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.

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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.