Dad was in Year 12 (or Leaving Honours as it was then called) when war broke out in 1939. He was the state junior tennis champion (having taken a set from the Davis Cup player Adrian Quist). He turned 17 in December 1939 and was excited, like many other young men, about fighting for his country.
He added a few months to his age to join the RAAF, then went to London where he was assigned to RAF Bomber Command. When his contingent was asked for volunteers to join a defence tennis squad (even then Australia was known for its players), Dad kept quiet. He wanted to be where the action was, and could have stayed in Australia if he wanted to play tennis.
Dad was a rear gunner on a Lancaster and while we know very little about his flights, he did mention the Berlin bombings. Fewer than half Bomber Command survived the war. Only 10 per cent of the air crew survived, with an even lower chance for the vulnerable rear gunners.
Dad survived, only just. During a raid over Germany he was shot on his right side. He was the only crew member injured, and all he remembered was regaining consciousness to find a blonde member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force lying alongside him as they transfused blood from her to counter his massive loss.
He spent his 21st birthday in hospital where he underwent multiple operations, and when his leg wouldn’t heal, they trialled penicillin powder, with good results.
Dad met Mum early in 1944; she was the WAAF who paid his discharge salary. Mum took Dad to meet her family in North Wales and they married in Chester in September 1944. Dad came back to Australia, and Mum was the first war bride to arrive in South Australia in June 1945.
Grandpa encouraged Dad to continue playing tennis, but pain in his right shoulder and leg forced him to withdraw from his first grade match. However, he built his own lawn tennis court and taught my sister and me to play a reasonable game, saying he never wanted us to be champions but just to “play a good game of tennis with friends”. We now remember a man who lived on painkillers and never complained, even when, 20 years later, major surgery to remove shrapnel that had lodged on a nerve restricted the movement of his right arm.
Dad, stoic as ever, learned to do everything with his left arm, including driving his manual car. My sister and I often wonder what would have happened if Dad had continued playing tennis, or if he hadn’t been wounded, but then I guess we wouldn’t be here to tell his story. We heard most of this from Mum, since Dad, like many returned servicemen, rarely spoke of his wartime experiences.
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