Last updated: 29 December 2021
The left photo was taken at Skipton in around 1921 and shows (L/R): Laurence Alfred, Alice Winifred, Leslie William and Christina Mary Cheeseman.
The one on the right shows the family at Walpeup in around 1938. Standing (L/R): Reg, Teen, Les, Winnie and Laurie. Sitting/kneeling (L/R):
Alfred William, Freddy, Alice Maud and Lance.
As shown in the photos above, Alfred and Alice Cheeseman nee Laurence had seven children: Alice Winifred (Winnie), Christina Mary (Teen), Laurence Alfred (Laurie), Leslie William (Les), Reginald George (Reg), Lance Edward and Alfred John (Freddie) Cheeseman. Set out below is an overview of the life and times of their first three children: Winnie, Teen and Laurie Cheeseman. Click here to read about their remaining four children.
1) Alfred and Alice's eldest daughter, Alice Winifred (Winnie or Win) Cheeseman (1911-2000) was born at Beaufort and attended school there and nearby Skipton until her fourteenth year when her parents moved to Walpeup in Victoria's northern Mallee region. There Winnie helped on the farm before working for the local doctor and then in town as a shop assistant. In her twenty-first year she decided she would try her luck in Melbourne where, in an earlier visit there, Winnie had been impressed by the city's 'lovely trees and gardens'. She boarded with her aunt, Sarah Jane Haggis (1872-1948), in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Northcote and began work as a dressmaker. While there she met her future husband, Frederick Thomas (Fred) Stafford (1912-74) - pictured on the right - who she would marry in March 1940. Fred then 'lived in the next street . . . was a grocer and worked for Croft's chain stores in the city'. His grandparents, Isaac Stafford (1830-1906) and Elizabeth (Betty) Whitehead (1832-89), were married at Eccles in Lancashire in 1850 and later emigrated from England to Australia, he and their 21 year-old son James Stafford on the AUSTRAL in 1886, and she and their other four children - Martha Ann, Harry, Isaac jnr (Fred's father) and John Stafford - on the HOHENSTAUFEN the following year. Their destination was the city of Melbourne where Betty died in 1889 and Isaac snr in 1906.
Fred's father, Isaac Stafford jnr (1874-1948) married Mary Catherine Anderson (1880-1955) there in 1899 and had seven children in addition to Fred: Charles Reginald (1900-89), John Herbert (1901-76), Harold William (1904-40), James Andrew (1907-71), Alfred Henry (born in 1915), Violet Mary (born in 1919) and George Ernest Stafford (1922-76). The Australian electoral rolls show Mary and Isaac, who worked as a driver, lived all their married lives at 6 Macfarlane Street Northcote where Isaac died in 1948 and Mary in 1955. They are buried together in the Preston General Cemetery (Section B, Grave 2276).
The year after Winnie moved to Melbourne she was joined by her younger sister Christina Mary (Teen) Cheeseman (1913-2005). They rented a small flat in East Melbourne and settled down to enjoy their new lives in the southern metropolis. As described in her memoirs, Winnie also looked forward to the Xmas-New Year break when she and Teen would return to Walpeup to catch up with their parents and brothers and attend the town's New Years Eve Dance. 'Everyone in the district would be there. Some of them were just home for Christmas like me. It was a great night for meeting old friends and hearing their last years experiences. I used to teach the boys a few new dance steps in preparation for this event and we always had a most enjoyable time'.
Back in Melbourne the two sisters continued working, Winnie at the Nicholas Building and Teen as a shop assistant at Holeproof Hosiery. Winnie would also go to 'The Streets of Paris' in St Kilda and other dance halls to engage in her passion for dancing. Fred meanwhile had purchased his own grocery shop on Bell Street in West Preston and was working hard to increase its profitability. Early in March 1940 Winnie returned to Walpeup to attend a social held in the Kattyoong Hall to celebrate her coming marriage to Fred. According to a report of the affair, published in the Ouyen Mail on 6 March 1940,
The great popularity of Miss Cheeseman was indicated by the large attendance of the young residents of the district and those not so young. The chairman, Mr J. H. Young presented Miss Cheeseman with a well filled wallet of notes as a token of the high esteem in which the Walpeup and district people held her. Dancing was enjoyed . . . [and were rendered by]: Mr Reg. Cheeseman, song, Messrs A. Gniel and Reg Cheeseman duet; Mr L. Manley (Ouyen) song. [and] Mr J. H. Smith gave hls famous recitation, by special request, "George Latta's Brindle Cow". All of the artists received a big ovation. A bounteous supper was provided by the ladies. Mr Arch Gniel spoke very highly of Miss Cheeseman and wished her a very happy married life. He would have liked, he said, to have seen her marrying a "local lad" and remarked on what a very lucky man Mr Stafford was. Mr Richardson, of Walpeup, said that the huge gathering was a great "tribute to Miss Cheeseman and clearly indicated she had retained her popularity, though she was away from the district for some years". The friendships of youth, Mr. Richardson observed, are the most valuable that one can create. Mr Richardson added that Miss Cheeseman had been with him for about three years and during that period he learnt what a wonderful personality she possessed. "Her smile seemed to dispel all troubles", he also congratulated Mr Stafford for winning such a bride.
On 16 March 1940 Winnie and Fred were married in the Northcote Presbyterian Church which, a subsequent report in the Ouyen Mail tells us, had been 'beautified with a wealth of lovely pink gladioli and blue delphiniums'. It added that the wedding ceremony was conducted by the Reverend Archie Jones, 'who has been a friend of the bridegroom for some years'. Winnie was assisted by 'Miss Christina Cheeseman . . . and Miss Eileen Carvan, as bridesmaids, and little Shirley Haggis, cousin of the bride, as trainbearer'. Fred 'was attended by his brother, Mr Alfred Stafford, as best man, and another brother, Mr George Stafford, as groomsman'. After the ceremony, the report continued,
. . . guests were entertained by the mother of the bride assisted by the bridegroom's mother, at 522 High Street, Northcote, where the decorations were carried out in pink and blue, complementary to the bridesmaids' color scheme. The Rev A. Jones presided at the wedding breakfast and the usual toasts were honoured. The happy couple were the recipients of many beautiful gifts, amongst them, being a Bible given to the bride by the Rev A. Jones. The bridegroom's gifts to the bridesmaids were gold initialed lockets and chains, and a dainty gold bangle to the trainbearer' (3 April 1940).
After their wedding Winnie lived with Fred at West Preston and helped him in the shop. Teen joined them a few months later and remained there until her marriage to Fred Bainbridge in February 1942 (see below). In April of that year, Fred Stafford enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force and was posted to Darwin, which was then being bombed by the Japanese, and later to Cape York. Winnie managed the shop on her own until Fred's discharge from the Air Force in October 1945. She was helped by Teen who joined her after her Fred enlisted in the Army in June 1944 and was posted to New Guinea. It was hard going especially after food rationing was introduced and following the arrival of Winnie and Fred's first child, Merrill Christine, in June 1944. Before his discharge from the Air Force, Fred spent time in the Repatriation Hospital at Heidelberg where he was treated for chronic nephritis brought on by his war service in the tropics.
After the War Fred and Winnie lived and worked in their shop at West Preston. A year after the birth of their second child, Gregory Thomas Stafford in 1950, they moved into a house they had built in nearby Coburg. Merrill was married and Greg was studying for a BSc at the University of Melbourne prior to becoming a secondary school teacher when his parents sold the shop at West Preston to a well known Carlton footballer, Sergio Silvani, and his brother-in-law Tony Bartolli. While Winnie was more than happy not to work any more, Fred took a position at the Myer Emporium where he worked until his untimely death from kidney failure in December 1974. Winnie continued to live at Coburg and died at Melbourne's Austin Hospital on 18 December 2000. Her tribute, published in Melbourne's Herald Sun, tells us she was the 'Loving wife of Fred (dec). Mother of Merrill and Ern; Greg and Judy. Much loved grandma of Deb, Rowena and Gavin; Nicholas, Joanne and Thomas. A tower of strength to us all' (19 December 2000). The Greater Melbourne Cemeteries Trust website shows she was cremated at the Fawkner Memorial Park Cemetery and her ashes placed with Fred in this grave at Coburg's Pine Ridge Cemetery (Presbyterian D, Grave 363).
Laurie, Winnie and Fred Stafford walking along Melbourne's Princess Bridge in 1937.
The photo of Christina Mary (Teen) Cheeseman on the left is from the 'Stephen Bainbridge Family Tree' on Ancestry.
The photo on the right was taken at Walpeup in 1939 and shows Teen on her brother Laurie's Wolfe 2-stroke motorbike.
2) Born at Beaufort, Christina Mary (Teen) Cheeseman (1913-2011) lived with her family at Skipton and Walpeup until the late 1930s when she moved to Melbourne to work. As described above, she initially lived at East Melbourne with her sister Winnie who tells us, that, while there, Teen 'met a young man who was doing his fourth year medicine . . . he also worked night shift at the GPO and helped his mother who ran a boarding house in Parkville'. The young man was Frederick (Fred) Bainbridge (1909-2002) - pictured on the right - whose birth surname, according to Victoria's index of BDMs, was Westmoreland. It adds Fred's mother was Annice Westmoreland and his father's identity was unknown (the 'Stephen Bainbridge Family Tree' on Ancestry tells us Fred was born in the Westmoreland family home on Childe Street in Stawell). The following year Annice married William Bainbridge (1889-1953) at Ballarat and, like his mother, Fred became a Bainbridge. Annice and William had four children: Marjorie Ellen (1911-2000), Henry Herbert (1913-83), Ronald Wiliam (1915-69) and Edwin John Bainbridge (1917-2005).
A brief description of Annice's life contained on the 'Dickens Family Tree' on Ancestry, says she 'brought up her five children on her own . . . played the organ and sang in the Congregational Church choir in Stawell'. It adds her son 'Fred was forced to leave school at 14 yrs old to support his mother. He worked at the Stawell Post Office and studied at Night School to complete High School'. Born in Sydney in 1897, Annice was the eldest daughter of the Reverend Herbert William Westmoreland (1866-95) and Emma Louisa Hill (1862-1954) who had both travelled from New Zealand to Sydney were they were married in 1886. After Annice's birth, the family moved to Victoria where Herbert and Emma had a further five children - Elsie Ada (born at Nagambie in 1888), Winifred Ida (Ballarat, 1890), William Arthur (Stawell, 1892-92), Olive (Stawell, 1893-3) and Dorothy Mayhew (Stawell, 1894) - before Herbert's untimely death at Stawell in 1895. His obituary, published in The Ballarat Star on 7 May 1895, tells us Herbert was
. . . born at Sheffield, England, in 1866. Soon after leaving school at the age of 16 he was apprenticed to the New Shipping Company as a sailor. After a connection extending over several years with this firm, he left with a first class certificate, both as to ability as a seaman and character. In the meantime his parents removed to Auckland where . . . [Herbert] subsequently settled down as a school teacher under the [local] Education Department. Young as he was he held several important appointments, but owing to repeated attacks of brain fever he found it necessary to take a sea voyage, and shortly after his return to New Zealand he came over to Victoria, where he joined the ministry having industriously prepared himself for the pulpit during his educational career in New Zealand. After having filled appointments in Melbourne [where he served as pastor of the Windsor Congregational Church] and Nagambie, he was early in 1889 appointed to the charge of the Peel Street United Methodist Church in Ballarat where he laboured successfully for almost two years and gained a wide reputation for his eloquence. He then joined the Congregational Church Union, and was appointed in the Stawell Church. He became very popular, his pulpit oratory attracting large congregations. He held very advanced views on social subjects and these he fearlessly annunciated in a series of sermons which commanded a great deal of attention. After resigning his charge of the Congregational Church at Stawell, he accepted a position under the Temperance Alliance Insurance Company, and . . . [later] as a travelling representative for the Australian Widows' Fund.
Herbert's parents were William Westmoreland, a pattern maker and grocer, and Mary Ann Knott who both came from Lincolnshire and were married at Eccelsall Biewlow in Sheffield in Yorkshire in 1856. The English censuses show they had at least six children in addition to Herbert: Henry Arthur, Anne, Charles Edwin, Fanny Kate, Elizabeth Crossley and Richard Lawman Westmoreland (who seems to have travelled to South America before returning to the United Kingdom in 1916 to serve in the Royal Air Force). The New Zealand Cemetery Records contained on Ancestry show a William Westmoreland, a gentleman aged 55 years, died of apoplexy at Rocky Nook in 1889 and is buried in the Purewa Cemetery in Auckland. It seems Herbert's mother and some of his siblings also came to Australia. The Australian electoral rolls show a Mary Ann Westmoreland was living at 'Endcliff' on Barry Street in the Melbourne suburb of Kew in 1912 along with two of her and William's daughters: Annie and Elizabeth Crossley Westmoreland, both of whom were working as teachers. Ancestry's Victorian Cemetery Records and Headstone Transcriptions, 1844-1997 show that Mary Ann died at Kew on 9 July 1912. She was 82 years old and was buried at the Boroondara Cemetery (Wesleyan A Grave 778A).
Annice's mother, Emma Louisa Hill (1862-1954) was born at Mile End Old Town in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the daughter of Cornelius Hill (1830-82) and Matilda Mayhew (1827-1920) who were both born at Bethnal Green and were married after banns at St Barnabas Church there on 20 November 1853. At the time of the 1871 census, the nine year-old Emma was living at 26 Devonshire Street in Mile End Old Town along with her parents and five siblings: Arthur, Jessie, Alfred and Ada Hill. Some time after this the family emigrated to Auckland in New Zealand where Cornelius died on 9 May 1882 and Matilda on 23 April 1920. They are both buried in Auckland's Symonds Street Cemetery. The Australia and New Zealand Find a Grave Index tells us their children were Emma Louisa Westmoreland (1862-1954), Ada Flora Mason (1868-1960), Jessie Matilda Wilkins (1860-1940) and Arthur Cornelius Hill (1857-1938) where the last three died and are buried in New Zealand. Emma Louisa Westmoreland died at the Melbourne suburb of Croydon in Victoria on 27 May 1954 and is buried in the Lilydale Lawn Cemetery along with her two daughters: Winifred Ida Westmorland (1890-1973) and Elsie Ada Westmorland (1888-1979). Emma and Herbert's third daughter, Dorothy Mayhew Westmorland married Lesie John Peggie in Victoria in 1922. She died at Hartwell in Melbourne in 1940 and was cremated at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery.
Taken from the 'Stephen Bainbridge Family Tree' on Ancestry, these photos are of Fred Bainbridge's mother, Annice Westmoreland,
and Annice's father, the Reverend Herbert William Westmoreland.
Teen's wedding in 1942. From L/R: Fred and Teen Bainbridge and Teen's siblings, Reg Cheeseman and Winnie Stafford.
Fred Bainbridge and Teen Cheeseman were married in Melbourne on 29 February 1942. Teen, who was then living with Winnie at West Preston, went to live with Fred and his mother at Epping on Melbourne's northern outskirts. Teen returned to West Preston when Fred enlisted in the Australian Army on 9 June 1944. The Department of Veterans Affairs nominal roll for the Second World war shows two of Fred's brothers, Henry Herbert and Edwin John Bainbridge, served with the 2/23 Battalion and a third brother, Ronald William Bainbridge, enlisted in the RAAF. Fred was discharged from the Army on 10 December 1945 at which time he was serving as a private soldier in the 17th Field Ambulance. As noted above, after leaving the Army Fred worked for the GPO while he completed his medical degree at the University of Melbourne. After graduating with an MB and BS in 1951 Fred ran a medical practice at Cairns in northern Queensland. My parents and I and my siblings stayed with them there following a long and exhausting train journey from Melbourne. I remember we were not allowed swim at the local beaches and had to sleep under mosquito nets. In addition to roaming around town with my cousins, I spent a lot of my time reading the adventures of Brer Rabbit and other classic childrens' books I discovered in Fred's study.
Fred and Teen and their family later lived at Rabaul in New Guinea before returning to Victoria where Fred ran a medical practice at Elmore outside Bendigo until his death there in 2002. His tribute, published in the Herald Sun on 22 August of that year reads: 'BAINBRIDGE - Dr Fred. Late AIF 24/8/1909 - 20/8/2002. Loving husband of Christina, father of David (dec), Alison, Hugh, Keith (dec) and Bronwyn. Father-in-law of John. Grandpa of Chris, Andrea, Keiran, Phillip and Amanda. Great Grandpa of Nathan, Ayden and Jessica. Privately Cremated. The last chapter was long, The last page turned, A life well lived, Is a rest well earned'. Teen died at the Rochester Nursing Home on 21 May 2011, the 'loved mother and grandmother of 5 and great grandmother of 8'. She is buried in the Bendigo Remembrance Park in the grave of her son, Keith Fred Bainbridge (1951-68). Another son, Edwin Hugh (Hughie) Bainbridge (1950-2012) who, like his father was cremated, had his ashes buried in the same grave on 29 August 2012. Hughie's tribute in the Herald Sun reads: 'BAINBRIDGE - Edwin Hugh (Hughie) Passed away peacefully after a short illness on June 14, 2012. Aged 62 years. Loved son of Christina and Fred (both dec). Loved brother of Alison and John, Keith (dec) and Bronwyn. Loved uncle of Christopher, Andrea, Keiran, Phillip, Amanda, and their families. Great uncle of 8. He marched to his own Drummer' (16 June 2012).
The photo on the left shows Les, Alfred and Laurie about to leave for a cricket match at Kattyoong. Behind them is the 1927 Chevrolet in which the family
had driven from Skipton to Walpeup. The photo on the right shows Laurie, Reg, Winnie and Lance at Walpeup in 1930.
3) Fred and Alice's eldest son, Laurence Alfred (Laurie) Cheeseman (1915-82) was born and went to school at Skipton until 1927 when the family moved from there to Walpeup in Victoria's northwest Mallee region. As described in Laurie's memoirs, their new farmhouse was 'a one-roomed tin shack, no lining except bag and a lean-to over the back door, a tin chimney and an earth floor. Little or no shelter around the place, just an open slather for the dust'. Although partially cleared, the surrounding farmland continued to harbour 'a mass of stumps which knocked the machinery about and then grew the greatest crop of mustard weed you ever did see'. Laurie attended the Kattyoong public school, which involved a four and one half mile walk each way each day, until his fourteenth birthday when he convinced his parents he should leave and help them on the farm. The work was both hard and monotonous, leavened only by the fact 'we always played sport on Saturdays then would go home to attend to the cows and horses before returning to a dance at night. The one-step was all the rage and tunes such as "Springtime in the Rockies" and "Bye, Bye Blackbird" . . . were the hits of the day'. The onset of the depression made life even more difficult and precarious for those who, like Alfred and Alice, were paying off their land. 'We went without plenty and . . . existed on rabbits and home made bread and varied the diet with melon and quondong pies'. Then came the mouse plagues:
. . . they came from nowhere in their millions. They ruined everything they could get at. We drowned them, we poisoned them, we used every device imaginable, still for every one we killed a thousand seemed to take its place. They got into the house, the cupboards, the beds at night and everything smelled mousey. At night around the sheds they were a moving black mass and ruined everything in their tracks.
The end of the depression and the provision by the government of financial and other support to farmers made life easier for Fred and Alice and enabled Laurie to seek paid work elsewhere. He took on fruit picking at Coomealla and hay-carting for a local farmer, George Latta. 'I liked working with hay and prided myself at stacking it on the wagon, no matter how many stumps we ran over, my load never shifted. But what I liked best was the food. Three good meals a day and morning and afternoon teas. It was good. I had a cheque for twenty pounds when I left old George'.
Latta and Smith's hay carting team, 1933. Back row (L/R): Jack Smith, Ken Unknown, Arthur Latta, Earn Woodall and
Bill Warren (who went fruit picking with Laurie earlier the same year). Front: Syd Cocking, Arch Gniel, Laurie Cheeseman and Bill Briscoe.
In 1933 Laurie left Walpeup to work with some of his mother's relatives on the sawmills at Goolgowie and Rankins Springs in western New South Wales. When opportunities at the mills subsided, he laboured on different farms across the district and, when able, played football for some of the local teams. In around Xmas 1936 Laurie received a letter from his brother Les informing him of a job in the railway depot at Ouyen and stating the chargeman there, Laurie's future brother-in-law Abe Milkins, had forwarded his name to the head office in Melbourne. Laurie immediately left the farm where he was working and travelled through the night by train to Flinders Street Station where he was met by his sister Winnie. Win went with him to the appointment and was instrumental in Laurie being eventually offered the position on 17 May 1937. Under the expert guidance of Abe Milkins, who had served with a railway unit in France during the First World War, he soon qualified as a fireman and began working the lines between Ouyen and Pinneroo to the east and Ouyen and Mildura to the north. The improved pay and conditions enabled Laurie more consistently to train and play football - for Bronzewing, a small rural locality near Ouyen - as well as spend his leave in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Following the declaration of war in September 1939, Laurie enlisted in the Australian Army on 15 July 1940. Along with a number of his Mallee colleagues, he was sent to the Caulfield race course in Melbourne where he queued for hours for clothes, equipment, inoculations and food. 'Days and weeks went by and it was bitterly cold, there was plenty of duties as well, about all I could write home about was - "Dear Mum, I've been on mess orderly duty again today"'. The frustration of waiting for something to happen was compounded by the fact Laurie had met and fallen for his future wife, Elsie May Hickmott (1917-2015), and 'would have been quite happy at any time to walk out of the Army and back into civvy street'. After about six months he and his section at Caulfield were allocated to the Army Medical Corps. They were then sent to Dandenong, where Laurie and Elsie would later live, and where the Army was running a twenty-bed hospital in the local Scout Hall. 'We learnt the rudiments of first aid there and some hospital and field work. I have vivid recollections of the beautiful food there . . . and of playing cricket and tennis against high school teams. The hospitality of people everywhere, towards the men in uniform was just marvellous'. Six weeks later they were transferred to the AMC Training wing at Broadmeadows and then went on Xmas leave. Laurie had applied for and been granted an extra weeks leave to help with the harvest at Walpeup (and spend time with Elsie who was then working at the Railway Rest Rooms in Ouyen). On returning from leave he found his unit had moved to Balcombe, a brand new camp located on the foreshores of Port Phillip Bay and where, 29 years later, I would undergo my initial specialist officer training for the Royal Australian Corps of Signals.
The photo on the left is of Laurie and Elsie at Walpeup in 1940. The one on the right is of Laurie and two of his 2/2 Field Ambulance
colleagues at Balcombe Camp (on the back is written: 'Leaving Balcome [sic] Camp for Middle East early 1941).
Laurie (standing on the right) with 2/2nd Field Ambulance colleagues in front of the temple of Bacchus at Baalbeck in Syria in 1941.
At Balcombe, Laurie suffered from a bout of chicken-pox he had picked up from his brother, Lance, while at Walpeup. He was placed into an isolation ward and when released two weeks later, found many of his colleagues had been posted out, mostly to units of the Australian Eighth Division. 'We watched the second twenty-first and second twenty-second battalions march out. They were bound for Rabaul and other Pacific Islands. I recognised a few old friends amongst them. We never saw them again'. Allocated to the 6th Division's 2/2nd Field Ambulance on 9 April 1941, Laurie travelled with his work colleagues by train to Sydney where they embarked from Darling Harbour on the ISLE de FRANCE - a one-time luxury cruiser which had been converted into a troop ship - and sailed in a large convoy of ships first to Fremantle and then out into the Indian Ocean.
We were issued with canteen orders which were popular, and had everlasting boat drills which were unpopular, and orders were that the convoy would not stop under any circumstances, even for a man overboard. On the fifth day the "New Amsterdam" broke off and sailed due north with the men of the ill-fated Eighth Division, and so the rest of the convoy split up and we sailed into the Ceylon Harbour at Columbo, through the submarine barrier and up to a gigantic sign which read "Ceylon Tea".
They left Columbo a few days later and after disembarking at the Suez Canal travelled by train to Hill 69 on Palestine's Gaza Strip where Laurie and his colleagues joined members of the 2/2nd Field Ambulance who had earlier been evacuated from Greece and Crete. The 6th Division had been deployed to Syria following the capitulation of the French Vichy forces there in July 1941. The 2/2nd Field Ambulance was stationed at Baalbeck, located some 45 miles north of Damascus, where they helped run a hospital and outlying aid posts. As the troops of the 6th Division were coping with the snows of Syria, their compatriots in the Malayan jungles were attempting to stem the southward flow of the Japanese Imperial Army. After the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 the Australian government decided the 6th Division should be brought back to Australia to help defend the country and its surrounds against a possible Japanese invasion. The 19th Brigade went first and arrived at Fremantle on 10 March. The 17th Brigade including the 2/2nd Field Ambulance were initially sent back to Ceylon where Laurie and his colleagues spent the next few months
. . . clearing jungle, digging pits, etc while the nursing orderlies looked after about twenty patients . . . the jungle was crawling with centipedes and the like and occasionally we would see a cobra, and all the time the rain came down in bucketfuls . . . we considered we were wasting time on the island now and were all pretty unhappy . . . [on leave] in Columbo we met quite a few civilians who had been evacuated from Singapore and seemed to be of the opinion that there had been too many cocktail parties and not enough awareness of the dangers ahead by the "army brass" which led to the Japs having such a resounding victory.
After being notified the Australian troops would finally leave the island, 'word got around there was a tea shortage at home so out of the kit bags came everything that was not essential and we loaded up with Ceylon tea, then we travelled by troop train from Galle to Columbo where we boarded the UNION CASTLE. Although it was very crowded it was great to be on our way. Four thousand six hundred troops in a convoy of eleven ships excluding escorts, the whole 17th Brigade on the way home at last'. The sea voyage, which took some twenty-one days, took the troops deep into the southern ocean in order to avoid submarines. By the time they reached the Great Australian Bite, the troops on the UNION CASTLE 'had bought up all the ship's canteen, were on hard rations and were cold and hungry and anxious to get home'.After finally arriving at Port Phillip Bay on 3 August 1942 Laurie and his colleagues travelled by troop train to Puckapunyal in central Victoria where they camped for a few months before moving to the Brisbane race course prior to heading to New Guinea. While in Victoria Laurie was able to spend time at Walpeup with his parents and younger brothers as well as catch up up with his sisters and Elsie, who was then serving in the Womens Auxilliary Air Force (WAAF), in Melbourne. During this time he was also appointed the Field Ambulance's head carpenter. 'I saw it as an opportunity of dodging parades as well as receiving an extra three and six a day . . . I was probably in line for stripes but I reckoned I would never get past Lance Corporal anyway, so I became a carpenter group two'. The unit sailed from Brisbane on the hospital ship MANUNDA which was a 'sheer pleasure after our other trips - plenty of room, good meals, no black-outs and port holes open and all lights on at night . . . we were treated to concerts, deck games and even dances as there was a full complement of Australian and American nurses on board'. After a brief stopover at Port Moresby, the MANUNDA sailed on to Milne Bay where it served as a floating hospital for the allied troops stationed there'.
In January 1943 the 17th Brigade was ordered to move from Milne Bay to Port Moresby from where their fighting and support units would be despatched to the inland township of Wau in order to prevent its airstrip from being captured by the Japanese. On reaching Port Moresby, the 2/2nd Field Ambulance was sent to Pom-Pom Valley near the nine mile aerodrome where Laurie and his colleagues set about erecting and staffing a rest camp for the troops returning from the Owen Stanley track.
We erected tents and bunks and fed them and distributed ACF and Red Cross parcels. They were pretty well worn out and kept the medical teams busy, the malaria fever was taking it toll too, not to mention dengue and typhoid . . . and the jungle was full of crawling things and leeches as thick as your finger. We were kept awake at night by the waves of super-fortresses going out on their bombing missions and sometimes when the Japanese fighters met them, and the ack-ack guns started operating, the place would be showered with shrapnel and spent bullets.
They were eventually airlifted from Port Moresby to Bulolo where they set about buildingfield hospitals first on the Black Cat trail and then at Wau itself before following the Brigade's fighting forces, as they pushed the Japanese back from Wau towards the Salamoa coast, and establishing on successive ridges operating theatres which consisted of heavily blacked out tents. 'In the middle of mud and slush, arms and legs were amputated like a man might prune a backyard fruit tree, and there were many rough crosses left on each of these ridges, mostly Seventeenth Brigade men'. They had reached Observation Hill in the Mubo Valley when the 17th Brigade was replaced by the 9th Division's 29th Brigade. Laurie and his companions were recalled to Goodview to pack up camp and 'trek over mountains, through jungle and kunai grass and swamps' to Nassua Bay where they were picked up by an American landing craft. This took them around the top of New Guinea and back to Milne Bay from where they sailed on a US liberty ship to Cairns in northern Queensland. From Cairns they travelled by train to Wandecla near Herberton on the Atherton Tablelands.
A fleet of trucks with kangaroo-boomerang emblems met us and we knew we were back in the Sixth Division. When we arrived at the base all our long-lost parcels were delivered to us - mostly ruined and full of mildew - cakes that people had gone to trouble and expense to send. I sent a hurried telegram to Elsie to make arrangements for our wedding for Monday the 25th, and after a couple of days we were put on a troop train bound for Melbourne and leave (the right direction at last!).
At Melbourne 'we broke up for a fortnight's leave, and because of my forthcoming marriage, I was given an additional weeks "compassionate" leave. I headed straight to Wellington Parade, East Melbourne where Elsie was now living and working as a porteress on the Railways, then home to Walpeup for a few days to see my folks and prepare for the big event - our wedding day 25 October 1943'. After honeymooning at Healesville in the Dandenongs, Laurie reported back to Royal Park to find his unit had left town. He and a few others took advantage of the situation to 'wrangle a few more days leave . . . but eventually I was put on a goods train heading north . . . to Greta camp near Singleton in NSW. The unit was there and the next day we were back on a troop train and moving to Wandecla again, although this time staging at Townsville for a fortnight on the way'. Apart from a month at Cairns, where they undertook amphibious landing craft training, Laurie and his unit spent the next twelve months at Wandecla (the photo above shows him, in the centre of the front row, with some of his colleagues at Wandecla).
Towards the end of 1944, Laurie and his unit were sent to Brisbane where, with the rest of the 6th Division they were loaded onto ships and began to sail northwards. 'As usual we had no idea where we were heading and rumours flew thick and fast . . . we had a ditty that went: "Some say we're going to New Guinea, Some say we're going to Ceylon, Some say it is back to the desert, But Burma is six-to-four on!" As Laurie's memoirs describe, the ships were heading to Aitape in northern New Guinea where the 6th Division would serve out the war. At war's end, Laurie was back at Wewak and among those who were 'paraded at the edge of the air-strip to watch the Japanese Eighteenth Army sign the surrender document to General Red Robbie of the Sixth Division. We had a quiet celebration, just a special issue of a couple of bottles of beer and were more or less confined to barracks'. As a veteran with five years or more service, Laurie was entitled to be discharged from the Army first and so, a fortnight after witnessing the formal surrender, he and four other members 'said goodbye to the unit and went to the wharf by jeep where a motor boat was waiting to take us to a cargo boat and so it was goodbye to Wewak and the jungle for the last time'.
Laurie and Elsie's wedding at Ouyen on 25 October 1943.
After the war Laurie went back to the Victorian Railways working initially as a fireman at Woodend and, after obtaining an engine drivers certificate in 1947, as a locomotive driver at Wahgunyah across the Murray River from Corowa. As very few houses were available for purchase they and their first-born, Graeme Laurence, were forced to board first in the local hotel and then privately. Tired of the restrictive and sometimes petty rules imposed by their various landlords, they eventually squatted in a large and dilapidated former Army drill hall located in Wahgunyah. 'Nobody in the town ever suspected we were squatting but everyone was pleased that at long last the "fire-hazard eye-sore" on the corner was being cleaned up'. In 1949 a house 'with three very small rooms and a smaller sleep-out' became available for purchase on Elizabeth Street in Wahgunyah. We bought it for six hundred pounds and although we had mountains of work to do on it before a final coat of paint, it was a start in the right direction'. Using money left to them by Laurie's late father, they also purchased their first car, a 1950 Ford Anglia, the same year their twins, Jillian Peta and Daryl John, were born at the Corowa hospital.
Laurie and Elsie and their first born, Graeme, at Woodend in 1946 and Graeme and the Ford Anglia
outside their home on Elizabeth Street Wahgunyah in 1952.
In 1953 the family moved to the Melbourne suburb of Albion where we lived in a newly built railway settlement and Laurie began driving electric trains or 'Sparks' as he called them. He had also started to suffer from a form of narcolepsy where he would fall asleep for short periods of time including, on a few occasions, while driving the train. Usually he dozed off after he had finished work and was travelling home at night from the city by train. 'I would be asleep at Albion and go on to St Albans and back - once going right back to the city, and Elsie spent half the night trying to locate me'. In early 1956 the family moved to Dandenong on the other side of Melbourne. Laurie had got an 'outstation job' which meant he signed on and off at Dandenong instead of travelling to the city first and so 'usually had time between trains to catch a few minutes sleep which I couldn't do without despite the fact I spent much of my off duty time at home asleep'.
While at Dandenong Laurie continued to attend annual Anzac Day marches where he would catch up with his former colleagues from the 2/2nd Field Ambulance. He and Elsie purchased a 14-inch Healing television set on which we watched the Melbourne Olympic Games (provided we sat well away from the screen). Laurie built at the back of the house a glassed-in sunroom the windows of which were regularly broken during backyard 'test matches'. He then added a stand alone garage at one end of which was parked the F J Holden they had bought to replace the ageing Ford Anglia and at the other a workshop that had in it a small wood stove which in winter Laurie would sit in front of and doze. His and Elsie's four children - their youngest son, Noel William, had been born at Sunshine in 1955 - all attended school at Dandenong. Graeme and Daryl went on to study at tertiary institutions, Graeme at the Royal Military College Duntroon in Canberra and Daryl, who obtained a degree in electrical engineering and later worked for Telstra, at Monash University.
Laurie retired from the Victorian Railways in 1969 and worked for a time as a storeman at Patersons furniture store in Dandenong. He died in his sleep shortly after Xmas 1981 when Graeme and Rosalie and their three children were visiting from Canberra. He was buried in the Springvale Botanical Cemetery (R W Gillard, Row FC, Grave 31) on 2 January 1982. In her memoirs written a short time later, his sister Winnie lamented she had recently 'lost one of my best friends, my dear caring brother Laurie. It is lovely to have someone who likes to pay you a visit often, and Laurie did just that, with his death I felt as though I lost a dear friend as well as a brother'. After Laurie's death, Elsie and their daughter Jillian continued to live at Dandenong initially at James Street and later on Purdy Avenue in West Dandenong. She died in a nursing home in nearby Spring Vale on 27 July 2015 and was buried next to Laurie in the Spring Vale Botanical Cemetery. Her tribute published in the Melbourne Herald Sun on 30 July tells us she was the 'mother of Graeme, Jillian, Daryl and Noel. Mother-in-law to Meredith. Wonderful grandmother to Michael, Catherine, Brianna, Cassandra, Sophie, Emma and Hayden. Great grandmother to Sunny and Hannah'.
Winnie and Laurie in Melbourne in 1947 each with their eldest child: Merrill and Graeme.
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