I’d rather he was still with me, than die a hero in a war
DAPHNE DUNNE, 98
War bride, twice a war widow
Daphne Dunne’s flirtation with Albert Chowne began with a 1930s coyness. He worked in shirt cutting at David Jones; she was in the finance department. They’d have morning tea together, or take a walk.
Sometimes after work, they’d join the rest of the staff in walking across the Harbour Bridge to bathe at North Sydney Pool. “Wonderful, he was,” she recalled.
There were no promises made when Mr Chowne joined the Australian Imperial Force in 1940. But the letters — from Tobruk in North Africa, then Syria, then Papua New Guinea — became increasingly fond and they agreed to wed. In 1944, during Sergeant Chowne’s brief leave, they married at St Phillip’s Church at Church Hill.
While her sweetheart was earning a reputation for calm and bravery, Mrs Dunne was a corporal in the Australian Women’s Army, working at the Moore Park showground.
“I did the soldiers’ pay and any commitments like that,” she said.
She was working at the showground in March 1945, when her lieutenant called her over. “She said Daphne, you are wanted at home. As soon as she said that, I knew what was wrong.
“They’d sent a telegram to my house. It was a horrible way of telling you. You never had a body, you never heard anything about how it happened. That’s how it was.”
It wasn’t until October of that year, when Sergeant Chowne was awarded a Victoria Cross, that Mrs Dunne learned how he died, taking out two machine guns. In 1945, Mrs Dunne told a journalist: “I would rather he had remained just ordinary and was alive. He was a wonderful man and a grand husband. I have no plans for the future. It’s all dead to me now.” But after the war she met John Dunne at David Jones — “(that store) has been good to me” — and they had a daughter, Michelle Haywood.
Mr Dunne had been a prisoner of war in Changi. “It affected him in every way,” she said. “When he got a turn he would go into the bedroom and close the door, and you couldn’t go near him.”
Ms Haywood said her father never spoke of Changi: “He never wanted much. He was happy to have rice and very simple meals.”
Mrs Dunne still grieves for both men. “I would like people to remember them,” she said.
“They were both wonderful people in their own right. John was wonderful, but Albert was my first love.”
War widow Daphne Dunne, 98. Picture: Tim Hunter. Albert Chowne. Daphne Dunne. John Dunne.