H.Q. 27 Aust. Inf. Bde.,
Malaya. 18 Dec 41
Remember how Magdalena used always to lead us to the riverbank at Kangaroo Point, whenever we went out at night in the faraway days before we were married?
We were very very much in love even then, weren’t we? We must have been, to go on like we did. Every time we went home, we made up our minds we would NOT go there again – but we always did.
Fortunately, “Magdalena the Second” – my army motorbike – has not developed any such bad habits…
My dad was twenty-three when he wrote this letter to my mum. War with Japan had been declared and the army in Malaya was at battle stations. Less than two months later, the defending troops would be forced back upon Singapore. With its surrender, Dad, with around 80,000 British and Australian troops trapped on the island, would become a prisoner of war.
With Dad overseas, Mum was living back home with her parents, at Annerley in Brisbane. She was twenty-one. They’d known each other for a year, been married for six months and apart from each other for four, since my father’s embarkation. My mother was pregnant; her baby would be born, premature, two weeks after the fall of Singapore. He would be three and a half years old before they saw each other again.
The Magdalena mentioned in Dad’s letter was his second-hand two-door Ford Tudor. Black, I think, but I’ve got only old photos to go on.
When they’d started courting, Dad was a lieutenant, “C” Company, 2/26 Battalion Australian Infantry Forces. He was based at the new army camp at Redbank, south-west of Brisbane. The 2/26th was raised in Queensland in late 1939, with most of its enrolment made up of men from southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
Dad was born in Nambour. Mum was a country girl from Barcaldine. She’d lived with her family in Landsborough before they moved to Brisbane, and it was on the Sunshine Coast, through mutual friends, that she’d met Dad.
Mum had a job at the Carlton Theatrette, in Queen Street. In the evening Dad would drive in from Redbank, pick her up from work in Magdalena, and take her home. They’d drive up Queen Street and across the Victoria Bridge to head out to Annerley. Via the Kangaroo Point cliffs.
I doubt if they ever went far past first base, as the saying is. They were a conscientious young couple. I like to think of them there, in each other’s arms, whenever I take a stroll along the clifftops at Kangaroo Point.
Dad’s battalion was sent to Bathurst for training, and when he came back to Brisbane on a short leave they went parking again in Magdalena, on Coronation Drive for a change. With the engagement ring already in his pocket, he asked Mum to marry him.
Should they marry, with Dad destined to embark for overseas very soon, perhaps never to return? My mother’s parents had faced the same choice in 1915, in the First World War; and they’d made the same decision.
Dad and Mum were married at Kangaroo Point, in the old stone church of Saint Mary. I go there sometimes, to the quiet garden at the back of the church, to look at a plaque placed there by the family in their memory.
For the duration of the war, Magdalena sat up on blocks under the family beach house at Alexandra Headland. Petrol rationing meant that running an extra car was not feasible. I don’t know what happened to her in the end, because when Dad came home and he and Mum moved back to Nambour, they bought a cute little Morris soft-top runabout.
New life, new car.