My Family at War

My mother Alice (born 1891) and my father Archibald, known as Mick, (born 1887) had five children. I had two older sisters, Pat (born 29 Dec 1912) and Helen (born 28 Sep 1915), my older brother Bob (born 17 Feb 1918) and my twin brother Tom (born 29 Mar 1923).

Back row, left to right: Pat, Bob & Helen; front row; me and twin brother Tom. c. 1935

Back row, left to right: Pat, Bob & Helen. Front row; me and twin brother Tom. c. 1935

In the early 20th century, my father farmed with his younger brother, Leslie, in Western Australia. The farm failed in early 1914 and later Dad worked as a risk surveyor in the insurance industry.

At the outbreak of World War I, my father volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) but was rejected because of a suspect heart problem.

My Uncle Les served in the AIF in the 10th Light Horse Regiment (at Gallipoli and in Egypt, Palestine and Syria) from October 1914 until the war ended. He was a Sergeant at war’s end, but he was wounded on three occasions and this left him badly psychologically traumatized with ‘shell shock’ (now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD).

My Mum also had a brother: Thomas Ince Farrell. He was a soldier in the 16th Battalion of the AIF in World War I. He was killed in action at Pope’s Hill, Gallipoli ‘on or about’ 2 May 1915. We don’t know exactly when or how he died.

Tom Farrell c1914

Tom Farrell c.1914

My Mum with my sister Helen in 1915

My Mum with Helen, 1915

My Dad with my sister Pat in 1915

My Dad with Pat, 1915

After the Great War ended, Les took up a soldier settlement block at Balingup in the southern Darling Range about 240 kilometres south of Perth. My Dad and Mum, Pat, Helen and Bob also lived on the Balingup farm until 1922. In that year, they moved to Middle Park in Melbourne where Tom and I were born the following year.

Later in the 1920s the great depression impacted on employment opportunities and my Dad could only find casual work as a wharf labourer on the Port Melbourne docks. My uncle Les never fully recovered from World War I; he died prematurely some years after the Great War. I remember him as a generous person: he always gave me lollies on those rare occasions when I saw him.

Like my two brothers and me, my sisters were also involved in the Australian war effort. Pat was a secretary and from 1942 until 1946 she worked at the Allied Works Council in Melbourne including as Secretary to the Chief Mechanical Engineer.

Helen had been employed as a stenographer in 1937 and was later employed with the United States Army in Australia. Helen’s assignments included working as secretary to Brigadier General Frank Clark who commanded a convoy that brought two brigades of anti-aircraft artillery to Australia in March 1942; he was stationed here until 20 July 1942. In a letter to my sister in July 1943, General Clark wrote ‘I shall never forget how valiantly you shared the load of our turbulent headquarters.’ After General Clark left, Helen continued with her US Army service and was often required to travel interstate, only reluctantly discontinuing after her husband was posted to Bendigo in mid-1944.

My sister Helen

My sister Helen c.1940

Tragically, however, Helen died during childbirth on 21 December 1945 and her child was also lost. Helen was 30 years old.

I was on my way to see her in hospital in Bendigo after returning from the war, having treasured so many letters from her during my years away. Unfortunately, a strike by railway workers prevented me reaching her before her death. After not seeing her for several years, I missed seeing her one final time by a few hours.

At the age of 54, my Dad had died of a heart attack, at home in Middle Park, on 25 August 1942. I heard about his death while in transit to Queensland.

By this time Bob was listed as ‘missing in Rabaul’. It wasn’t until after the war that his death on 1 July 1942, and the circumstances of it, were known with certainty. Bob was 24.

Before the end of the war, however, we knew that Tom had died in flying battle, shot down over Rabaul on his first mission on 14 December 1943. Tom was 20.

I left in January 1942 to play my part in the war with a family of seven members. On my return, my family of seven had been reduced to three: my mother, sister Pat and me.

My Heroine Mother

Before finishing writing about my family, I want to write a brief tribute to my Mum: a true heroine.

My mother Alice was born in 1891, and after growing up in the social life of South Perth, at age 20 she met and married my Dad, a farmer. She then took up years of ‘farm-house duties’ and, after later moving to a Soldier Settlement farm at Balingup, she looked after my father, uncle and other workers while also undertaking hard labour in driving horse and dray to fetch water from afar.

She was indeed one of those women immortalized in the famous poem by George Essex Evans ‘Women of the West’:

And we have hearts to do and dare, and yet o’er all the rest
The hearts that made the Nation were the Women of the West.

Following the family’s move to Melbourne in 1922, she added twins (my brother Tom and me) in 1923 to the family, and steered the family through the 1920s and 1930s decades of ‘dirt-poor’ and Depression existence, with my father constantly unemployed. Economic reliance later rested on the grown family members funding the household expenses from their wages. I eventually contributed in this regard too.

Postwar, my mother suffered the fate of the eerie premonition in George Evans’ first two lines of the verse cited above; that is:

Well have we held our fathers’ creed. No call has passed us by.
We faced and fought the wilderness, we sent our sons to die.

when she received notices in the mail that her two sons Bob and Tom had been Killed in Action.

After my own service in the AIF of Australia in WW11, I met and later married in 1951 my lovely wife Beryl (ex WAAAF), and over the years we presented my mother with four loving grandchildren: Bob, Tom, Janeen and Catherine.

My mother enjoyed a well earned period of restful life until she passed away in 1975, after 16 years of care in the Old Colonists Retirement Village in Melbourne.

My mother and me in 1960

My mother and me in 1960