       Friday, still cooking, had a great feed, goose for tea
26/08/1916 ‑       Saturday, We packed up 27/8 shifted left hallenco [?] 1.30 AM walked to Longpre, then got on the train fore two hours then got off walked 7 [9?] miles to some [Somme] and it was raining, slept with a big tarpolin over us.
28/08/1916 ‑       Monday, today we all setting down waiting fore our bilets to be made and a few heavy shours.
29/08/1916 ‑       Tuesday, Started night work, we went about 3 miles in moter buses, then had four mules and there was mud up over our boot tops, we got home seven in the morning, only one got wounded in the left arm.
30/08/1916 ‑       Wednesday, today we all doing nothing but sleep and try and keep dry.
31/08/1916 ‑       Thursday, fine weather going out at 5 PM
01/09/1916 ‑       Friday
02/09/1916 ‑       Saturday, doing nothing, Some of the transports shiften
03/09/1916 ‑       Sunday, we all packed up and shifted about 1 1/2 miles back, started to put up camp but pulled it all down and shifted back again, just about 1/2 mile farther on than our old camp.
04/09/1916 ‑       Monday, working making a new sap fore bringing the wounded out
05/09/1916 ‑       Tuesday, same
06/09/1916 ‑       Wednesday, same
07/09/1916 ‑       Thursday, same
08/09/1916 ‑       Friday, same
                                The rest of the New Zealand Division was brought up to the Somme battlefield on this day.   “The far-off growl of the bombardment had rolled nearer with every step the New Zealanders took on the march from Amiens.   By the time they reached Lavieville, just a few kilometers from Morlancourt, they could feel the vibration beneath their feet.   It was 8 September.   In a bid to rock the line so painfully gained by the British and French, and to thwart the big attack they were clearly preparing, the Germans mounted a mammoth counter-attack.   The line swayed, and held, but the shock-waves of the duelling guns, massed now in thousands on both sides of the line, rippled across the few miles that lay between them and the hutted camp at Lavieville as if to underline the uneasy fact that the N.Zedders were for it.   It was not that they had never heard gun-fire, but they had never before heard it on such a scale”[19].
09/09/1916 ‑       Saturday, we had a rifle inspection and gas element inspection and the rest of the day off. One shell landed in our camp killed 2, wounded 11.
10/09/1916 ‑       Sunday, Left camp, 6 AM, arrived back 4 PM.
11/09/1916 ‑       Monday, shifted camp about 3 miles nearer the line.
12/09/1916 ‑       Tuesday,
13/09/1916 ‑       Wednesday, In the front line, a large number of ded germans, took a baynet of a german.
14/09/1916 ‑       Thursday, holiday till 4 AM, then all have to fall in with 220 rounds amin, pick, sh, oil sheet and iron rations. We have just been inspected to see if we have got all our equipment and expect to goe out some time tonight in the big battle there and about 30,000 wounded men hear today. The time is now 5.30 PM. Alls well.
                                “As the New Zealanders struck across country to their assembly position in the wood, they could see gunners, working flat out.   It was a chilly evening but, sweating with their labour, many had discarded tunics and shirts as well.   They looked like demons, bare torsos glowing red as the shells left the muzzles and disappearing into the shadows as the guns recoiled.   It seemed to the New Zealanders, half-deafened by the noise, half-suffocated by the fumes, half mesmerised by the sight, that they were passing through hell itself”[20].
                                Corporal GRAY, a member of the New Zealand Field Ambulance kept a detailed diary of his experiences and on 14 September, 1916 he wrote –
                “…the New Zealand Medical service had already taken over the Advanced Dressing Stations, collecting posts, etc. and our troops were taking over a section of the line between Delville and High Woods, supported on eaach flank by a Division of Tommies.   Artillery action commenced in earnest at 6 p.m. and every gun on the front – I should be afraid to say how many – began its twelve-hour bombardment of the German line.   The roads were jammed with traffic, fifteen huge ‘land dreadnoughts’ puffing at their maximum speed, seven miles per hour, motors, lorries, guns, limbers, every species of vehicle.   These caterpillar armoured machines are wonderful contrivances.   They resemble a huge submarine fitted with caterpillars, and are armed with six pounders, and Lewis machine guns.   They are bullet and shrapnel proof and can climb a trench or bank, and make their way over the ground coovered with shell holes.   Big things are expected of them.   You can imagine the terror of the Huns when these 39-ton monsters crawled right over their trenches”[21].
                                GRAY was writing about tanks which were making their first appearance on the battlefields of France.   But the secret weapon was not enough on this occasion to prevent the slaughter of thousands of Allied troops and the wounding of many thousands more.   For Bill JOYCE the war was over because on the 15 September he became one of the victims of the ferocious shelling as the New Zealanders attempted to cross No-mans Land.   His legs and in particular his right thigh were peppered with gunshot and shrapnel some of which he carried till the day he died almost 58 years later.   The entry in his diary dated 14 September was to be his last.
                                On the 15 September, the day Bill JOYCE was wounded GRAY wrote –
                “Wounded were coming down in hundreds – ‘walking’ cases.   These are wounded of every kind who can struggle back from the trenches.   At ordinary times these cases go as ‘sitting’ in the cars, but in  a big engagement there is no accomodation and they must hobble.  We spoke to several, and found that High Wood had again held back the advance, and that the New Zealand forces would have to retire from Flers as a consequence.   Our A.D.S. [Advanced Dressing Station] was at full pressure.   100 or more stretcher cases were on the road, all the available vehicles were at work, and wounded were coming in at the rate of one every three minutes.   The Captain in charge gave me a corner of a dugout, and for twenty-four hours two orderlies and myself dressed without a stop, putting through sixty-nine cases on our ‘table’…”[22].
                                GRAY later described the conditions on the battlefield as he lead a squad of stretcher bearers to collect the wounded –
                “I got orders at 11 am to take forty-four bearers over to collect wounded, and report on number of casualties.   It is a three mile journey over ground which had been won in the last three days, and for the most part is over a big ridge behind our new gun positions are placed.   Encountered heavy barrage fire just before topping the ridge, high explosive and shrapnel bursting 200 yards ahead of us.
                It was a responsibility which I never want again.   My orders were to go right through, and yet it seemed certain death to put men through it.   We scattered, and made a dash down the other side, covering three-quarters of a mile to the post in record time.   Major MARTIN told me he had been watching us through his glasses, and said that he couldn’t order the men back unless they were willing to go.   The boys said Yes to a man, and I sent them back a squad at a time, waiting for the last.   It was a nerve-racking experience, watching them climb back, slowly this time, their burden claiming all their attention.   It was a remarkable thing, but not one shell out of the hundreds which burst on the ridge during those three or four hours, hit the thin trail which the bearers took on their way back.   It must have been that Fritz was again merciful.   Water carriers and ration bearers were killed on both sides, but only two New Zealand Medical Corps men were killed.   I can assure you I kept to that trail on the way back, and told every man I met that we had been observing for several hours, and that this seemed the only safe course over hundreds of acres of ground.  I had the cold fear of death on me for the half hour it took to get over the top, shells landing before and behind, and on both sides, and by the time we reached the Regimental Aid Post I was done.   Infantry, with a bayonet, and with spirits running high for a charge face barrage fire constantly I know, but it is a vastly different thing with a sling around your neck, supporting a dead weight, and crawling at a snail’s pace over shell torn ground.    The most common and effective method of escape – falling flat on your face, or tumbling into a shell hole, is denied the stretcher bearer.   His first consideration is the man he has to get in, and nothing but a direct hit will make him drop his burden.   I had only one case of cowardice, and he was a boy who should never have been sent out.   As we were going over, he dropped out from his squad on some excuse, and hid in a shell hole until we disappeared, when he made his way back.   I saw him later and he told me he was ill, and nothing could have dragged him over the ridge”[23].
                                Bill’s wounds were probably bad enough that he needed the assistance of stretcher bearers.   After initial first aid at the Advanced Dressing Station he was evacuated from the front by ambulance train on 16 September, and the following day was admitted to 26 General Hospital at Etaples.
                                Details on his fate over the next couple of years comes from New Zealand Army Records –
19/09/1916 ‑       Evacuated to England on Hospital Ship Dieppe
19/09/1916 ‑       Admitted to 2NZ General Hospital, Walton‑on‑Thames
16/12/1916 ‑       Transferred to NZ Convalescent Hospital, Hornchurch
19/01/1917 ‑       Readmitted to NZ General Hospital at Walton‑on‑Thames
20/01/1917 ‑       Classified as unfit for military service by the Medical Board and listed for return to New Zealand
23/02/1917 ‑       Discharged from 2 NZ General Hospital and placed on leave
18/03/1917 ‑       Embarked for New Zealand on His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Number 108, SS Maheno, from Liverpool 10/05/1917 ‑ Disembarked in New Zealand
29/06/1917 ‑       Discharged as being no longer physically fit for military duty on account of wounds received in action
Medals Awarded :1914‑15 Star
                                British War Medal
                                Victory Medal[24].
                                Some time between then and 18/12/1920 he returned to Australia and settled in Melbourne meeting and marrying Alice May DUNN.
                                Bill JOYCE carried the shrapnel in his leg as a legacy of his war service until the day he died but it had little affect on his mobility.
                                European man first traversed the Coburg area when John BATMAN and his colleagues arrived in Victoria in 1835.   By August of that year John Pascoe FAWKNER’S party had arrived and after his presence on the Yarra was disputed, William JACKSON moved FAWKNER’s sheep to the area of north-west Coburg.  “The earliest proven occupation was by a man calledHYATT, whose sheep station and hut were noted by surveyor Robert HODDLE on 14 June 1837 on the east bank of the Merri Creek near present Outlook Road.”[25]
                                The borough of Coburg became a town on 18 September 1912, but the area remained largely pastoral till after World War I.   “Most development in Coburg between 1900 and 1920 was confined to its heartland: the milewide corridor along Sydney Road between Moreland Road and Gaffney Street.   Suburbia made little impression on West and North Coburg, Pascoe Vale and Newlands.   The absence of made roads and transport facilities isolated these outlying districts even from each other.  Marjorie ANDERSON, who moved to Pascoe Vale in 1920, aged ten, recalled that the locals rarely went to Coburg.   Until Keith JOYCE went to Coburg High School in 1933 he had seldom ventured further from Merlynston than Bakers Road.”[26]
                                Farms and vacant land lay beyond this heartland in 1920.  “When a New Years Day picnic was held in 1923 adjacent to the newly erected Westbreen community hall in Boundary Road, the Brunswick and Coburg Leader printed idyllic photographs of the surrounding bushland with magnificent red gums beside a rocky creek.   Horses and riders lingered nearby.   Another photograph showed children on a Pascoe Vale dairy farm drinking their morning glass of milk from the cow.   The caption boasted that ‘the gum air of Mt Sabine is so mild that children can safely sleep out the year through: their beds were on the open verandahs of farmhouses.”[27]
                                Captain Donald Stuart BAIN, a former soldier and landagent from Berwick, bought the 80 acre Station Heights estate adjacent to the North Coburg Railway Station in late 1919 and renamed it Merlynston after his daughter Merlyn.  He subdivided it into 200 house blocks and commenced selling the land and ‘spec’ homes.   In 1921 the North Coburg Progress Association began to lobby for the entire area to be renamed Merlynston, an aim which was acheived when in January 1922 it became the official name for the local railway station.  “BAIN insisted on a minimum quality of house and strove to make each one different.   His brick ‘spec’ houses contained the usual number of two bedrooms and such features as leadlights, open fireplaces of clinker brick, electric light, and well equipped kitchenettes, bathrooms and laundries.  About 250 such houses were sold for 850 pounds at 30s. weekly reducing to 25s.[28]
                                It was at about that time that the JOYCE family moved into 63 Mashoobra Street, Merlynston.
                                In about 1970 the Coburg Courier wrote –
“Legend in his lifetime
Everyone knows him.  The keen blue eyes that twinkle out of a weathered face.   The cart he pulls by hand around Merlynston and Coburg immediately identifies him as old Bill JOYCE, the bottle-o.
                With a battered hat pulled down over his head and pulling a load of bottles behind him, he’s becoming something of a legend in the 40 years he’s lived in Merlynston.
                “I took it up to keep me out of mischief,” he says.
                Bill has crammed a tough life into his 85 years – laying rail tracks in New Zealand, grave digging at the New Melbourne Cemetery and travelling as a hawker all over Victoria.
                “I’m just an ordinaary bloke,” says Bill.  “I’m just a nothing.”
                But to a lot of people, Bill JOYCE is quite a something.   Twelve years ago, he recovered from an operation that took away his voice box.   Ten days after the operation, he was out of hospital.   Six weeks later he could talk.   To people in the medical profession, Bill’s quite a wonder.   He had to learn to speak all over again – but now the sound comes through a hole in his neck.
                “I know 29 men and 11 women who’ve had the operation,” says Bill, “and none of them can speak.  They look at me in amazement when they hear me spaek.”
                Doctors who operated on Bill hold him up as an example of what can be accomplished after such an operatioin.
                “I go in and talk to people before they have the operation.   The doctors asked me what fee I want.   But if I can help somebody else that’s all the fee I want.”
                Bill started his bottle business five or six years ago “as a hobby”, after giving up his job as a cleaner.
                “They wouldn’t cover me with insurance, because I was too old,” says Bill.   “I couldn’t sit down I had to do something.”
                He had to give up the horse that pulled his cart about four years ago, as he lived in a residential area.   So, despite a steel pin in his leg, a souvenir of the First World War, he pulls the cart himself.
                Bill and his wife, Alice, will have been married 50 years next year.   They have four children, Coburg councillor Keith JOYCE, Andrew, Alan and Mrs. Norma WUNSCH, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
                                Bill worked as a grave digger at Fawkner Cemetery for a number years.   After World War II the JOYCE’s built the ‘Victory Dairy’ at the rear of 63 Mashoobra Street, Merlynston.   In the Mid-1950’s they sold the dairy and moved to 55 Orvieto Street, Merlynston.
                                In 1957 Bill JOYCE had his voice box removed as a result of throat cancer but learnt to talk again.   At that time he was working as a bottle-O around the Coburg area.   When the Coburg City Council banned horse and carts from the municipality in the 1960’s, Bill cut down his cart in size to a hand-pushed two wheeler and continued his work up until the year before his death in 1974.

    [1] BEAN, C.E.W., The Official History of Australia in the War 1914-1918, Volume III, The A.I.F. in France, 1916.   First published 1929, University of Queensland Press edition, 1982.
    [2] BEAN, Op cit, p.1112
    [3] BEAN, Op cit, p.32
    [4] BEAN, Op cit, p.41
    [5] BEAN, op cit, p.54
    [6] BEAN, op cit p.91-94.
    [7] BEAN, Vol III, p.97
    [8] BEAN, Vol III p.98-99
    [9] BEAN, Vol III, p.96
    [10] BEAN, Op cit 113-114
    [11] BEAN, Op cit p.245
    [12] MACDONALD, Lyn; Somme, 1983, Michael Joseph, London, p.6
    [13] MACDONALD, op cit, p.10-11
    [14] BEAN, Op cit, Map 4
    [15] BEAN, Vol III, Op cit, p.306
    [16] BEAN, Vol III, op cit p.354
    [17] BEAN, Vol.III, op cit p.357
    [18] BEAN, Vol.III, op cit p.442
    [19] MACDONALD, 1983, op cit p.256
    [20] MACDONALD, 1983, op cit p.269
    [21] BOYACK, Nicholas; Behind the Lines, The lives of New Zealand Soldiers in the First World War, 1989, Allen & Unwin Port Nicholson Press, Wellington, p.71-72
    [22] BOYACK, 1989, op cit p.72
    [23] BOYACK, 1989, op cit, p.72-3
    [24] New Zealand Secretary of Defence, Defence Headquarters, Wellington New Zealand,  reply to Laurie JOYCE, 15 April, 1988.
    [25] BROOME, Richard, Coburg; Between Two Creeks, 1987 Lothain Publishing Co., Port Melbourne, p.33
    [26] BROOME, op cit. p.199
    [27] BROOME, 1987, op cit. p.199
    [28] BROOME, 1987, op cit p.209

Deb’s School Daze – Bennettswood State School Part 5

Deb finally got her Primary School memories to me and here it is –

So the challenge this time is all about our Primary school years which were spent at Bennettswood primary school. Bennettswood primary school ran off Station Street and Burwood Highway and we skirted directly into it via numerous windy roads and side streets.
I must admit my memories of primary school are fairly dim but I will try to recall as much detail as possible here.

I actually don’t ever remember Mum taking me to school. However, that would seem strange, particularly as I started at the age of 5 – I would imagine she had some time where she did so. Although having said that, I guess life was a lot simpler back then and seemingly there weren’t as many crimes or criminals to worry about. I do vaguely recall the episode that Karen spoke about taking Karen, me, Annette & Joanne to school (I think) one day, in Mum’s car and we turned from Eley Road left into Station Street and Annette went flying out the back door. There were no seat belts in those days and obviously the door wasn’t locked and she went flying out. I recall the laughter and the subsequent embarrassment from Annette – but I’m guessing she was absolutely fine or there would have been more problems.

As Karen and Laurie were much older than me, I actually spent nearly, or all of my primary school years walking to and from school. It was actually a fair hike to go in those days. I remember getting home around 4.00pm of an afternoon, so I’m guessing it was about a ½ hour – 45 minute walk. I do remember that I didn’t like doing it on my own, and would hang around outside the corridors after the bell went to see who I could walk home with. My favourite people were Sally Whitcher and Susan although I can’t remember her surname at the top of my head. The only problem with both of them was also that they didn’t have to go the whole way and Sally’s place was out of the way a bit, but at least it gave me some company.
Again I’m guessing, but I think there was probably around 500 – 600 kids that went to our school. It was a friendly school, well mostly. I do recall one incident with a young girl; I think we were in about Grade 3 who got teased a lot. This was simply because she was Italian decent and her name was Giovanni – which was of course a hard name to have in an evidently typical Anglo Saxon school. The kids were teasing and teasing her and eventually it upset me and I made friends with her and told them to back off.   We did of course have other kids from other descents as well, but mostly we were all white Anglo Saxon and you got away with having other unusual names if you were part of the “popular kids”.
We wore uniforms – they were green and white striped dresses and we had jumpers as well. I can’t remember what we did in Winter time, although I’m guessing that let us wear pants. I was certainly happy that by the time I got to Bennettswood I at least didn’t have to wear the silly hat that my sister wore and I was allowed to wear my hair long – again unlike Karen who had to have the short boys hair cut. I usually wore my hair tied up in pigtails and would put a green ribbon in them.
Winter time – I remember going to the school canteen at lunchtime and ordering a tomato soup which cost about 10c and certainly did help to warm us up. For Summer, the order of the day was a Frosted Sunny Boy and again it was only about 10c. In the very early days of my primary school life the school provided fresh milk for us in a bottle and we had to drink it. That was O.K. in winter time, but in Summer time, when they had been left out in the sunshine, it was bloody horrible, as the top of the milk had turned to cream. We were still forced to drink it.
I also recall an incident with my Grade 4 teacher – who up until that point I had thought a really lovely lady. Something had happened to her overnight and my memories of the actual event she described are really vague. However, she was keeping us in and accusing all of us of doing this “wrong thing”. She kept looking at me throughout the day and was “saying Debra, if you know anything about this, you have to confess”. The day dragged on and it came to the end of the day where she had decided to keep us all in after school. I just remembered that if I ever got detention I was going to be in some serious bother. So after about the 3rd or 4th time that she accused me, I actually “fessed up” and said, it was me. As I’ve said, I have no memory about what it was, although a vague recollection of perhaps some menacing phone calls to her overnight. I don’t know why I would have volunteered that I was guilty about a crime I didn’t commit, except to say that I was really terrified of Mum thinking I had ever been given detention. After that she let us all go home, gave me a very stern warning not to do it again and we were allowed to go home. After that, I never did like her again, and I think she probably felt the same about me!
I recall a terrifying incident one winter’s day while at primary school. It was pouring with rain; it must have rained so hard that I can recall the smell of my woolen jumper being wet. I walked out after the bell went and started to walk home – well really just got past the main buildings and was walking down the driveway. The rain was absolutely pelting down and the wind was howling. I had my umbrella up and was trying to shelter myself from not only the rain but the driving wind that was almost pushing me off my feet. With that I caught a great gust of wind and my umbrella turned inside out. You know when you see someone like that; you have a laugh, only this time it definitely wasn’t funny. As quick as a wink, one of the spikes on the umbrella literally stabbed me in the eye. I knew it was bad, because I couldn’t see out of that eye due to the amount of blood that was pouring out. By the time it had happened, there appeared not to be anyone around and I was getting panicky that I was seriously hurt and couldn’t find anyone. I managed to get myself back up to the school buildings and couldn’t find any teachers. Eventually still with the blood pouring out, I made my way to the office and there was someone still there. They took me inside and got me to sit down and held a cloth to my eye. They phoned Mum – and I had to wait probably around the ½ hour or 45 minutes it took her to drive to school. She flew into the office and got me in the car and off we went to see Doctor Hewitt – our family GP in Box Hill. Doctor Hewitt said I was a really lucky girl that if the spike had have entered 1 mm either side of my pupil I probably would have ended up blind. As it was, it just missed the main spot and I only had to wear a patch for a couple of days. Now when it’s too windy as well as rainy, I don’t bother with the brolly, I’d rather get wet.
I remember getting together with some of my girlfriends and creating dances – mostly to Susie Quatro. We would choreograph a dance and then all get together to make sure we had done it properly. I think I was always secretly annoyed that my sister did Ballet and I was never allowed to. Mum only let me choose “one thing” as an after school activity and for me that was Brownies and then Girl Guides.
I remember Grade 6 where I guess we had the first of the “muck up” days that the kids have now. The only difference being that ours was simply a day of dress up’s – I guess that tradition has carried on. I can’t remember what I dressed up as, but I do know that I have some photographs of my friends. A vague recollection is that I might have been one of the band “Kiss” members, but I’m not sure if I’m remembering me or my friends.
My favourite classes at Bennettswood were cooking – funny that I definitely didn’t like that tradition, once I grew up! I loved bringing home the bits that I cooked during the day and asking Mum and Dad to taste them. I don’t remember them going back for seconds, so I guess I wasn’t very good at it even then.
The other classes I loved were Art, Art, and more Art. Like my brother and sister before me, I was of the “arty” type. Although unlike Laurie, I couldn’t actually draw from my imagination – I became a really good copier and you could put a picture in front of me and generally I was able to replicate it. As I grew older and became better at my construction of the human body, mostly in pencil, I lost my natural ability to do a face, so replicated many poses of males and females all without faces. Maybe I should have obscured them a bit more and had a shot at becoming the next Picasso.
I was also a pretty good runner while I was at Bennettswood – I entered most running competitions and was known to win a lot of the sprints. Not much of a long distance runner, but had a good stride on me. I did also do Little Athletics (so I guess I did two after school activities at one stage) maybe that helped me. Or perhaps it was Dad who did run in the Stawell Gift one year. I also entered all of the hurdle competitions and the high jump. In primary school in the high jump I got through to the inter school sports and won and then got selected to go into the interstate sports. Unfortunately at that point, I was disqualified because I used to actually hurdle the high jump – I had no idea how to do the scissor jump, but could get just as far as anyone else by hurdling, so at that stage none of my teachers had picked me up on technique. I was bitterly disappointed to get no further.
Primary school was O.K. for me – I passed everything at that stage although began my dislike for subjects such as Math at this early stage. It really was just the stepping stone for me to move into high school and I couldn’t wait to be the big girl.

School Daze 3 – Bennettswood State School

Dad worked at a paper distributor, E C Blackwoods, and so we always had stationery; exercise books, derwent pencils, folders etc.  Boy did I love my Derwents, no other kids had them and the colours were richer and stronger than anything anyone else could use, and of course when we were taught all of these things we had to write a few lines in our Exercise books and illustrate the story.
The other bonus of Dad’s job was that we always had brown paper bags and grease paper to wrap our sandwiches in.  There was no such thing as Gladwrap and nor were there pre-packed snacks.
Lunch was sandwiches, vegemite, sometimes with cheese, jam, and in the hot weather tomato.    Not altogether of course .   The latter I used to hate, because by lunchtime they’d generally have made the bread soggy.  Snacks were a bit of fruit, apple or orange mainly, but the odd banana when they were in season.   
And unlike now, fruit was really seasonal, there weren’t cool stores, there weren’t even big supermarkets, fruit and vegetables were bought at the Green grocer and inevitably those stores were run by Italians or Greeks – Con the Fruiterer, Mark Mitchell’s famous character really existed and was maybe partly based on that same guy at Bennettswood shops that we used to visit.
Once a week we were allowed to buy our lunch.  You had to fill in an envelope in the morning and the lunches were then delivered to the class room in the late morning.  There weren’t a lot of choices, sandwiches, pies, pastie or sausage roll was the extent of it and given we took sandwiches the other days of the week it was a pie and sauce for me.  I can’t remember the number of times I burnt my lps on boiling meat, but on a cold winters day it was fantastic.
The tuck shop sold icy poles in the warm weather most of which were water based.  The most popular were Zig and Zags, one of which was orange and white, the other green and red, but don’t ask me which was which, and then there was Sunny Boys and Raz’s.  They were around 2 or 3 cents each at the time.
Every morning play we were given a half pint of milk.   Delivered in glass bottles and crates it was the job ot the milk monitors to deliver the crates to each f the class rooms and then to collect the empty bottles and crates at the end of play time.  It was an honour to be a milk monitor because it meant you could drink as much milk as you could fit in.  I think I managed a gallon one day, we used to race each other in sculling it and seeing how much we could actually stomach.  Of course it was always better on the cold mornings because if it was left in the heat of the sunshine for too long it would curdle in the bottles and that was enough to make you gag.
If it rained at lunchtimes we were allowed to stay in the class room, but if we had the choice we’d always choose to go outside.  Funny, even if the days were cold, we warmed up pretty quickly because we were always running around. And anyway, whilst we had oil heaters in the classroom they often didn’t work so it wasn’t any colder outside anyway.
I’m not sure when I started to walk to school, maybe in Grade 3 or 4 at around 7 or 8 years old.  Mum drove us in the early years but when Debra came along I think we started to walk.   In 1967 for my tenth birthday I was given a bike which was my pride and joy.  It was an orange Fujicycle, three speed, white walled tyres with a light and pack rack on the back.  When I got that I started to ride to and from school, and that didn’t take me too long at all.
My 10th Birthday – The day I got my bike
It was very much a white Anglo Saxon experience.  The only Asians we saw were behind the counter in the local chow shop.   In that part of the world even the Greeks and Italians were still yet to arrive.   Whilst there were plenty of wogs and dagos in Brunswick where my grandparents lived they were few and far between at Bennettswood in the early years, although by the late sixties we were starting to get a few.  Of course as kids, it didn’t matter to us what there names were, they were the same as us anyway, but Smith and Jones were much more common than di Grazia and Mihalos.
Our biggest prejudice centered around the rural kids.  For some reason our school was involved in an experiment where a group of kids of mixed ages were placed in a class together as if they came from a small country town. I have no idea why, but it made them separate from the rest of us and those of us in “normal” classes looked down our noses at them.  Rightly or wrongly, and more likely the latter than the former, we thought they were dumber than the rest of us.
We had to wear a uniform, ours was grey with stripes on the collar and cuff of the jumper in two shades of green.  We also had a matching green tie and it was compulsory to wear all of that, although the caps of private school kids were absent from our uniform.
I never had long pants.  The concession to the cold weather of winter was that we wore woolen shorts instead of cotton ones and long socks instead of short ones.  We had to wear black shoes and it was my job to polish them each morning, not only my own but everyones, and I’d sit on the back step of the laundry, brush and cloth in hand, rubbing away the dust before we walked out the door each morning.
Dad always used to tell us the story of a teacher of his called Daddy Egan who used to use the edge of a metal ruler to belt kids over the knuckles if they misbehaved.  Corporal punishment was still allowed when I was at school and it wasn’t uncommon for kids to get the strap or a yard long ruler smacking them on the bum if they played up.  Usually this was done in front of the class as an example to the rest of us as to what lay ahead if we were naughty.
I only remember getting the strap once at school.   That was when instead of playing brandy with a tennis ball we decided to use oranges.  Brandy was a game where we’d line up in front of one of the brick walls and the object was to have someone piff the ball as hard as they could at you.  If you got hit it was then your turn to throw the ball.  You can imagine the mess the oranges made and that day we were in the process of having a great deal of fun when one of the teachers arrived on the scene.  Four of us were marched straight up to the Headmaster’s office.  His name was Mr Allsop and unfortunately for me he had previously been headmaster at Merlynston State School at a time when my Uncle Keith was School Council President and Mayor of Coburg.     So not only did I get six of the best but the longest lecture about how disappointed my uncle would be in me.  We were then given letters to take home to our parents and have them sign it and brought back.  Lucky for me Dad’s signature was pretty easy to forge so there were no further lectures on how upset my Mum and Dad or Uncle were.
There were fights at school and in the time honoured tradition of schools up till that time at the first sign of an altercation word would go around the schoolyard and we’d gather somewhere down the back of the school in a large circle and start chanting “Fight Fight Fight”.    Not sure what the teachers were doing but they’d usually arrive sometime after the first blows were struck and when they were seen to be approaching another shout of “Teacher!” would go up and we’d all scatter to the four winds.  Most of the time the fighters got away with it.

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