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
7 January 1942 saw the town of Beaufort battered by the worst dust storm in memory.
By mid-morning the temperature had already reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32° C). Strong, unpredictable gusts of wind were making outdoor work more and more difficult.
Did Jane Duncan have Eurambeen homestead laundry drying on the line that morning? The day had started out as good drying weather, but changed into something more worrying. She would have run to her six clotheslines as the wind threatened to whip the sheets away.
Once back inside the house, perhaps Jane and her daughter Rene began the major task of folding six rows of laundry. As the wind rose to gale force Jane would no doubt have been relieved that she had brought the washing in, just in time.
The gale continued for the rest of the day.
One minute the air would be perfectly calm, the next a gust of wind would race from zero to almost 50 miles an hour
Extract from ‘Queer Weather.’, The Age, 9 January 1942
Within a few hours huge, red dust clouds rolled in from the northwest and swallowed the town. People covered their faces with handkerchiefs and struggled against the gale. It was hard to see more than a few metres ahead through the thick dust.
Andy, Jane, Rene and Jane’s father John Stewart would have spent the day sheltered inside their small miner’s cottage. The wind whistled through any gaps in the weatherboards, bringing with it the red dust. The windows rattled. Debris from fallen trees and damaged buildings clattered and crashed against the cottage’s tin roof.
The heat and wind sparked bushfires across the state. Not far away Ararat district firefighters battled to save four townships around Lake Bolac. Forestry Commission officials were vigilant for outbreaks on Crown land. Perhaps this was on Andy Duncan’s mind, too, because of his work for the Forestry Commission at Mount Cole.
The storm reached its peak near nightfall and continued to batter the town until around 11pm. Then the wind dropped, the dust subsided and everything was still. The temperature remained over 90 degrees.
Finally around midnight a cool change blew through, bringing rain. The red Mallee dust that had choked and blinded now became red spatter on cars and buildings, and mud on the shoes of those who ventured outside.
The Stewart cottage had weathered the storm without any significant damage, but Jane’s beloved garden would not have survived.
The day will be long remembered as the gale swept through huge trees and the snapping and crashing branches were observed. The presentable gardens of citizens showed a “scorched earth” appearance after the storm had subsided. Housewives yesterday had the busiest time for many years; it was their big “at home” day as they were kept steadily cleaning up inches of dust inside and outside their homes
Extract from ‘A Day of Dust and Wind.’, The Horsham Times, 9 January 1942
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 10 January 1942. State Library of Victoria
Japan’s entry into the Second World War was not a surprise: as 1941 progressed, Australian newspaper reports of the war in Europe were accompanied more and more by commentary on the possibility of war with Japan. But the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Singapore, and the speed with which Singapore had fallen, shocked Australians.
The most momentous happening in Australia’s history took place this week when a declaration of war was made on Japan … The war has been brought right to our doors and a new phase of the world-wide conflict entered upon.
Extract from ‘At War With Japan.’,Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser, 11 December 1941
For the close-knit Stewart and Duncan families in Beaufort, the war in the Pacific had an immediate impact.
Much as her mother had done in 1914, Rene farewelled her husband just weeks after their wedding. On 15 December 1941 Corporal Ron Palmer left Beaufort to commence full-time garrison duty with the Provost Squadron of the 2nd Australian Motor Division. It would have been some comfort to Rene that Ron was stationed initially in Victoria and not deployed overseas.
Allan Duncan Stewart, Jane’s nephew, was captured by the Japanese at Rabaul, New Guinea, on 23 January 1942. Allan served with the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, and was part of the Lark Force garrison that defended Rabaul. He was held as a Prisoner of War at Rabaul, and forced to labour for the Japanese under harsh conditions.
On 22 June 1942 Allan was one of over a thousand Prisoners of War placed on board the Imperial Japanese Navy ship, Montevideo Maru, for transport to Hainan island. On 1 July the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed and sunk by the American submarine, Sturgeon. The Montevideo Maru sank in less than fifteen minutes. All Prisoners of War were reported drowned.
It is likely that the Stewarts spent the rest of the war thinking Allan was a Prisoner of War, and waiting for news of his release. Perhaps they used Andy Duncan’s survival as a POW in the First World War to give them hope, but this would have been tempered by newspaper reports of Japanese atrocities after the fall of Rabaul.
Another relation, Raymond Lowe, was killed in action during the Fall of Singapore on 11 February 1942. Almost exactly ten years earlier, Andy Duncan had been a pall-bearer at the funeral of Raymond’s sister, Madge.
A hurried wartime wedding was probably not what Rene Duncan had pictured for herself. But necessity and austerity brought about a private ceremony at the Beaufort Methodist Church parsonage.
On 15 November 1941 The Riponshire Advocate reported –
The engagement is announced of Mavis Irene, daughter of Mr and Mrs AS Duncan of Neill Street, Beaufort, and Ronald Andrew, third youngest son of Mr and Mrs A Palmer, of Windermere
And a week later Rene and Ron were married, on 22 November. They celebrated in Beaufort that night with a bowl of cherries.
Rene had first noticed Ron at a raucous ‘tin-kettling’ party and dance for a newlywed couple. Ron was quiet and shy, and new to Beaufort. He had just started work as a grocer’s assistant at the Burrumbeet and Windermere Farmers’ Cooperative, known as “the B and W”.
The B and W was a short walk from the Duncan family home. Rene’s father would have known the manager, as they were both returned soldiers. Rene took her friend Edna Gilligan with her to the Co-operative, two girls going to check out the new grocer’s assistant. While there Rene and Edna bought some boiled lollies. The lollies were stale so the girls took them back to the store, but the replacement bag of lollies Ron sold them was just as stale.
After this inauspicious meeting Rene and Ron started courting.
Ron was from a Windermere farming family. Each week he cycled 20 miles from Windermere to Beaufort to lodge for the week and work at the B and W.
Ron had volunteered for the part-time Citizen Military Force in October 1940, joining the 4th Light Horse regiment. Through 1940 and 1941 Ron underwent training in camps around the Western district of Victoria. When not with his unit, Ron was back in Beaufort or at the Windermere farm. The story goes that the engagement and wedding took place while Ron had a 10-day leave pass.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 15 November 1941. State Library of Victoria
1941 Certificate of Marriage, Methodist Church marriage register no. 18. Beaufort, Victoria, 22 November 1941.
When war was declared in September 1939, The Riponshire Advocate newspaper advised its readers
… the ordinary citizen can best serve the country in the present war by calmly and assiduously carrying on with his usual occupation until called on by the Government for further service … In the meantime only the flower of our young manhood can have any hope of being accepted for service with the AIF of 1939
Riponshire Advocate 9 Sep 1939
For Andy Duncan this meant working a number of jobs: paymaster for the Forestry Commission at Mount Cole; Secretary-Librarian of the Mechanics’ Institute Hall; Secretary of the Beaufort Thistle Club; Secretary of the Beaufort Cemetery Trust; and the town’s Registrar of Births and Deaths.
In addition to his paid work, Andy was a committee member of the Ripon sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League.
With the advent of war, Andy seems to have carried out his various roles with increased determination and commitment. Nearing 60 years of age, Andy couldn’t fight, but he could ensure that his community stuck together while the 2nd Australian Imperial Force fought to stop the mad dog of Europe, as the Advocate put it.
In January 1940 the Riponshire Advocate reported that the Thistle Club Boxing Day sports day was run by the capable and energetic secretary AS Duncan. This was unusual language for the newspaper. Other articles on Thistle Club events had simply stated, arrangements by AS Duncan. Was Andy noticeably more active? Or was the reporter alluding to Andy’s previous bouts of illness and hospitalisation? Perhaps both.
Andy organised the Returned Soldier’s League annual smoke night, held in February. The night was an RSL meeting followed by smoking and drinking, with entertainment by a comedy duo from Melbourne.
At the meeting, a question was raised regarding the guns on display at the local war memorial. The guns had not been maintained, and were now beyond repair. The local council, out of respect for the war veterans, sought the RSL’s view on what should happen to the guns.
Andy was in fine form that night: “Melt them down and throw them back at the Germans”. It was recorded diplomatically that Andy had “moved that the guns be scrapped”.
In March 1940 Andy was appointed RSL branch group leader for Beaufort, along with C. Rayner and R. Woodall. In July 1940 the Ripon sub-branch of the RSL formed a local unit of the War Veterans’ Defence Corps, with Andy as Adjutant. He also took on a subcommittee role organising morale-boosters and fundraisers, such as cards nights and dances.
Andy seems to have stepped down from his Secretary-Librarian role at the Mechanics’ Institute to focus on his Veterans’ Defence Corps duties. R. Woodall became new Secretary-Librarian, perhaps on a good word from Andy.
A number of Win the War rallies were held around Beaufort in the first half of 1940. Andy would have represented the RSL at many of these. In July the Beaufort Town Band played at one rally. It is likely that Andy and Jane’s daughter Rene played in the band at this event.
Maintaining this level of activity took its toll on Andy. By September 1940 he was quite ill. He spent all November undergoing treatment at the Caulfield Military Hospital in Melbourne.
Andy returned to Beaufort in time to coordinate the Thistle Club Boxing Day dance, but he had to manage his health more carefully. He soon resigned his role as Adjutant in the Veterans’ Defence Corps. Jane was appointed Acting Registrar Births and Deaths, backdated to October the previous year, to cover Andy’s absences.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 Sep 1939. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 6 Jan 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 24 Feb 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 16 Mar 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 29 Jun 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 20 Jul 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 7 Sep 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 Nov 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 30 Nov 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 4 Jan 1941. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 22 Mar 1941. State Library of Victoria
Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 9 Jun 1940. National Library of Australia
Sunshine Advocate (Vic. : 1924 – 1954), 5 Jul 1940. National Library of Australia
1941. Victoria Government Gazette No. 341, 10 December 1941, page 4276. State Library of Victoria
Featured image: Mechanics’ Institute Hall, Beaufort, 2015. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.