(post­war)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Lynne Raw Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

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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