Written by Keith Jones
We didn’t know much of Dad’s early life, except that he came from a large family and that he and his twin brother Stan were born in Perth on January 13th 1902. Stan eventually became a barber with his own shop in Midland Junction, but Dad was apparently a jack-of-all-trades who knocked about the bush and took work wherever he could find it. He was employed at the Northam Co-Operative store when he married our Mother, Madge Western, in Northam on April 14th 1926. He was a keen footballer at the time and played in the Northam town football club “B” grade side when they won the premiership in 1927.
Our first sister, Betty Madge, was born in Northam in 1927. Soon after this Dad moved to Pithara where he worked in the local store owned by H. Eaves & Co, and where our brother (Douglas Victor) was born in 1929. Some years later Dad was working for the Dalwallinu Roads Board when our second sister, June Margaret, (Jenny) was born in the Dalwallinu district hospital in 1931. By this time Dad had acquired skills as a welder and truck driver, and he moved to Meenar, then West Northam with the crews who were upgrading and replacing the water pipeline from Kalgoorlie through to Mundaring Weir. These crew members and their families lived in camps of tents right beside their working section of the pipeline, and to this day there are still signs of where our family campsite was outside of West Northam. Jenny recalls this camp well, because of her terror in following her brother and sister to school on the far side of the Avon River. They had to cross the river on the high pipeline bridge, which had no side rails!
In 1937 Dad moved to the final pipeline camp at Chidlows Well. Here Mum saw “Hillview Farm,” a small production orchard that was for sale, and she decided to put her roots down. They were living there when I came along in mid 1939. Dad then went to work at the No.1 pumping station at Mundaring Weir. Doug can recall that Dad would ride his pushbike home from the Weir on paydays, arriving at a late hour in any weather, and sometimes under the weather from being sidetracked to the Chidlows hotel. He also remembers kangaroo hunting trips out bush with Dad and his mate and his son; all four of them jammed into an old motorbike and sidecar along with two kangaroo dogs! Jenny can remember trips into the bush with Dad in search of wild honey. She would watch as he smoked out the bees, and then help carry home the kerosene tins, which were filled with golden honeycomb from the raids.
Dad joined the Army in July 1941, at age 39, and his civilian work experience had him allocated into the next draft of reinforcements for the 2/6 Field Park, Royal Australian Engineers. Doug recalls catching the train to Northam with Mum to visit him in Northam camp, and much later how he suddenly appeared at home one night in full uniform. He and all his mates had been warned for embarkation without prior leave, so they simply went AWOL and got themselves home for that one last night.
Before he became a POW Dad had managed to buy a souvenir metal plate in Singapore to bring home, and had his name engraved on the back of it. He was still carrying it with him when he died in Ranau more than three years later. Sometime around then, Mum’s youngest sister awoke one night in her home in West Midland. She saw a vision of Dad standing in her bedroom and he said to her, “tell Madge I’m sorry, I can’t take it any more.” She recounted this incident to me in recent times when she was aged around 90, and she was still visibly shaken by it.
There was only one Red Cross card from Singapore during those years of silence, then in September 1945 came the official notification that Dad had died as a POW in Ranau as a result of beriberi. Mum had already suffered a nervous breakdown before this, and there were more to follow. She never really ever regained her mental health for the rest of her life. She too became a casualty of the war.
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