Leslie Arthur PRIOR
The family received my Dad's army papers after his death in 1945. We found he had a second name, something he would not allow his children to have. His army career followed a path similar to many in our group; enlistment, sent to Singapore, taken POW, transported to Borneo to eventually die on the Death Marches. He vanished; his death is recorded as happening on April 18th 1945 though his body was never found. Lyn Silver told me he was probably a rice carrier on the Marches, knew his death was imminent and crawled into the jungle to die.
It is the events surrounding his enlistment I will write about. The acrimony it created between my Mother and my Dad's brother Mont lasted a lifetime. Dad was born in England in 1904, 1908 according to his Army papers, came to Australia in 1922 with Mont to take up 1800 acres of land near Kalannie, a small town in the wheatbelt. The brothers worked long and hard for little return but slowly built the property up, graduating from tent to tin shed to the house that Dad built for Mum, a Scot, whom he married in 1932. She had come to Kalannie to work for the butcher as a nanny to his children. Local legend says the butcher had a sheepdog trained not to bark so the farmer's sheep could be silently rustled at night and sold back to them as fresh meat the next day.
There were three children from the union, Frank born in 1933, myself in 1935 and Christine arrived with the war in 1939, none of us were given a second name. I tell my grandchildren Mum and Dad were so broke they couldn't afford them. We lived in the farmhouse as a family group with Uncle Mont. What seemed to my young mind to be a spartan but happy existence changed with war being declared? The men decided one of them must join up and one stay to work the farm. Mont, being single was the logical choice, volunteered but procrastinated for so long, as was his habit, and never quite got around to enlisting. Dad became impatient and joined up much to my Mother's disgust and I have no doubt that she would have spoken her mind to Mont. While Dad was waiting for his papers to arrive we moved from the farm to a house in Kalannie leaving Mont alone on the farm where he lived alone until ill health and malnutrition forced him to retire in 1978. I was always fond of my Uncle and kept in touch and saw his living standards gradually decline until he lived in squalor.
Dad took three hundred pounds for his share of the farm that he used as a deposit on a house under construction in the outer Perth suburb of Mt Hawthorn. We didn't settle there until the war was nearly over, moved a fair bit, but spent a lot of time living in Kalannie because of the town's isolation as Mum thought it was reasonably safe from the threatening Japanese. She allowed me to go to the farm with Mont on weekends but was always cool towards him. When the dreaded telegram arrived we were living in Mt Hawthorn. She turned quite bitter towards Mont and barely tolerated him from then.
I visited Mont occasionally before I was able to drive and saw him when he came to Perth every February for a holiday. He would book into the Ozone Hotel for a fortnight, stay a week then go home. After I purchased my first car I made a point of seeing him about three times a year. We talked about my Dad, as I wanted to know things only a brother could tell. I discovered he wasn't the saint my Mother made him out to be, was in fact an average sort of bloke, as one of his mates said. But his death haunted my Uncle and he talked about it constantly as though he was trying to convince himself he had done the right thing. He carried his guilt to the grave. There are so many casualties of war.
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