I’d rather he was still with me, than die a hero in a war

DAPHNE DUNNE, 98

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OUR ANZAC LEGENDS SPECIAL TRIBUTE -

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.

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