I never even tasted it

In 1936, when I was only four and my brother seven, it was the death of King George V and later on the abdication of King Edward VIII.  In 1939, it was the declaration of way with Germany.  I was seven and my father said very seriously, “Now, take notice, you are hearing history being made.”

Australian men rushed off to the nearest recruiting office to join up, including my father, mainly because it gave them a pay packet after the long dreary years of the Depression. 

My father knew the horror, the pain, the discomfort and futility of war, having been in the trenches of France as a 20-year-old in World War I.  He had been hit by a shell, suffering shocking head injuries which wrecked the left side of his face.  He was tied to a horse drawn gun carriage and carted over fields full of huge bomb craters to the nearest field hospital.

Eventually he was repatriated back to England to a hospital and experienced experimental plastic surgery by an Australian surgeon, who was later knighted for his work.

Because my father had only one eye he was given a clerical job in the Army Pay Office – they called themselves the “Cut Lunch Commandoes”.  He had been a dentist in civilian life, but had found it a great strain with only one eye, so happily accepted a clerical position.

I was waiting at the end of Melrose Lane every night for him as he got off the tram and would walk hand-in-hand with him up the lane to our house. 

He always suffered terrible headaches from his war injuries, had no tolerance for fools or nonsense and would never allow my brother or me to make any noise or be too exuberant. 

I adored him and leaned on his strength and wisdom all of my life.

As a young school child in Brisbane in World War II, every moment outside school hours was occupied with the “war effort”.  Every humble contribution, even from the smallest child, was appreciated.

Going to a special matinee at the local picture theatre was free admission if we handed in a piece of aluminium, such as an old saucepan, for them to recycle to build fighter planes.  Lipsticks were sold only as refills wrapped in greaseproof paper, as the machines that made lipstick cases were converted for bullets.

After the Japanese came into the war in 1941, Brisbane was declared a front line.  We were all issued with identification tags which we had to wear around our necks at all times.  We were ordered to cover all our windows with tarred paper plus curtains, so no chink of light showed at night. 

Brisbane turned off all its street lights, neon signs and shop lights and went into total blackout.  The few cars on the road had to black out their headlights and were allowed only a tiny strip across the middle to show the way.

As a family we often walked to the local picture theatre on a Friday night if a Hollywood musical was on, in black and white of course.  We carried white handkerchiefs with us to show our presence to the occasional car on the road. 

This was the only time we ever had an ice-cream, during interval.

School hours were staggered with siblings rostered on for different times, so that a whole family was not wiped out if a school was bombed by the Japs. 

We used to have air raid drills at school, where we were marched down and made to squat in damp clay slit trenches for what seemed like hours, but probably wasn’t.

I spent my mornings with my mother at the local School of Arts Hall making papier mache kidney bowls using strips of newspaper and paste.  When they were dry we painted them with a waterproof varnish.  They were sent to the frontline hospitals. 

My nights were spent knitting squares, which was my task as a junior member of the Red Cross.  These were stitched together to form rugs and the Red Cross sent them in comfort parcels to POWs in Germany.  My mother knitted more complicated woollen socks on four needles for the POWs.

General Douglas Macarthur came from America to run the Pacific Campaign and made Brisbane his headquarters. 

I loved the long summer school holidays and being home when all the various delivery men arrived in their horse drawn carts. 

The ice man brought the ice for our ice chest, then the baker, milkman and butcher brought our daily supplies. 

I got a chance to pat a horse and if any horse dropped a pile of manure by our gate, that was a bonus for my brother and me to collect for our wartime vegetable patch.

One day a man came by selling pineapples from the Sunshine Coast and my mother had us rush out to stop him, so we could buy some.  I adored fruit and my mouth was watering at the thought of those luscious juicy pineapples. 

Suddenly, my mother heart the sound of marching feet in the distance. 

It was quite common for Army recruits to be led on long route marches with full packs and heavy .303 rifles from their camps on the old Greyhound racing track at Kedron Park over to the streets of Kalinga.

It was a particularly hot summer’s day and my mother, who appreciated the sacrifice these men were making, wanted to help ease their burden any way she could. 

She called the lady next door to come and we all helped peel and cut those pineapples into small cubes, then my brother and I were sent outside each with a tray full of pineapple cubes to stand on either side of the road and offer a bit to every tired, hot soldier.

I never even tasted it.