“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 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.

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.

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.


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.