10th Battalion departs Adelaide 1914

S.S. Ascanius, departing of the South Australian infantry of the first Australian Expeditionary Force. State Library of South Australia B 10303

When the men of the 10th Battalion Australian Expeditionary Force waved goodbye, they believed they were sailing for Europe, “To hold secure the fields of France against the German tide”, in the words of their battalion song.


SA Memory. 2016. Song of the 10th Battalion. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?c=515. [Accessed 12 June 2016].

State Library of South Australia. 2016. S.S. Ascanius B 10303. [ONLINE] Available at: http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+10303. [Accessed 12 June 2016].


“The climax cannot be revealed here”

Andy Duncan had read the book, ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’, and so knew how the story ended before he saw the film in 1959.

The 1954 Western Mail book reviewer wrote,

Of course, the climax cannot be revealed here. It is sufficient to say that it is a good one, packed with suspense.

The story of Colonel Nicholson and his bridge across the River Kwai can be recommended as interesting reading.


But for those who were not familiar with the story, the film review published in The Canberra Times in Feburary 1958 gave away a little too much:

The film was made in Ceylon, and the Ceylonese scenery is superb.

The story does condemn the futility of war, but it seemed a pity that most of the leading characters had to die.

Sessue Hayakawa is the commander, Colonel Saito. Throughout the tension and brutality which characterises the beginning of the film, and life in the Japanese prisoner of war camp, he yet compels the sympathy of the audience, especially in his feeling of failure. He, too, is killed in the closing scenes, before he had an opportunity to kill himself.

William Holden is good as the American, Shears, who makes a miraculous escape and yet is forced to return and dies as the bridge crumbles to destruction.

Was the art of the movie review so different in the 1950s? Or was the book so well-known?



1954 ‘BOOKS AND AUTHORS’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 5 August, p. 31. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39364004 [Accessed 5 Jun 2016].

1958 ‘Gripping Realism In Fine Columbia Film’, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 5 February, p. 3. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91257015 [Accessed 5 Jun 2016].


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: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91257015 [Accessed 5 Jun 2016].

1958 ‘New Film Releases’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 26 March, p. 82.[ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51597723 [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: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103994632 [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: https://www.instagram.com/p/964thxo8JT/ [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: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205278807 [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: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178090717  [Accessed 3 April 2016].

1942 ‘SAVING FOR WAR’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16 April, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205274757  [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.