Reality arrived on Sunday September 3rd 1939. I can remember quite well as I used to sell papers around the area where I lived. There was an announcement over the radio that war had been declared and Australia would send troops to assist the English. It was about 3pm the newspapers were delivered to the suburbs. People were shocked at the news and the papers sold like hot cakes.
My brother Robert enlisted in the AIF (Australian Imperial Force.) Then my second brother David enlisted and was stationed at a Victoria Barracks Signals Unit. At the age of 16½ I was working six days a week, ten hours a day helping the war effort.
Robert had final leave and went to Rabaul, New Guinea in 1941. Many letters he wrote to me were censored because of lack of equipment and the mood of men. They could not understand why they were put on an island without any support from air or sea.
On January 23rd1941,New Guinea was invaded by the Japanese. The Australians were outnumbered 10 to 1. Many had no chance to escape, the order was given, ‘Every man for himself.’
Telegrams began arriving to the relatives back home. I can remember when Mum opened hers, to read, ‘Robert, Missing in Action.’
On 2nd July 1942, I was called up but managed to stay out of the service because I was in a protected industry. Finally, I managed to get into the Army and spent six months in NSW before transferring to Queensland. David was stationed there, so occasionally we met.
David went to New Guinea and I went to North Queensland. Mum received another telegram: ‘Robert, Missing in Action.’
Finally I was sent to New Guinea and Bougainville. My hopes of seeing my brother again sparked when the war finished. I was sent to Rabaul to guard Japanese POWs. But after many enquiries to English-speaking natives and missionaries I was none the wiser.
The latest telegram to Mum read, ‘Missing in Action, believed killed.’
The Government admitted in October 1945 that one of their transport ships had been sunk by an American submarine on 1st July 1942 with the loss of all 853 prisoners. Robert was one of them.