Legacy, it’s about help­ing re­gard­less

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News -

Legacy has played a large part in Gwen Kelm’s life. Now a res­i­dent of Horsham’s Lutheran Retirement Vil­lage, she is keen for peo­ple to un­der­stand the role of Legacy and con­tinue sup­port­ing the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion set up af­ter the First World War. Gwen re­mains a mem­ber of Horsham Lau­rel Club, a group for war wi­d­ows. FAYE SMITH shares some of her story –

Few peo­ple could claim a tougher start to life than Gwen Kelm, 94, of Horsham.

But later in life she put that aside and along­side hus­band Frank, a Le­ga­tee, ea­gerly helped Sec­ond World War wi­d­ows and their fam­i­lies.

An an­nual Christ­mas bar­be­cue for war wi­d­ows was one of many ways they ex­pressed their help for the wi­d­ows un­der their care.

Many peo­ple who know Gwen would be quick to ac­knowl­edge her as a de­light­ful and beam­ing per­son with a won­der­ful, wel­com­ing and gra­cious personalit­y.

Her smile, pleas­ant ap­proach and will­ing­ness to lend a hand has pro­vided in­valu­able sup­port to many war wi­d­ows and their fam­i­lies.

But the re­al­ity is that Gwen, as a young girl, had to sur­vive a tough ex­is­tence her­self and in turn­ing per­sonal hard­ship into help­ing oth­ers pro­vides inspiratio­n and re­flects what Legacy is all about.

Gwen’s mother died af­ter the birth of her 15th child. Four of the first nine chil­dren, all boys, had died.

Gwen was the next child, fol­lowed by three more boys and two more girls.

Rel­a­tives took the last baby to raise as their own.

Gwen had a happy life with the fam­ily in Ararat until six years old when her mother died.

On the morn­ing that changed her life, a cousin ar­rived at her school to in­form her that she had to go home im­me­di­ately.

“She said to me that I had to go home with her, that my mother was dead and I was never go­ing to see her again,” she said.

And that’s how it was. There were no farewells.

Life was tough be­cause her fa­ther, a war­den at Ararat’s J Ward jail and Aradale psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, was un­able to cope with the bur­den of rais­ing the re­main­ing 10 chil­dren.

He was a good gar­dener but spent much of his time away from home.

Rel­a­tives helped at times and a rel­a­tive moved in, but she was also un­able to cope with the num­ber of chil­dren and their needs.

Gwen devel­oped health is­sues be­cause of lack of care which caused her to miss much of her school­ing be­cause of hos­pi­tal vis­its.

Head sores caused by fleas had meant she was un­able to at­tend school reg­u­larly while re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.

She re­mem­bers the kind­ness of a head­mas­ter.

It be­came her job to open and shut the school gate as he drove his car into the grounds. Her daily re­ward was a pre­cious piece of fruit.

One win­ter’s day he gave her two pairs of stock­ings. She was grate­ful but had to tie them up with string as she didn’t have any other way to hold them up. But at least she was a lit­tle warmer.

“We were a ne­glected fam­ily,” she said.

She also re­mem­bers the bul­ly­ing she re­ceived at school. And also, on leav­ing at 13 af­ter a year in high school, be­ing so ashamed of her re­port book that she burnt it. Her first job was house clean­ing. The war broke out and a move to Mel­bourne fol­lowed as girls and women were re­cruited for the fac­to­ries help­ing man­u­fac­ture air­craft com­po­nents as well as am­mu­ni­tion.

For a time she worked in Mel­bourne’s Exhibition Build­ing.

For five years she made gas masks, worked as a fit­ter and turner, an oxy welder, made army jumpers and worked at other war-re­lated tasks.

Mean­while, three of Gwen’s broth­ers had en­listed and had met Frank Kelm from Wyn Wyn near Na­timuk who was also sta­tioned at Dar­win.

An ex­change of pho­to­graphs by the sol­diers of their sis­ters re­sulted in an ex­change of letters and a long-dis­tance friend­ship between Frank and Gwen.

One day in 1944 she re­turned from work to her Mel­bourne home to find a man wait­ing for her.

Frank Kelm had re­turned home and was ea­ger to meet her.

The cou­ple mar­ried 12 months later, to the day.

Frank’s sister Tot later mar­ried her brother Bert.

“The re­turned sol­diers had ex­pe­ri­enced the bombing in Dar­win by the Ja­panese but didn’t talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences,” Gwen said.

“But I did learn some news about their war ex­pe­ri­ences when they talked to each other.”

The cou­ple set­tled on the farm at Wyn Wyn then share-dairy farmed in the Western Dis­trict where to­gether they took home seven pounds, $14, a week.

A move near Warrnamboo­l fol­lowed be­fore they were suc­cess­ful with a Sol­dier Set­tler block.

“We chose to have a dairy farm as they were eas­ier to ob­tain than a grain farm,” Gwen said.

The cou­ple farmed at Drung for 42 years and milked 120 cows. They had four chil­dren, Robert, Den­nis, Glenda and Jeff.

Gwen has 13 grand­chil­dren and 33 great grand­chil­dren.

She has lost daugh­ter-in-law Elaine and grand-daugh­ter Re­nae to cancer. Frank died in 2010 aged 88.

Through­out all her ex­pe­ri­ences, Legacy con­tin­ues to be close to Gwen’s heart and she be­lieves the ser­vice it pro­vides is as im­por­tant to­day as it has ever been.

POS­I­TIVE: Gwen Kelm, 94, is keen for peo­ple to un­der­stand the role of Legacy and con­tinue sup­port­ing the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion set up af­ter the First World War. Pic­ture: PAUL CARRACHER

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