CEN­TURY OF LIFE AND LOVE

Chinchilla News - - FRONT PAGE - Amani Vas­sil­iou Amani.Vas­sil­iou@chin­chillanews.com.au

GWEN Willm­ing­ton has amassed a life­time of mem­o­ries in her 100 years.

The me­mory of the day the mag­i­cal words sig­nalling the end of World War II rang out over the ra­dio is un­fail­ingly clear: walk­ing along Bris­bane’s main streets sur­rounded by a stam­pede of joy­ous peo­ple singing, danc­ing and shout­ing .

On Satur­day, friends and fam­ily span­ning gen­er­a­tions gath­ered at the Chin­chilla RSL to cel­e­brate Gwen’s up­com­ing mile­stone birth­day on Novem­ber 9. Born in Bund­aberg in 1918, Gwen ven­tured to Bris­bane to work as a nurse when World War II was rag­ing across the seas.

Af­ter the war, she mar­ried Harry Willm­ing­ton and the cou­ple re­set­tled in Chin­chilla be­tween 1967 to 1972, be­fore re­turn­ing in 1976. Gwen has lived here ever since and to­day, is the proud grand­mother to six and great-grand­mother to six.

Here, Gwen shares her mem­o­ries of the war:

I don’t re­mem­ber the Great War. I was born two days be­fore the Armistice that sig­nalled the end of that war. I heard the sto­ries though, heard about the in­com­pre­hen­si­ble loss of life on the West­ern Front.

I learned of Gal­lipoli and the birth of the An­zac le­gend. Every­one hoped it truly was the war to end all wars. But it wasn’t.

Along came World War II. I re­mem­ber that war, re­mem­ber it all too well. It changed all of us. It changed our way of life. It changed the coun­try.

Un­til then life had been good. There were no lux­u­ries but we had the ne­ces­si­ties. On week­ends we went danc­ing and played ten­nis on ant-bed courts. In some ways it was care­free. But, when the war broke out it was as if a dark cloud hov­ered over every­one and ev­ery­thing.

A lot of young men joined up and some of the girls went to work in the city.

I went to Bris­bane and worked for three and half years as a nurse at the Dalkeith Pri­vate Hospi­tal. We were paid one pound a week and worked six days a week.

Lit­tle de­tails re­mind me of what it was like then.

The city was teem­ing with ser­vice­men, Aus­tralian and Amer­i­can. Movies were pop­u­lar, they cost 10 pence and there were al­ways long queues. The cin­e­mas pro­vided a brief respite from the aw­ful con­fronta­tion that gripped the world.

We were given coupons for food, cloth­ing and petrol, if you hap­pened to have a car. We al­ways had to queue for food. Cloth­ing coupons were used very care­fully as there was a short­age of ev­ery­thing and there was very lit­tle to see in the shop win­dows.

I re­mem­ber the shop win­dows were dec­o­rated with choco­late boxes, but, they were all empty. You could not buy a choco­late any­where: lux­ury food wasn’t avail­able.

The ra­dio at the hospi­tal was on all the time so we were well up with the war news. I re­mem­ber hear­ing one night that the Japs were get­ting closer. I re­mem­ber feel­ing fright­ened and won­der­ing what fate would be­fall us. Trans­port was good though.

I do re­mem­ber one par­tic­u­larly un­savoury in­ci­dent. Trav­el­ling back to the hospi­tal quar­ters on the tram, I hap­pened to no­tice an Amer­i­can soldier was watch­ing me. When I got off the tram he fol­lowed me.

I ran to the quar­ters, when

❝ When the war broke out it was as if a dark cloud hov­ered over every­one. — Gwen Willm­ing­ton

I got up the stairs I grabbed my suit­case and threw it at him.

He left, but, un­for­tu­nately he took my suit­case with him. Even worse, the suit­case con­tained a new dress I’d bought.

New dresses were hard to come by, I was fu­ri­ous!

But, there were far more con­se­quen­tial events un­fold­ing else­where.

Not long af­ter, the atomic bomb was dropped. Then, one day, we heard those mag­i­cal words on the ra­dio: The war was over!

I went into the city that day and walked along Queen and Ade­laide streets. There was a stam­pede of peo­ple singing and danc­ing and shout­ing. The trams couldn’t move through the crowds so po­lice had to clear a path.

A few years af­ter the war, I mar­ried Harry Willm­ing­ton. The war’s legacy lin­gered though. There were still short­ages. One old fel­low gave us a gal­lon of petrol so we could drive to the Gold Coast for our honeymoon. I re­mem­ber vis­it­ing the city af­ter the war and rev­el­ling in the free­dom. The free­dom of not hav­ing to stand in a queue. Small de­tails that told you the war re­ally was over.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

RE­FLEC­TIONS: Chin­chilla’s Gwen Willm­ing­ton will turn 100-years-old on Novem­ber 9, 2018.

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