Feb 5, 2014

Wanted: Family Stories of World War 2

Deb Dufel during her Top End travels in Australia
I’m so pleased to have my globe-trotting friend, Deb Dufel, visiting the blog today.  We were chatting on-line one day (me, sweltering in 40°C heat in Southern Australia and Deb, shivering in -15°C in the North American cold snap!).  


Anyway, she mentioned she was coming back to Australia to visit the War Memorial in Canberra again to do some more research for a story set in Australia during World War 2.

I was intrigued so we talked some more and I asked if she’d like to visit us on the LoveCats and tell us about her project!


Over to you, Deb!

Canberra War Memorial, K. Campisano



Thanks, Sharon!  I was really excited when you invited me to visit. 


Three years ago, I had no clue that Australia was literally the front line of the war. As I settled into my Australian life and we travelled across the top end of Australia we found various war memorials and we learned. Our friends shared a bit more history.





Then, one day, a friend pushed a USB drive across the table, and said, “These are copies of my grandfather’s letters during WW2 and while in Changi-Changi prison.”  
Outback Australia

Though he had survived the camp where only 1 in 1000 had, he never quite made it back. In the fifties, men were told to “just pull yourself together, mate.” 

Unfortunately, my friend and I shared an experience – her grandfather and my father suffered from what we now call PTS. Neither man spoke of their experiences.  And neither was able to live life to its fullest in the aftermath.  

An idea for a book set in WW2 Australia blossomed. In the beginning, I thought I’d follow the soldier line, and then more and more people shared their stories, including 90-plus-year old sisters, Edna and Greta, who had lived on an outback station. These women, who are cultured, beautiful and side-splittingly funny, shared their deepest fears, and we held hands and spilled tears for the men and women who never returned. 

 
Prison Boab
One day, Edna invited me to teach her how to use her new IPad. Her sister was visiting from the homestead and so for two hilarious hours they taught me!  Edna had set morning tea on verandah where we adjourned after the computer lesson. I was invited to “play mother” and later they admitted they wanted to see if I could pour properly. 

Greta, the younger sister by 10 months, asked what I did. Edna stepped in and said, “She’s discovering what us old bats did during the war.” 
Outback Australia

They started to laugh, and then took turns telling me one of their favourite stories - how they made bullets and shot them!  Apparently, Edna made the best bullets since she measured the black powder. 

“Greta just dumped it the casing,” Edna said.  “It was a waste - plus the kick knocked me on my bum.” She grinned. “But it was fun watching all the boys run when you came out with Da’s gun,” she said to her sister, before turning to me to say, “Gret is still a crack shot.”  

They lifted their delicate tea cups in salute to each other, their eyes twinkling with mischief.

Then they sobered. “Remember when the wireless man came with the telegram?” one of them asked.  Seventy years had passed since the arrival of a telegram announcing the death of their “baby” brother on some far shore, but the pain hadn’t eased for these two sisters.  
Wall of Poppies, Karen Campisano
 
A visit to the War Memorial in Canberra tore my heart. So many Australians gave their lives to the rest of the world. And yet, little is known of the women and men of the Land. The focus of my research subtly shifted again, to these unsung heroes. 

As a writer, I want to build as complete a picture of those turbulent times for the story I want to write. So, I wonder… does your family have a story that you’d like to share?  

If you wish please, contact me, Deb Dufel, at WMB_1941@yahoo.com

36 comments:

  1. Love the pictures Deb! My father in law was in the Merchant Marines. He was also a prisoner of war for several years. He didn't speak much about it. But he did say, the Japanese sunk his ship while on their way back from bombing Pearl Harbor. They gave order to abandon ship before they sank it. Then they rescued the men from the ocean and took them prisoner. He didn't speak of his time as a prisoner except to say the guards loved to watch them play baseball. Then, after years held captive, they woke up one morning and all the guards were gone.

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    1. Hi Wendy, thanks for stopping in to share about your father-in-law's experience. It's hard to imagine how awful it must have been for POWs. With no idea at all of how long they'd be in captivity. And pretty unnerving to wake up one morning and find the no guards.

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    2. Wow, Wendy, thank you for sharing this amasing story. I can't imagine.

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  2. Quiet day? It's hump day for those of you who are fortunate to be "DownUnder." We in the Northeast are preparing for a Nor'Easter with predicted snow falls between 5 to 30 inches. Of course, the predicted amount depends upon the weather site you're reading.

    Happy Wednesday!

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    1. Brrrrrr, Deb! I do wish I could send you a few of the excess degrees of heat that we'll be getting over the next few days!

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    2. Please do!! The snow has just started...think it's time for a nice hot cuppa. Thanks for dropping by Sharon.

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  3. Yeah...I just got back from the store. Predicting a big storm tomorrow followed by a huge storm on Sunday. ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!

    And waiving like a crazy person at Sharon Archer!!!!!! How are you?!?!

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    1. So it was the milk and bread run? Stay warm! Wendy S. Marcus

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    2. Waving right back at you, Wendy! We're all good here - if a little "hot" under the collar with the weather! Sooooo OVER summer! And I guess you guys are feeling much the same about winter!

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  4. Hey Deb!! So lovely to see you here, my friend! What amazing stories these people have to tell- sadly, many of them aren't around to share or are unwilling to talk about what happened back in the war. I've nursed countless men who were fundamentally changed by their experiences but felt they didn't have the words to describe what happened. So sad. So please do write your book, it sounds so inspirational.

    My grandfather was in the British army and fought in Montecassino, liberating the castle (I think). I really must find out what happened before his story dies out with my parent's generation.

    Last year I visited Thailand and the infamous 'bridge over the over Kwai' which was built by the POWs there, and next week I'm going to see the film 'The Railway Man' which is about a POW who worked on the same railway/bridge who goes back to confront his captors. As it's based on a true story I'm very intrigued to see what happened.

    Much love to you!

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    1. Hi Louisa!
      Thanks for dropping by! You're right to ask your parents' generation about your grandfather and any other kin who might have fought overseas or at home. Some of the stories about the bomb defusers are down right shocking. Most in London were Ozzies because their sure hands and tough spirits.

      You're right about the men and women who return, how can they not be changed?

      Oh let me know how you like "The Railway Man."

      See you soon. Much love to you all!

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    2. Louisa, how fascinating. Actually Montecassino is a huge lump of rock between Rome and Naples - I remember seeing it on my way to a day on Capri (lovely). I've got a feeling - and I could be wrong - that it was actually a huge Benedictine Monastery.

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  5. Hey Wendy!!!!! Sending love too xxx

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  6. Hi Deb

    I was having coffee with a friend of mine yesterday and asked her about her memories of WW2. She was a child of 9 years old and remembers the adults around her speaking about the lists of young men from the area who had been killed in action. There was a pervading sense of anxiety in everyone, including the children, about loved ones serving overseas. Her favourite uncle was in Egypt in the thick of the action and she missed him dreadfully. He was one of the lucky ones who did return.

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  7. Hi Deb! Hi Sharon! How weird - I had no idea you two knew each other. I feel like I"m in an episode of when worlds collide! Deb, what a wonderful idea about writing a book about Aussies in WW2. People overseas are always shocked when I tell them how close the war came to us with the bombing of Darwin and the submarines in Sydney Harbour. My dad was a bit of a WW2 nut. He was a schoolboy and those memories stayed so vivid for him. He was holidaying in Sydney in 1939 in a house at Rose Bay with panoramic harbour views. He often spoke about watching the fleet leave with all the boys on their way to defend Singapore (which was supposedly impregnable - shades of the Titanic). Most of those men ended up in Changi or on the Burma Railway. So tragic.

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    1. Hi Anna,
      I know. Most of the world knows "kinda sorta" Australia was part of the war effort. Not the fact it was on the front lines.

      Did your Dad leave you notes of his research? What a treasure that would be. Thank you for sharing one of his memories.

      Thanks from coming by Anna.

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    2. No, he was just keen on watching docos about WW2. He didn't do anything methodical about it.

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    3. LOL, Anna! That 6 degrees of separation thing! Amazing, isn't it!

      Actually, your memories of your dad reminded me that my uncle was on the Niagara - a merchant ship operating in the Pacific. He was on it when it sailed out of Auckland with a large shipment of gold and struck a German mine. No one was killed but the ship sank with the gold. He went back on the salvage mission - must have been pretty scary because all those mines were still out there in the water!

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    4. Anna, too funny.

      Sharon, your uncle was either really brave or nuts. Probably a bit of both, don't you think?

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    5. I think he was definitely a bit of a larrikin, Deb!

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  8. Hi Deb and waving to Sharon!
    Deb, my mother was young, beautiful and single and living in Sydney during World War 2. My father didn't like to talk about his experiences in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines. The war time Sydney of my mother's era is wonderfully evoked in the classic novel Come In Spinner by Dymphna Cusack and Florence James published in 1951. It is a marvellous book--women's fiction, chick lit, romance and gritty social criticism all in one. I adored this book when I first read it and was able to talk to my mother about it when she was still alive. Recently I was delighted to find it as a e-book on Amazon with sections reinstated of the book that had been cut from the original story. It's only around $2. I would highly recommend it -- you will be able to see just what life was like then for a range of Australians, as well as the Americans who were stationed in Sydney. One of my very favourite books. It was also made into a TV mini series which is fun too and available I believe on DVD.
    http://www.amazon.com/Come-Spinner-D-Cusack-ebook/dp/B00ALM8KR2

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    1. Thanks so much for the book reference, Kandy. I'll be checking that out because it sounds like a fantastic read. And thanks for sharing a bit about your parents' experience.

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    2. Kandy,
      Range of life is good. Thank you for the book reference. Amazon loves me

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  9. Hi, Deb, Sharon, and the LoveCats!

    Deb, I loved hearing about Greta and Enda -- what an awesome pair!

    My paternal grandfather died in a prison camp during WWII. Only recently I learned that my grandmother sold an item of his belongings a week in an effort to survive. She told her four kids that is was their father's way of looking after them. That story still puts a lump in my throat.

    All the best with your research, Deb. I've no doubt you'll find many more stories of incredible courage.

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    1. Vanessa, thank you for sharing your grandmother's story. It brings a lump to my throat too. How hard, with her husband gone, that struggle to survive and provide for four children. She was obviously a resourceful, practical woman.

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    2. Oh Vanessa, this is why I'm writing this series, to tell your gram's and the other women who never complained or asked why, they just did. Quite a legacy isn't it? Though the Aussies women of now, still have that grit and keep their dignity.

      Thank you for sharing. My email is always open for more reminisces.

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  10. Hi Deb and Sharon

    What a great story I had a great Uncle killed durint the first world war jsut after Gallipoli and his name is on that board at the War Memorial in Canberra and we have a letter sent from his captain to his Mum there are so many sad stories and stories that make you smile with the bravery of the Men and Woman who fought in all of the wars

    Have Fun
    Helen













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    1. Helen, there are some very touching stories of wartime courage, aren't there! How great to still have the letter from your uncle's captain - a very precious family memento.

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    2. Helen,
      Thank you for sharing about your Great Uncle. He touched many lives in his short lift. The captain's letter attests to his bravery and sacrifice. Thank you.

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  11. Deb,

    Love the blog post and love that you're going to write about that time and place. I grinned picturing you with the two older women and pouring tea for them as they told you about their experiences during the war.

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    1. April,
      Thanks for dropping by. They are waiting for my visit in April ---the month -- since I gather I poured well. More stories, I'm sure to incorporate...fictionally speaking.

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  12. Hi Deb and Sharon! Thanks for sharing your pictures in particular. It sounds like you've been having a memorable time doing your research.

    Our family has lots of stories about WW2 and my uncle served in both the Middle East and New Guinea. Most of his stories though were about small things. Like those mentioned by others he didn't really talk about the war much until the last few years. My mother talks about being in Sydney and seeing so many young men who'd suddenly just disappear, including one who was a coast watcher - dropped alone with a radio on a Pacific Island behind enemy lines. Remarkably that one survived when most didn't. Lots of stories too about rationing and air raid drills and foreign uniforms, including French and Polish on the street.

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    1. Annie, I've heard of the coast watchers and the role they played. They must have been incredibly brave and resourceful! Amazing!

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  13. Oh Annie-
    These types of stories are what I want. The little daily things, the strange languages, the rationing and the many who was coast watcher. If you have others please contact me through my Facebook page or the above email. Thank you.
    Happy Writing, Deb

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