“Brought right to our doors”

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.

Montevideo_Maru_POWs-Internees-list-36
‘Montevideo Maru list of prisoners of war and civilian internees on board’, page 36. Allan Duncan Stewart’s entry second from right. © Commonwealth of Australia (National Archives of Australia) 2015.
Sources

1941 ‘PACIFIC PEACE HANGS IN THE BALANCE, AND— How Strong is Japan?.’, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), 1 November, p. 10. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142145363

1941 ‘STOPPING JAPAN.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 6 December, p. 6. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47172430

1941 ‘At War With Japan.’, Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 11 December, p. 3. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134125330

1942 ‘125 SOLDIERS MASSACRED BY JAPANESE.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 10 April, p. 3. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8241340

Fall of Rabaul: Overview. 2012. Fall of Rabaul: Overview. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ww2australia.gov.au/japadvance/rabaul.html

Fall of Singapore – Kokoda Historical. 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: http://kokodahistorical.com.au/history/fall-of-singapore

‘Montevideo Maru list of prisoners of war and civilian internees on board,’ Montevideo Maru – homepage . 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: http://montevideomaru.naa.gov.au.

Montevideo Maru – sinking of the Montevideo Maru, 1 July 1942. Australian War Memorial. 2015.

NAA: B2458, V21960, VX83702, V087380, PALMER, RONALD ANDREW. National Archives of Australia.

NAA: B883, NGX499, STEWART, ALLAN DUNCAN. National Archives of Australia.

NAA: B883, VX32343, LOWE, RAYMOND. National Archives of Australia.

The Montevideo Maru. 2003. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.montevideomaru.info 

Featured image: Japanese landing near Vulcan, Rabaul. Australian War Memorial collection ART27632.

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Not losing a daughter …

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.

Ronald Andrew Palmer circa 1940
Ronald Andrew Palmer circa 1940. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

Sources:

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.

1941‘Troops Leave for Camp.’, Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 – 1954), 1 February 1941, p. 2. Trove, National Library of Australia

1941 ‘Lord Gowrie to Visit Colac.’, Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 – 1954), 18 February, 1941, p. 2. Trove, National Library of Australia

1941 ‘Militia In Victoria.’, Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 – 1954), 19 April 1941, p. 4. Trove, National Library of Australia

1941 ‘Drik Drik.’, Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953), 15 May, p. 4 1941. Edition: EVENING. Trove, National Library of Australia

1941 ‘News of the Day.’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6 November 1941, p. 4. Trove, National Library of Australia

1942 ‘Tin-kettling : who originated it?.’, The Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 2 October 1942, p. 2. Trove, National Library of Australia

Featured image: Ronald Andrew Palmer and Mavis Irene Duncan circa 1941. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

Keep calm and assiduously carry on

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.

ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION EVERY DAY. (1940, June 9), Sunday Times, Perth, p. 1. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION EVERY DAY. (1940, June 9), Sunday Times, Perth, p. 1. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

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.

WIN-THE-WAR RALLY. (1940, July 5), Sunshine Advocate, Victoria, p.1. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
WIN-THE-WAR RALLY. (1940, July 5), Sunshine Advocate, Victoria, p.1. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

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.

Victoria Government Gazette No. 341, 10 December 1941, page 4276. State Library of Victoria
Victoria Government Gazette No. 341, 10 December 1941, page 4276. State Library of Victoria

Sources:

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.

The secret of Camp Hill

When the Second World War broke out, little did Andy Duncan know that he would uncover a plot on Australian soil.

The grave news came that Great Britain and France had declared war on Germany, and it was received with a stoical calm by the majority of Australians, who realised that the Empire and its Allies were facing the inevitable

Riponshire Advocate 9 September 1939

Andy was determined to do his bit for the Empire once more, even though he knew he was medically unfit: he still carried shrapnel from Gallipoli, his mangled toes were a legacy of German interrogations, and he had increasing  periods where he was bed-ridden.

A War Veterans’ Defence Corps was proposed for Beaufort, to be made up of men who had fought in the 1914-18 war. Andy voted for it without hesitation. A unit was formed with Mr. C. H. McKay Commanding Officer, Mr. W. Cheeseman Second-in-Command, and Mr. A. S. Duncan – Andy – Adjutant.

As part of the home defences a communications bonfire was built on Camp Hill. It was to be lit if Beaufort was in danger of enemy attack.

The Defence Corps was a part-time affair, with weekly muster parades and drills. The rest of the time Andy continued his work as paymaster for the forestry workers on Mount Cole. Each fortnight he would ride out to the timber cutters’ camps to issue their wages.

While making payments Andy overheard a small group of migrant workers speaking in German. They were planning a night raid to set the communications bonfire alight. They were then going to take advantage of the confusion to target the state-of-the-art Wotherspoon store and steal from it and other retail shops in Neill Street and Lawrence Street.

The German workers thought that they could plan in secret if they used their mother tongue, but Andy had picked up enough German during his time as a prisoner of war that he understood the plan.

A few nights later, when the would-be looters arrived at Camp Hill to light the communications bonfire they were surrounded by members of the Defence Corps and the military – and interned until the end of World War II.

The men involved in this event kept it secret as Australia was at war. It was only years later that Andy told the story to his grandson.

Sources

Adapted from a family story told by Andy Duncan to his grandson, Robert Palmer

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 – 1957) 12 Aug 1940. National Library of Australia

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 Sep 1939. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 29 Jun 1940. State Library of Victoria

Featured image: Camp Hill Beaufort. Looking across the railroad tracks to Camp Hill.

Leaving School

In 1936 Rene reached the school-leaving age of 14 and was sent to learn dressmaking with local identity, Miss Connie Russo. It was probably her mother Jane who arranged this loose apprenticeship. Jane’s own work as a laundress had given her independence and allowed her to travel. It was still helping to put food on the table. It is easy to imagine Jane impressing upon her daughter, “A woman has to have a livelihood”.

Rene Duncan 1936
Rene Duncan 1936. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

In her spare time Rene took violin lessons, also from Miss Russo. Rene played violin at the Beaufort Methodist Church, and as part of the Beaufort Municipal Band.

Band Rotunda, Beaufort, c. 1935. Rene Duncan would have played here as part of the Beaufort Municipal Band. State Library of Victoria Image No: pc004305
Band Rotunda, Beaufort, c. 1935.
Rene Duncan would have played here as part of the Beaufort Municipal Band.
State Library of Victoria Image No: pc004305

Featured image: 1936 ‘WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE OF YOUR GIRL?.’, The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate (NSW : 1910 – 1954), 6 November 1936, p. 4.

100 miles to Melbourne

1931. In the hot, dry heat of a goldfields summer Andy, Jane and Rene Duncan returned to the Stewart family home in Beaufort.

The 100-mile post marked the edge of Beaufort township. It also marked the middle of the Stewart’s triangular strip of land that stretched from the town limits along the Ararat Road into Eurambeen parish. The Stewart house fronted the highway at the Beaufort end of the triangle.

Eurambeen Parish map. Stewarts land highlighted. VPRS 16171. Public Records Office Victoria.
Stewart’s land triangle. Eurambeen Parish map. VPRS 16171. Public Records Office Victoria.

Did it occur to Andy that his circumstances echoed his father’s, all those years ago in Scotland? John Duncan had married Elizabeth Stewart and they had lived with Elizabeth’s grandmother on “Stewart’s Land” in Newton-on-Ayr. It was where Andy had been born. Now 50 years later and on the other side of the world, Andy was once again on Stewart’s land.

Andy quickly became one of the Stewart family fold. Sadly one of his first duties was to be pall-bearer at the funeral of Jane’s niece, Madge Loo, in February 1932. Madge died at the age of 21. She had been delicate from childhood and death was due to heart trouble, reported the Riponshire Advocate.

Madge’s funeral was carried out by H. Evans & Son of Ballarat. By April 1932 Andy had become the funeral director’s Beaufort representative.

Riponshire Advocate 23 April 1932. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate 23 April 1932. State Library of Victoria

Andy’s health was starting to fail. When the shrapnel pieces in his back moved he would take to bed for days. He slept separately from Jane in his own room, which suggests that while the shrapnel tormented him physically, he endured mental distress as well.

Mental trauma was often accompanied by sleeplessness and dreams which could arouse the household … In some families, the nocturnal anguish of returned soldiers was such that couples chose to sleep in separate beds.

Marina Larsson, Shattered Anzacs, quoted by Christopher Wray in Pozieres: Echoes of a distant battle

Andy was hospitalised at the end of 1932. The newspaper reported his return to Beaufort in February 1933 after several months in the Caulfield Repatriation Hospital.

Andy looked for work less physically demanding than the sexton’s position he had left in Amherst, but his clerical skills were not in high demand. In a town like Beaufort, you had to wait for someone to retire before those kind of jobs opened up.

Andy Duncan with nephew Clarrie Stewart c.1932. The upturned handlebars on the bicycle allowed Andy to cycle with the minimum discomfort from the shrapnel in his back
Andy Duncan (left) with nephew Clarrie Stewart c.1932. The upturned handlebars on the bicycle allowed Andy to cycle with the minimum discomfort from the shrapnel in his back. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

Jane was able to find work doing laundry for the Beggs family of Eurambeen homestead. Laundry was delivered to the Stewart house once a week. Jane would do the washing by hand in a big copper pot and mangle behind the house. Six rows of washing stretched the entire width of the block. Once the washing was pegged to the line, Jane would insert y-shaped gumtree branches at intervals to lift the line up and keep the clothes off the ground (Blog site A Rebel Hand has a wonderful photo of this kind of wash day).

Jane’s mother died in November 1934, leaving Jane to run the house and stretch the family budget.

Andy re-established his civic and social interests in Beaufort. He joined the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League and became a committee member, representing the men of the town. He became the secretary-librarian of the Beaufort Mechanics’ Institute, and Jane helped with the upkeep of the Mechanics’ Institute hall.

In January 1938 the newspaper announced At the annual meeting of the Beaufort Cemetery Trust, the resignation of Mr. A. Parker as secretary after 30 years of service was received with regret. Andy was appointed to the position, with an annual payment of £20. The money would not go far when the average wage was around £3 a week, but it would help make ends meet.

Then in June 1939 the same Mr. A. Parker resigned as Registrar of Births and Deaths. Andy was first acting Registrar, then appointed to the position.

Appointments. Victoria Gazette no. 225, July 5, 1939
Appointments. Victoria Gazette no. 225, July 5, 1939

Jane’s father John Stewart and Andy built an office for Andy’s Registrar duties on the front verandah of the Stewart’s cottage. They cut the logs and split the wood to make the weatherboard sidings. Considering that John Stewart was in his 90s at the time, he must have been in robust health.

Perhaps John Stewart also helped Andy build the shed behind the house. It was a very simple construction: four tree trunks rammed into the ground to form the corners of the shed, then corrugated tin sheeting for the walls and roof. Here Andy kept a trunk with his Anzac memorabilia.

Sources

1861 Census for Scotland Parish: Newton on Ayr; ED: 24; Page: 1; Line: 4; Roll: CSSCT1861_82

1875 Duncan, John – Stewart, Elizabeth (Statutory Marriages 612/00 0015)

1938 ‘OTHER DISTRICTS.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 14 January, p. 12

1939 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5 June, p. 4 Gawler, O,

1934. Victorian Year-Book 1932-33. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: H.J. Green

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, VIC: 1863 – 1994) 9 January 1932. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate  (Beaufort, VIC: 1863 – 1994) 20 February 1932. State Library of Victoria

1939, Victoria Government Gazette, no. 225, 5 July

1939, p. 2498. State Library of Victoria VPRS 16171. Regional Land Office Parish and Township Plans Digitised Reference Set. Eurambeen -1 Parish Plan, Imperial measure 2605. Eurambeen-1(Psh)LOImp2605.pdf. Public Records Office of Victoria

Wray, C., 2015. Pozieres: Echoes of a distant battle. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Cambridge University Press

Featured image: The Stewart family home, Beaufort, 2015. Andy’s Registrar’s office was where the verandah table sits. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.