Jane was at Andy’s bedside, but she felt helpless. She could only watch as the war separated her from Andy again.
Andy’s condition deteriorated and he was transferred to Ballarat. Then, five days before Anzac Day 1960, Andy died.
Anzac Day dawned cold and grey that year.
Featured image: ‘Original Anzac Passes On’, Riponshire Advocate,30 April 1960. State Library of Victoria
Jane Duncan (bottom picture, front row, second from right) continued to be actively involved in the Beaufort community in her sixties. By 1950 Jane was one of the few World War One wives on the Legion of Ex-Servicemen and Women, Ladies’ Auxiliary.
Featured image: 1950 ‘PROMINENT WOMEN OF BEAUFORT’, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 13 December, p. 27. 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 18 Dec 2016].
The Riponshire Advocate declared the Back to Beaufort Centenary weekend a resounding success. All but one page of the 9 January edition of the newspaper reported the homecoming celebrations and sporting events.
Approximately 200 people visited the town. Some Beaufort residents would have noted that the number was well down on the 1,000 visitors who attended the previous ‘back to’ in 1927. But the Riponshire Advocate was certain that it was quality, not quantity, that was the measure of success.
The consensus of opinion among the visitors was that the whole of the celebrations were really delightful and thoroughly enjoyable, and they were loud in their praises of the excellent work done by the organising committee and its secretary and president.
Riponshire Advocate 9 January 1937
As secretary, Andy Duncan must have felt gratified by the response.
Andy set up a display of old photographs of Beaufort, and also a fine collection of walking sticks made from Mt. Cole forest timber, belonging to local forester Mr Thomas Derham Bailes.
Mr Duncan also displayed a fine inlaid wooden box and tray, made by him while a patient at the Caulfield Military Hospital
Riponshire Advocate 9 January 1937
Andy’s work as honorary secretary had proved his bona fides to his new home town. In the next few years he would be nominated for committee positions at the Beaufort Mechanics’ Institute, the Cemetery Trust and the Thistle Club.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 January 1937. State Library of Victoria
In 1936 the town of Beaufort prepared for a Back to Beaufort Centenary Homecoming. It was the centenary of explorer Major Thomas Mitchell‘s expedition passing through the district, although the township itself was somewhat younger, built after the discovery of gold at nearby Yam Holes Creek in 1854.
Homecoming events came into fashion in Australia at the end of the First World War. By then many towns were old enough that their residents could look back to pioneer days and celebrate how far they had come, but were still young enough that original settlers or their children could attend the festivities.
Despite their retrospective nature, “back to” gatherings were considered innovative and progressive. They could raise a town’s profile, boost the local economy and draw former residents back “from every state in the Commonwealth”, as the Geelong Advertiser put it. Victorian towns embraced the trend with great enthusiasm.
Andy Duncan was a member of the Back to Beaufort committee, and instrumental in organising the event. As honorary secretary he wrote to former residents, inviting them to return for the Christmas weekend. He was in touch with the Beaufort-in-Melbourne Club about arrangements for their 91 members to join the celebrations.
Andy also managed the homecoming budget, which included seeing what might be donated or discounted. It kept him busy:
liaising with the Railways Department on sharing the costs of promotional posters for display in metropolitan and Beaufort district stations;
developing an advertising plan and keeping tabs on revenue generated from advertising in the souvenir booklet;
negotiating truck rental to transport visitors to the picnic ground at Mount Cole;
borrowing flags and decorations from Melbourne using his Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League connections, then seeking council approval to decorate the town.
A letter was read from the Ripon Shire Council, stating that they had no objection to flags and welcome home signs being hung across the main street, but would not allow any sign to be placed on the band rotunda
Riponshire Advocate 5 December 1936
At the start of December preparations gathered momentum. Andy’s wife Jane joined the committee. She helped arrange a social for Christmas night, and hem the welcome signs Andy had organised for each end of town, the main street and the railway station.
1918 ‘Ararat Home-Coming.’, Ararat Chronicle and Willaura and Lake Bolac Districts Recorder (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 10 September, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154295833 [Accessed 17 July 2016].
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.
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.
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.
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.