The split

Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in. That’s what Andy wanted Ern to understand. Ern had never been to war; he had no right to question Andy’s sacrifice.

But Ern wasn’t listening. As the two men split logs for firewood at the Duncan home, Ern held forth on the futility of war. Then he said that Andy had been stupid to enlist.

That was enough for Andy to throw down his axe and raise his fists.

Jane heard the fight from her kitchen and rushed outside to separate the two men. She shouted at her brother Ern to leave and never come back. Ern did just that. He soon left Beaufort and had no further contact with Andy and Jane. He returned to the town years later and lived close by in the next street, but did not even attend Jane’s funeral.

Duncan_Stewart tree
Andy and Jane Duncan, Ern and Lucy Stewart, whose friendship ended abruptly in the 1940s. Copyright Andrew Palmer

Jane had always been close to her younger brother, and Andy had quickly warmed to him. Rene was like the daughter that Ern and his wife Lucy never had. When Ern was working near Shepparton in Northern Victoria, he had used his railways connections to send the Duncans damaged cans of fruit from the Shepparton Preserving Company. In the first half of the 1940s Andy and Jane had taken at least two trips to visit Ern and Lucy at Toolamba.

Those friendships came to an abrupt end at the woodpile.

Andy’s woodpile was in some ways a symbol of his determination not to let his war injuries get the better of him. When he was not confined to bed he would take to physical activities with a vengeance, as if making up for lost time. The woodpile was exactly the wrong place for Ern to question the worth of Andy’s military service.

What caused Jane to banish her brother? Would she have ordered Ern away if Andy was winning the fight? Perhaps she rounded the corner of the house to see Ern with the upper hand. Perhaps she feared for Andy’s health, and saw Ern sending Andy on another hospital stay.

Sources

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 22 Sep1944. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 11 Aug 1945. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 25 Aug 1945. State Library of Victoria

Featured Image: Andy and Jane Duncan’s grandson Robert in the Duncan family yard circa 1945. In the background Andy’s woodpile stretches towards the Ararat Road.

 

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