Andy and The Bridge on the River Kwai

Andy was not a movie-goer. His routine was to walk to the Beaufort Mechanics Institute library and borrow a good book, perhaps an Agatha Christie mystery, and bring it home to read in his favourite armchair. This quiet escape into a book had become a habit when he served in India, and had helped sustain him as a Prisoner of War in Germany.

So it was quite unusual when Andy decided to go to the pictures. It was 1959 and he wanted to see ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.

The movie was showing at the Regent Theatre in Ballarat.

Travelling from Beaufort to see the movie took a bit of organising. Andy telephoned his grandson Robert in Ballarat and asked him to make the arrangements. As well as the seat reservations at the Regent, Robert needed to book tickets for the Beaufort-Ballarat train.

Robert took the train to Beaufort, stayed overnight at the Duncan home, then travelled back to Ballarat with his grandfather.

Their seats were in the dress circle, near the front and on the aisle, so that Andy could get up and move about, if need be. The film was over two and a half hours long, and Andy had not been in a cinema for at least twenty years.

It is a gripping war story of outstanding personal courage, and undoubtedly one of the outstanding films of the past year.

It is however, emotionally exhausting, reviving after more than a decade of peace the stark realities of jungle warfare.

Extract from The Canberra Times, 5 February 1958

Andy seemed a little shaken when he left the theatre. Perhaps it was partly because his first Technicolor cinema experience was overwhelming, but the film must have brought his own Prisoner of War memories to the surface.

He did not say much, except to admire Alec Guiness’ portrayal of the British colonel. This character, an officer who refuses to allow his officers to work even though it means solitary confinement and punishment, must have resonated with Andy, who had refused to work for the Germans in 1918.


1958 ‘Gripping Realism In Fine Columbia Film’, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 5 February, p. 3. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jun 2016].

1958 ‘New Film Releases’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 26 March, p. 82.[ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jun 2016].

Featured image: 1959 ‘Advertising’, Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), 3 April, p. 9. Newspaper article found in Trove and reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jun 2016].


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.


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.


Gunnewin soldier-settlement memorial

Gunnewin WWI soldier-settler memorial, Debbie Duff
Gunnewin WWI soldier-settler memorial. Copyright Debbie Duff

A new memorial at Gunnewin in Queensland commemorates the World War I soldier-settlers. Andy and Jane Duncan were here 1920-1924 on Portion 70.



Debbie Duff. 2015. Gunnewin WWI Soldier Settlement Memorial [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 9 April 2016]. Image used with permission.

A bombshell for the Thistle Club

At the Beaufort Thistle Club meeting in December 1942 Andy Duncan announced that he would be stepping down as secretary. It had been a hard year for him health-wise, and Thistle Club activity had declined through wartime austerity measures. Travel by car to recreational events was discouraged, as was spending on anything other than basic needs or war funds.

The 1941 Thistle Club Boxing Day sports had not been well-attended, and by February 1942 there was concern that the club might not continue. Andy had offered to take a 50% reduction in his £15 secretary’s salary.

Andy probably felt responsible for the difficulties confronting the club. Perhaps he could see that his health would not allow him to put in the extra effort required to keep the club running.

He asked that the club have a successor ready to take over in time for the annual meeting in January.

The chief said that was a bombshell, and the members regretted to hear of his decision

Riponshire Advocate 5 December 1942

The club members must have worked on Andy over the Christmas period and encouraged him to continue as secretary.  At the annual meeting Andy’s name was put forward for the role, but he declined the nomination.

Andy’s stepping down as Thistle Club secretary caused some nervousness at the Beaufort Cemetery Trust, where Andy also held the position of secretary.

A week after the Thistle Club meeting the Trust met. The trustees quickly moved that a bonus of £3/3/- be passed to the secretary, and it was minuted that Andy was “Very capable, attentive, courteous, obliging, and highly efficient”. The thanks of the Trust were due to him, and the trustees expressed the hope that Andy “would long continue in the role”.

Andy had not, apparently, given any indication that he was about to step down from his position at the Cemetery Trust. He continued as secretary into 1943. The trustees no doubt congratulated themselves on succeeding in retaining Andy where the Thistle Club had failed.


Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 3 Jan 1942. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 7 Feb 1942. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 May 1942. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 5 Dec 1942. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 23 Jan 1943. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 30 Jan 1943. State Library of Victoria

1942 ‘PRIME MINISTER ON NEED FOR RECREATION’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9 January, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 3 April 2016].

1942 ‘PRIME MINISTER’S ATTITUDE ON SPORT’, Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), 18 March, p. 1. (Edition 2). [ONLINE] Available at:  [Accessed 3 April 2016].

1942 ‘SAVING FOR WAR’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16 April, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at:  [Accessed 3 April 2016].

Featured Image: Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 3 Jan 1942, p. 1. State Library of Victoria






Time and Dust

The January 1942 dust storm covered much of Victoria in a blanket of red Mallee topsoil. The Age newspaper suggested wryly that the red dust was the cause of something troubling Melbourne residents

‘Disordered March of Time.’ The Age, 9 January 1942, p.2. Reproduction of newspaper article found in Trove. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.


The “blackout blues” referred to the blackout preparations in Melbourne, in place as a defence against bombing raids, that increased nervousness and anxiety, and reduced opportunities for normal socialising in the evenings.






Life during wartime

Despite the war grinding on, the routines of daily life continued much as before in country towns like Beaufort.  Long, hot summers came each year. The dry, shimmering heat, brought with it snakes and threat of bushfires, which formed a backdrop to the town’s activities.

Andy Duncan organised the Beaufort Thistle Club’s traditional Boxing Day sports and New Years Eve dance. He arranged for the sports day to be held in aid of the Prisoners of War Fund. He knew from personal experience that money was needed for this fund, the Riponshire Advocate noted.

The sports day was not a successful fundraiser, however, with poor attendance. The lack of public support went beyond the Boxing Day event. By February 1942 there was concern whether the Beaufort Thistle Club would continue. Andy Duncan offered to a take a 50% reduction in his £15 secretary’s stipend.

Andy and Jane continued to attend cards nights and Beaufort Band socials. They were regular prizewinners at these events. Jane had joined the Beaufort Fire Brigade Ladies Auxiliary and played in carpet bowls tournaments, often on the winning team.

Andy was now in his 60s and his health was inconsistent. The Gallipoli shrapnel in his back gave him trouble, and his weakened body was more susceptible to illness. Beaufort’s Doctor Little made regular visits to the Duncan home.

Around Anzac Day 1942 Andy suffered a severe attack of influenza.

Influenza was reported widely in Victoria in the first half of 1942. Nurses at Castlemaine Hospital, office and factory workers in Melbourne, schoolteachers in Shepparton were among those suffering from the virus.

Andy would have been isolated in his bedroom and kept away from his daughter Rene who was heavily pregnant. His family must have been relieved when he recovered just before Rene’s son was born in May.

Andy was quickly back to work, making arrangements for a Thistle Club patriotic social evening a few weeks later. All proceeds from the event went to the Prisoner of War fund.

Jane was also engaged in fundraising with the Fire Brigade Ladies Auxiliary. A fundraising social was held in July. Was it a coincidence that funds raised went to the Prisoner of War fund close to Andy’s heart, or had Jane suggested the idea? Andy and Jane attended the evening; Andy won a prize at cards.



Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 6 Sep 1941. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 May 1942. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 16 May 1942. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 23 May 1942. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 25 Jul 1942. State Library of Victoria

1942 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 28 January, p. 4,

1942 ‘Flu Depletes School Staff.’, Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), 30 June, p. 1,

1942 ‘PREVALENCE OF INFLUENZA.’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 28 May, p. 5, viewed 6 February, 2016,


Featured image: Beaufort Fire Station, 2015. Jane Duncan played carpet bowls here, with the Fire Brigade Ladies Auxiliary. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.