Because my 80th year rapidly approaches… 1943

That is, the week after next 79 ticks over… To the year of my birth.

Dad in the RAAF sent birthday greetings to my mother who was still in hospital having given birth to me, whom the nurses dubbed “The Air Raid Siren.” Apparently I had good lungs then…

Who knows what was playing on the radio in July 1943. Perhaps…

Anzac Eve and Day –poems, images, thoughts…

Two Australian poems of World War II

Judith Wright (1915-2000) is one of my favourite poets. “The Company of Lovers” was written during World War II and I think captures the feel of the time as many lovers were separated by the war. It is not one of her better known poems.

We meet and part now over all the world;
we, the lost company,
take hands together in the night, forget
the night in our brief happiness, silently.
We, who sought many things, throw all away
for this one thing, one only,
remembering that in the narrow grave
we shall be lonely.

Death marshals up his armies round us now.
Their footsteps crowd too near.
Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart
and for a time I live without my fear.
Grope in the night to find me and embrace,
for the dark preludes of the drums begin,
and round us round the company of lovers,
death draws his cordons in.

On the other hand, the following poem by Kenneth Slessor is — or used to be — very well known.

Beach Burial

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin –

‘Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.

If you go here; you will find an account by my mother of her feelings during the war years and a letter my father wrote in 1945 from Papua.

A photo my father took at Hanuabada near Port Moresby, while serving in the RAAF — 1945

14390 Cpl. Whitfield J. N.
Group 833

My Darling Wife

I came to work this morning thinking it was just another day, another hot steaming day, after a terrific thunderstorm last night. About nine o’clock a chap came in with some demands that had to be attended to and on dating them the realisation struck me, this was no ordinary day to me, but a very special one, the anniversary of the day when I made my very bestest pal in all the world mine for keeps, for worse or better. You notice I put the “worse” first, because I am sure many, many happy days lie ahead for us. Yes, we have had more than our share of worries & I have at times very selfishly added to them, sometimes quite unintentionally, because there really wasn’t any need for you to worry at all. I’m a bit of a tease really.

Anyway I promise you darling that I will try to make you just as happy as ever I can. I only hope that I am able to maintain a decent living standard for you & the kids. You are entitled to the best of everything by virtue of the fact that you have always been such a loyal pal always to me. If I can I will try to get some other sort of business going as well as the building so that we will be secure in our old age. Anyway dearest one I will try to do as you wish me to in everything. I have caused you enough heartaches. I can’t always help this of course, but I fully intend to try and make up for any short comings I may have. I can never repay the debt I owe you for giving me three such lovely children. I love them very dearly, and am exceedingly proud of their nice appearance & manner.

Dearest girl, I can only pray that we are spared to celebrate many anniversaries — together, as indeed an anniversary should be celebrated. If, as I hope, I shall be with you next wedding anniversary I will see to it that I have some leave to take & we will go away for a few days together. I am sure someone would take responsibility of the kiddies for just that few days. We could book in at one of the mountain hotels. I will send you home the money as an anniversary present in a week or so & you can save it on one side as a special little cache for no other purpose than to give us our certainly overdue holiday away together. [This did not happen until about 1951, and we kids went as well!] Do not put it in the Bank and then you will not notice it as drawing it out & leaving a depleted sum. I suggest that you put it in your special “precious box.” My! I am looking forward to it, even now, all that long way ahead.

I am sure [my mother’s then unmarried sister] will look after the nips for us, if she isn’t married. … I wonder does she know what she’s missing. [She married in the early 1950s and subsequently gave birth to twins.] To me marriage is worth any sacrifice, having to do without some things that do not matter very much in any case, & learning the hard way self restraint & moderation certainly enriches the character of a person (particularly a woman) [Ouch!] and makes her something understanding–self-sacrificing–grasping eagerly every chance to go out and enjoy life with her loved ones. Yes, I think she becomes, provided she is in the first place a true & not a fair-weather friend–an exalted and beautiful creature. Darling a chasing after rainbows is a horribly empty sensation that causes one to be a frustrated cynic, taxing the patience and at times occasioning the dislike of everyone.

Darling, I am glad you married young, I should have hated you to be like that, instead of sweet & gently, and yet I think I would have been patient and understanding.

Anyway, dearest one, you have with you on this our wedding day my every best love and a very real longing to be with you. I think maybe you’d better be extravagant & use up some of those “packets”. I can sympathise with you–& wouldn’t blame you in the least.

Well, all the very best of luck darling, from your loving Husband


It was their tenth anniversary, that one.

Dad in Port Moresby 1945 — in the cockpit of the broken Kittyhawk on the left,
Family 1945, Sutherland. Creased because the original travelled with my father to Port Moresby. L-R: Aunt Ruth (Uncle Keith was in the army), Uncle Neil in uniform on leave from the RAAF, Aunt Beth (Bim), in the centre my mother Jean, in front me, my sister Jeanette, my big brother Ian.
This song came out the year I was born, here beautifully covered by two young Americans, Josh Turner and Carson McKee. I wonder if my Dad got home for Christmas 1945?

Seems he may have, though you will note several months elapsed from the end of the war in August to the time of discharge, some of which I think was spent at the Repat Hospital.

When Dad finally did get home my first words to him (so I have been told) were “Get that man out of here!” I was used to the family group you see in the photo above and “Daddy” was either a photo or some guy in an air force uniform that I didn’t really know. Apparently I had a bad habit when I was taken to the city of addressing random men in RAAF uniforms as “Daddy” — and this was a touch embarrassing when the random man had his wife or girlfriend with him.

Here I am at that time in the city. I had my own air force uniform, as you may see,

On the day

Second day out of lockdown

And I stayed at home. It was rather damp and cold yesterday morning, but also perhaps I had just a little more Shiraz at Diggers than I should have the day before….

But I did not waste time too much, and I do have plenty of food here at home — except for bread which I must renew from the local shops today. One thing I accomplished was downloading my official vaccine status document form Medicare. This is the business end of it:

Me not having a smart phone, that only exists on my laptop. I have not yet printed a copy either as my printer really is useless as I have basically given up buying ink for it. I can no doubt contrive to get a printed copy later on. So for the moment any venue I try to enter must either 1) accept the Wollongong Medical Centre’s statement, which I carry with me at all times or 2) wait while I fire up the laptop. Not that it takes all that long.

Meanwhile quite a few have been marking the passing of a remarkable Australian, Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku who has died at age 101.


Such a great Shellharbour photo today!

On Facebook, that is, from the Shellharbour History in Photos Group. How could I not colourise it?

It is dated “late 1940s” and attention is drawn to “City Service Boston wreck in background.”

“The “SS Cities Service Boston”, a 9,348 tons oil tanker, ran aground at Bass Point in New South Wales in a bad storm on 16 May 1943. “SS Cities Service Boston” had been in convoy PG50 four days earlier, when the convoy was attacked by Japanese submarine I-180.” — see Oz At War.

And here am I — the brat on the left — with my dad and mum, my sister, cousin Betty Whitfield, and random girls on the North Shellharbour beach around 1947-8.

See also Shellharbour: very nostalgic and My 1947: Shellharbour. From that second post:

The brat on the left in the sleeveless dark jumper is me, then Mum and Dad, cousin Betty, and in the front row left my sister Jeanette. I am not sure who the other two girls are. There was also a photo, now lost, of my older brother with an air rifle in a bushland area known as Blackbutt. Ian remembered that [in a phone conversation in January 2017].

He was 12, he said, which confirms my thought that this holiday (in my father’s home town) was in 1947. So I am probably 4 years old.

My brother also confirmed my memory that we stayed at Mrs Dunster’s guest house. See this from 9 August 1947:

I was absolutely fascinated by “the weck” as I called it on Bass Point, clearly visible from the verandah of the guest house. My brother actually remembers the event itself, fully described on Michael McFadyen’s Scuba Diving site.

The SS Cities Service Boston was an oil tanker being used during World War 2 to supply the Australian and Allied forces with fuel. Built by Bethlehem Ship Building Corporation Ltd at Sparrows Point, Maryland, USA, for Atlantic, Gulf and West Indies Steamship Lines and launched as the SS Agwipond in April 1921, the ship displaced 8,024 tons and had a waterline length of 141 metres. Its overall length was 146 metres…

Requisitioned by the US Department of War Administration for World War II and operated by them until its sinking, the Cities Service Boston was travelling to the Middle East from Sydney in convoy when it went off course and ploughed into the rocks of Bass Point…

Although the ship sank on 16 May 1943, the only report of the incident at the time was in the Herald on 19 May when it was reported that four soldiers were drowned when washed off a rock platform on the South Coast. It was reported that eight soldiers were swept into the sea out of 34 standing there. It did not report why they were there or give any explanation as to what happened. Absolutely no indication was given to the fact that a ship was sunk that night.

This was because of wartime censorship preventing most bad news from reaching the public. It is interesting to note that the same edition of the Herald carried the good news of the “Dambusters” which happen only short time before. The same edition also had the bad news of the loss of the hospital ship Centaur on 14 May 1943, two days before the Boston was lost (this made the Japanese out to be heathens for sinking an unarmed hospital ship) and was included for obvious reasons.

No other mention of the wrecking appeared in the media until exactly six months after the wrecking when an article appeared on 16 November 1943 in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph actually mentioning the wrecking and the loss of the soldiers. As well as reporting what happened, it reported on the Wollongong Coroner’s Court inquiry into the deaths….

Well worth reading the rest of that.

Another local civilian from Shellharbour, Eric Dunster (?), was driving a milk truck. During break in weather he saw a ship up on Bass Point. He drove out and left the truck near where gates are now into the reserve. He walked out, at 45° due to the strength of wind. Looking back towards Shellharbour he saw there were huge seas hitting the rocks. He got out there about the same time that the soldiers arrived. The rain was horizontal. He helped set up the gear and after a while he left due to the weather.


The “weck”

For more on the Dunster family see Children of Shellharbour’s The Hill.  

On Shellharbour there is also this post from 2020: Dad — would have been 109 today.


I realised soon after posting that the conversation with my brother about that holiday in Shellharbour was one of the last we were to have — possibly even the last. He passed away in April 2017.

See among many posts in April-May 2017 Back again: last photo of my brother. Thanks to my nephew Warren.


On at least one advantage of being alive when George VI was King — and one for Philip

On the excellent Historic Cronulla and Sutherland Shire Group on Facebook — not all nostalgia sites by the way are excellent: some are merely trivial, others pander to the most reactionary (and worse!) among us — there appeared this photo of Sutherland Post Office in 1940, during both World War 2 and the reign of George VI. My late sister Jeanette was born into our Auburn Street Sutherland family in 1940, and I came along in 1943. So as I (we) grew up, this was the local post office, and I clearly recall it. Not sure whether the picket fence lasted through the 1950s though. I have colourised the image for my own amusement.

So the issue came up: where exactly was this? David Little, the group moderator, wrote: “SSL LS has pinned the location as Corner of Princes Hwy & Flora St – this is open to debate and the caption will remain fluid until location is confirmed – members are encouraged to contribute suggestions.Photo: Sutherland Shire Libraries Local Studies collection.”

One comment (no longer there) claimed it must be Eton Street as there is no hill in Flora Street and even mentioned a likely weatherboard building in Eton Street that may have been this one. Personally I think that comment was thinking of the original Sutherland Library which I spent many an hour in, just up Eton Street from the Council Chambers.

Another comment from Faye Bray got to the truth:

This post office was definitely on the corner of the princes highway and flora st. Our family moved to Sutherland in 1946 and that is where it was… I also remember on the opposite corner was an old grocery shop with wonky wooden floors and the grocer had to climb ladders to get to items. I have so many memories of Sutherland, we lived in Oxford st for 18 years and watched the first part of the servicemen’s club being built.

I then contributed:

Faye Bray is right. I can remember being in that post office, and Vallance’s Stores next door. In this photo from the Sutherland Library collection you can clearly see the Post Office fence on the right of the photo. Corner of Flora and Old Princes Highway for sure! I was born in 1943 and lived in Sutherland and went to Sutherland Public School from 1949-1954. Lived in Auburn Street then Vermont Street, then from 1956 Kirrawee and then Jannali from 1959… I can vividly remember the sound of morse code being tapped in the telegram office part of that post office.

When I posted both pics on my own Facebook I elaborated:

A touch of colour for old Sutho Post Office, when post offices were just post (and telegraph) offices and not shops selling tat…. Old Princes Highway, corner of Flora Street — near the railway station. Have a look at this one (colourised by me) from the Sutherland Library collection. The Post Office fence is on the right of the photo. I can remember Vallance’s store too! We used to buy chook food, garden stuff and chaff for my brother’s horse there.

Here is that second photo:

Louise D’Arcens (who now lives in the house my family occupied in the 1940s-January 1952) also wondered about the Flora Street “hill”. My theory: ” I suspect that is not a hill but an optical illusion caused by the camera lens* or position. The photographer is somewhere on the north approach to the bridge over the railway. Flora Street also appears wet to me, as if it has been raining.”

* A wide-angle lens can do this to the edges of the field of vision.

But the clincher is this from the reminiscences of Mary Parker, in the Sutherland Shire Library Collection — and I have only just found this!

MK: And Flora Street was just a track in those early days?

MP: When my parents came there it was just a track – did I tell you on the tape?  Yes, there was a bush track and my mother used to put the lantern on the gate so my father would know that he was approaching the place and nothing for him to trip over a cow that might be lying in the track or fighting his way through cobwebs on the trees, yes.  Then, of course, I always remember Ellem’s shop, the old grocer shop on the corner, Ellem’s.

MK: Somebody mentioned that recently.

MP: Yes, Mrs Ellem’s.

MK: On the corner of where?

MP: On the corner of Flora Street and, what is it, the Princes Highway.

MK: On the north or south side?  No, the post office is on the north side.

MP: It’s where that bank is now.

MK: Right, yes, on the south side.

MP: And then, of course, on the other side was just this post office, just a little wooden building up there.

MK: I remember it, actually.      

MP: Yes, and I always remember the postman would deliver the mail on horseback.

Here is another colourised photo: On the back it says “March 21 aged 9” — Jeanette’s ninth birthday (19 March 1949) being crashed by me, it appears. Left to right: Connie Phipps, Jeanette, me, Gail MacNamara, Deidre Hawke. The Auburn Street house is in the background.


Our neighbour, Tibby Doyle, worked in that Sutherland Post Office. Later, in the 1960s, she worked in Cronulla’s. And the Doyles were no longer in Auburn Street but in Glencoe Street.

Here is the same scene as that 1940 Post Office shot today, thanks to Google Streetview:

From the ramp leading to the bridge across the railway line.

I remember too the sadness in 1952 when King George VI died. Overwhelming really to my 8 year-old self, as just about a month before my much-loved sister Jeanette had died. So with that in mind, and in honour of the Duke of Edinburgh, I finish with a poignant few minutes from Saturday’s funeral.