by MARGARET RUXTON
No-one wanted Dad to enlist. Not his own family, his wife of a mere 11 years, or his daughters all of whom loved him dearly, but he was determined to ‘do his duty’. So, on June 3, 1940, mother and we three girls waited in vain for Dad’s return from work. We stood on the verandah speculating on the reasons he was so late – he was working late, or missed his train, he had called in for a haircut, all sorts of reasons but Mother was becoming more and more distressed. Ultimately we had to accept he had finally done it, and that was the end of our ‘normal life’.
Dad was a prolific letter-writer, sometimes writing several times a week, although once he moved to Rabaul the letters would arrive in bulk loads. Each letter was duly saved to be treasured always. Mother saved all of hers, as did we three. So now I can read them and feel the love, the pining and the distance between a loving father and his family. The letters continued until January 1942, I haven’t managed to find any after that date, although some are undated. The last one mentions a ‘chap in the calaboose’, maybe that was a way of saying they had been captured, I simply don’t know’.
Our postman was sympathetic to all his people waiting for news of their loved ones. When the letters stopped in vain we would say “any for us?” but the answer was always “sorry, not today’.
On one memorable day our Postie met us on his way back from deliveries.
‘You got one today’ he called to us. We found that hard to believe, but rushed home to check. Sure enough, there was the letter, forwarded from the Red Cross, and written from POW camp.
After that nothing… not until the telegrams arrived, first ‘missing believed POW’, then ‘missing believed dead’. That was the day the bottom fell out of our world.
Our Dad was highly respected by his employers, Sands & McDougalls, and by those with whom he worked. A gentle-man with a good sense of humour, a loving out-going personality, he smoked a pipe but we felt sure he switched to cigarettes after enlistment, although there is a mention of ‘going to the store for tobacco’ in one or two letters. Our father never drank alcohol, he had a deeply committed Christian faith which he imbued to his wife and daughters, a faith which upheld us in the lonely and grieving times.
Some of the names Dad has mentioned in his letters may be of interest. There seems to have been a group of ‘Scots’ and a group of teetotallers, whether the same group I haven’t yet managed to discover, but then I still I have a lot of letters to read. Jock Cameron, Charlie Robins, Ted Fisher, Harry Stewart, Horrie Newman are the names l’ve found so far, more may be there yet.
My sisters, Helen, Marjorie and I are so glad the Society is speaking out on our behalf. The Lark Force story needs to have a recognised place in Australia’s history.
Those of us who lived through it are very grateful for your dedication.
Sydney McGregor at centre front