Just thinking: when my Uncle Neil participated in the landing at Aitape in April 1944 he was still only 19 years old! He had just turned 19 when I was born and named after him – three days after his birthday. I really do begin to see why I was so named. The family wouldn’t have known exactly where he was, but they sure would have known he was in harm’s way, more than anyone else in the family at that time.
Next door on the northern side of 61 Auburn Street were the Saunders family. In the late 40s and early 50s my brother’s horse was kept in their backyard. As I said in an earlier post.
My brother’s horse, Lassie, possibly the most placid and dopiest horse that ever lived, spent most of its time in the Saunders’s backyard on the other side of our place, but sometimes was let into our yard. My sister would ride it, and would climb the persimmon tree in the backyard. I was too big a woose for those sorts of things, or maybe too young. If Lassie was in our yard she would climb the back steps and stick her head into the kitchen so my mother would give it sugar or carrots. I am sure that horse could grin…
I do remember sitting on my dinkie on the gravel drive, near the Dorothy Perkins climbing rose which I called Mrs Perkins and confused with the lady next door [Pat Saunders] who I thought was also Mrs Perkins. A yellow biplane flew over very low and the pilot leaned out and waved to me. My mother later told me that must have been the end of World War II.
There was some kind of tragedy about the Saunders’s. Not to put too fine a point on it, Harry was a soak. But the reasons were hush-hush, not that I at ages three to eight would have shared in or even understood such things. But I do note that his war service was cut short. Born in 1904, Harry had enlisted in November 1939 and was a Sapper in the 6th Division Engineers. However, he was discharged on 8 January 1940, before the 6th Division left Australia.
The 6th Division was the first division formed for the Second AIF in the Second World War. It was so designated because there were already five divisions in the Australian Military Forces when the decision was made in September 1939 to raise a ‘special force’ for overseas service. The division was originally composed of the 16th, 17th and 18th Brigades, but the diversion of the 18th Brigade to the United Kingdom in June 1940, meant that the 19th became its third infantry brigade. Between early 1942 and late 1943 the composition of the 6th Division varied considerably due to the changing operational situation. During this time the 14th, 21st, 25th and 30th Brigades also came under the division’s command for varying periods.
As a formation, the 6th Division fought in the campaigns in Libya, Greece, and the Aitape-Wewak region of New Guinea. Its individual brigades also fought on Crete, in Lebanon, along the Kokoda Trail and at the Japanese beachheads in Papua, and in the Wau-Salamaua region of New Guinea. It was commanded, in succession by Major Generals Thomas Blamey (13 October 1939 – 3 April 1940), Iven Mackay (4 April 1940 – 13 August 1941), Edmund Herring (14 August 1941 – 30 April 1942), George Vasey (14 September 1942 – 14 March 1943), Jack Stevens (15 March 1943 – 26 July 1945), and Horace Robertson (26 July 1945 – 30 November 1945).
So who knows what happened to him. I also have this (false?) memory that Pat Saunders was Canadian and eventually returned to Canada, but I could be wrong about that.
But I do recall when Harry died.
We had one of the few telephones in the street – yes LB2271! There was a knock on the door. In full professional lugubrious mode was the Undertaker. “Sorry to disturb you, Mrs Whitfield, but sadly Mr Saunders has passed away. Do you mind of I use your phone?”
“Of course not,” my mother said, letting into the from room that was then my father’s office. (More on that tomorrow.)
My mother overheard an amazing change of tone: “Hey Joe, we’ve got a stiff here. When can we put him under?”
Or words very close to that. My mother often told that story with a smile. I should add she seems to have had a lot of time for Pat Saunders and felt, I suspect, sorry for her and not just for the recent bereavement.
The RIP indicates Harry was a Catholic, and most people in the street were not. That may seem an odd thing to say but such things still counted in the 1940s and early 50s.