“. . . . . Of course, for those old enough to have lived, learnt, and acquired skills in overcoming the misadventures of collapsing economies, no matter what, survival has long been elevated to a form of art. Most of those might already have taken the sagacious move of doing practise runs in hard time survival, indeed might well have lived their entire life based on day to day living simply.
They experienced long ago that, when in need, a close friend is better than a far away relative. It would be nice to contemplate that during severe and prolonged economic miseries, those elderly folks will be called upon to man the survival marquees’, dispensing all they know to the young in need of a kind word and reassurance, that all will be all right. Those old sages will be at the frontlines, spreading sweetness and goodness to the vulnerable and weak.
Their advice could well include doing away with those fences and unneeded multi garages and put into place granny accommodations. Not necessarily for good old grannies but for those in need of emergency stay. The good old habit of helping each other is now becoming a need and not an option anymore. He who gives will also receive. Who knows in what direction our previously dormant, charitable and benevolent talents will take us?
We might share our cars, our houses, and gardens for vegetables, chicken sheds and home grown pumpkins and using the diversity of communal skills.
Will it be too far fetched to imagine getting away altogether about the notions of full time jobs, bonuses, late night workings in the office, queuing in traffic, nerve wrecking shopping expeditions, holidays with burning to a crisp on cheerless beaches? How about the possibility, in the worst case of a collapsing economy, how sharing and living together might come about to help make the best of it all?”
What books would be hoarded? I could go on,” says Gerard.
Posted 13 Jan 200913 Jan 2009, updated 6 Feb 20206 Feb 2020
It sounds to me, it would be good if we made up our minds to give some relevant help to those in need. Sadly, right now vulnerable and weak people are very much on the increase.
On the one hand there are huge houses and apartments with maybe only one person or nobody in it. On the other hand there are lots and lots of people that are totally homeless.
Why are there still more huge houses and aparments being built, rather than small, affordable houses and apartments?
During WW II and in postwar Germany people with a house or apartment that was large enough to share with others, had, I think by law, to accommodate some bombed out people or refugees. –
Here in Australia right now, most of the homeless people are the ones that cannot afford the ever increasing rent. For these people shared accommodation would help to make the rent more affordable. So, I think, somehow more shared accommodation should and could be offered!
Also, the building of affordable housing should be given priority.
On Easter Saturday, 95-year-old artist John Olsen made the final touches to four paintings and feeling unwell, laid down his paintbrush for the last time. A stroke had finally felled the old master. On the day of his state funeral, Australian Story revisits the Olsens, a family forged by their father’s passion and drive for painting. As John became a darling of the art world in the 60s and 70s, his obsessive focus on dedication to his work often cast a long shadow on those around him. Months after his death, the Vivid festival of light will pay tribute to John Olsen, projecting his art onto the “greatest blank canvas on earth” — the sails of the Sydney Opera House. His children, Tim and Louise Olsen, will be there to marvel at his achievements and celebrate the life that has shaped them. Subscribe:
World War II Remembrance Oral History Project ‘Reliving the Memories’
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans On 5 July 2019 at North Randwick, NSW Disc No: WWI1:FH4 & 5 (2 discs)
Duration of Interview: 138 mins. 23 secs. Restrictions on use: None Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 2 of 34 Oral history interview with Mr Frank McGovern, conducted by Frank Heimans. Today is 5 July 2019 and this interview is conducted at North Randwick, New South Wales. Frank, could you tell me where and when you were born? 0:21 I was born in Paddington on 1 October 1919. That means you’re going to be 100 on 1st October. 0:35 That’s right. That’s a milestone. 0:38 If I make it. I think you will, probably. Tell me a bit about your family? 0:46 Mum was born in the Mudgee area. A small place called Lue. The father in Darlinghurst at that time, in the 1880s I think it was. How many kids were in your family? 1:13 In my family? Five: two girls, three boys. What occupation did your father have? 1:22 My father, he was what they termed a ganger on the railways and tramways. How would you consider your family? Were they fairly average people? 1:37 Oh, yes. Dad played cricket. He was quite a good cricketer. Mum didn’t have much education. She was one of four girls, she being the eldest. She had to leave school when she was probably 12 or 13 and, being in the country, had to look after her younger sisters and do some work around the farm. Did any of your family, like your father, have any wartime experience? 2:17 No. He went to join up, I believe, in the First World War, but he was rejected on account of, at that time, flat feet, and also the job he was doing on the railways and tramways. What’s the origin of your family? Where did they come from originally before they even got to Australia? 2:47 Dad was born here – Australia. His parents were born and emigrated from Ireland. Mum, as far as I know, her parents were Scotch. I’m not too sure. They must have come out in the 1800s then.
3:15 1800s, yes
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 3 of 34 You grew up in the Eastern Suburbs. You were born in Paddington. Where did you live at that time? Was it also Paddington? 3:20 In Paddington, yeah. Which street? Do you remember? 3:24 Yeah, Taylor Street. It ran from Caledonia Street down to Sutherland StreetNot many houses in the street. Was it a little terrace house? Or what kind of a house? 3:40 A rented terrace. Where did you go to school? 3:45 A convent in Edgecliff. Monte Oliveto, by the Sisters of Charity. Some of them weren’t very charitable at times. They used the cane a little bit. Then, from there, to the Christian Brothers at St Joseph’s in Edgecliff. Was that a high school, St Joseph’s? 4:15 No. It was primary and secondary school, yeah. How far did you go with your education?e 6 of 34 4:21 From there, I went to the Marist Brothers at Darlinghurst and
got the Intermediate Certificate. Which was the average that people used to go to in those days, wasn’t it? 4:35 Oh, yes. That was it. Had to get out and earn some money. Things were pretty tough. It was the Depression era. What do you remember about that time? 4:50 As a kid? Pretty rough. For the first week, that’d be fortnightly pay. So for the first week it was quite good. Food on the table. Baked dinner Sunday. But the next, the following week, you’d scratch around a bit, and Sunday lunch or dinner would be probably bread and dripping. Were there plenty of fresh vegetables that you used to eat and that sort of thing? 5:32 As kids, lunchtime, after the bread and dripping, the shop would be open, the [foodrun ?], and we’d go up to the fruit shop, see the Italian fruiter. Joe Masilo, his name. During the week it would be Joe, but when we wanted speck, as we called the bruised fruit, it’d be, “Mr Masilo, have you got any specks, Mr Masilo?” He knew us. “Oh, here you are. Now, get going.” So we’d get a piece of fruit, maybe a pear or Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 4 of 34 apple, and eat that, or go to the greengrocer, as we called them. At that time, they’d have broken biscuits in, say, an Arnott’s tin with the rosella on it, stacked up in the racks. “Any broken biscuits, Mister?” He got to know us too, and he’d put them in a paper bag and say, “Here. Get going.” That’s how it was. Did you eat meat and that sort of thing? 6:57 Not at that time, but we did have a baked dinner and that on the first week. Second week, very scarce. Tough times. 7:10 They were tough. A lot of people out of work in those days? 7:11 Oh, yes, yes. Did you play any sport at school? 7:18 Yeah. No professional, but we’d have a game of cricket, throw the football around over at Moore Park. That’d keep us going. What they called the Colour Competition. Nothing spectacular. After the Depression, of course, war broke out in 1939. What do you remember about that? 7:49 Well, I joined, with a mate of mine, the Navy Reservists in ’38, I think it was, just to get a few dollars just to bolster your pocket money. Also, we’d go down of a Saturday to Rushcutters Bay to the depot, get the whaler out on the harbour, or a skiff, and also maybe gunnering and all that. It was quite interesting. It was good. A few shillings if we went there regularly of a night-time and Saturday morning. Might get a couple of bob, as we said, each month. 8:58 As you said, war broke out in ’39. I remember it very well. How did you first hear about it? Was it the announcement by Mr Menzies on the radio? 9:13 I was on duty. We were mobilised, the Reserve, along with the permanent navy, in which the brother was. He was in permanent navy as an engine room artificer. He was two years older than I was. The duty I was on was on was a sentry on the munitions depot at Newington. One Sunday night, I was on the eight-to-twelve watch, and the CO came around and told us about it. Nine-thirty, I think it was, at night. Called me over, issued me with live ammunition, put one in the spout, the rest in the magazine. He said, “Prime Minister Menzies on the nine o’clock news announced that
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 5 of 34 Australia had joined with Britain in war against Germany.” He said, “Be on your toes. This is fair dinkum this time.” 10:38 I rang my employer, the chief accountant, the following morning. I said, “I’ve been called up by the navy.” At that time, they had the Abyssinian shemozzle going on with Mussolini the previous year, and he said, “Oh, we’ll see you back in a couple of weeks.” Those two weeks became six and a half years before I went back. Was it the case of, because you happened to be in the reserves of the navy, you automatically joined the navy then? You automatically became a sailor? 11:26 Oh, yes. See, with the reserves, naval reservists, same with the permanent, when you joined the Naval Reserve, you also signed – not like the army or air force – to serve overseas if something broke out, which it did. I was immediately on a war footing. Did you get any training for the navy when the war broke out? Did they send you to some place for training? 12:05 No, we were immediately on duty, and then we did quite a bit of training at the Reserve, but also, I was a [detailer]??? , along with a lot of the others, other chaps, on the armed merchant cruiser, Westralia, as a seaman gunner. The Westralia? 12:32 Westralia. That was taken over. Also, the Kanimbla and the Manoora. Three interstate merchant ships, and they were converted to merchant cruisers. Let’s look at life before you joined the navy, or before you went out on the ship. Whatwas life like in the eastern suburbs at that time? 13:05 Oh, it was just normal. Within hours of the war broke out, of course, I went home that night from being called up and told Mum. Vince, my elder brother, was already on board HMAS Perth. He was deployed. The ship was deployed, I think, over to the West Indies at that time, so he was on duty immediately. So was I, for that matter. As the war had broken out, I was on duty straightaway. What was your duty, or what were your duties on the ship? 13:56 I was on board, as I say; seaman gunner on the Westralia. Which means that you had to operate the canons, or what? 14:07 Yes. We had 6-inch guns on there, on the armed merchant cruiser. We had seven 6-inch guns. Pretty antique, they were, from the First World War. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 6 of 34
Your brother, what was his name? 14:22 Vince. Vincent. So what was he doing? Similar work? 14:28 No. He was an engine room artificer on board Perth. That was his first ship and only ship. He was on it for the two years that it was in operation. You joined the Perth in 1939? 14:48 No. I was on the Westralia for about 18 months. We were on patrol duties, convoy, what have you, mainly over in the Indian Ocean: Bombay, Colombo, down at Mauritius, taking ships around Africa, up to Asia, and then returned, after 12 months’ overseas operation, to Australia, and then I joined Perth when it returned from the Mediterranean. So I was on the same ship as my brother. Where did the Perth go after that? 15:36 We were deployed on convoy work in the Pacific. We took the first batch of militia up to Port Moresby in December ’41, I think it was. Then went on patrol duties in the Pacific. We were out on convoy duty with the Westralia and the New Zealand cruiser, Leander, and we got orders to go down to Melbourne; leave the convoy and go down there. I think that was a Sunday night. I’m not sure. 16:27 Anyway, from there, orders to go around to Fremantle and then up north to take a convoy of three ships up to Java. We were then ordered back to Fremantle. Things were a little bit chaotic at that time with the Japs coming down through Malaya, and again we were ordered up north, and that was rescinded again, and we returned. But the third time, we left the convoy there in Fremantle, the ships, and we went independently up to Java. That would be February ’42. Early February. Had the Japanese reached Java yet at that time? 17:22 No. Singapore had fallen. Java was the next one. 17:30 On 27 February there was an air raid on Batavia, which is now Jakarta. At that time, I think our sister ship Hobart was in Tanjung Priok, the Port of Batavia. It was to join us to go to Surabaya, and from there, out into the Java Sea to look for the Japanese convoy. It was being refuelled at the time, Hobart. That delayed it going, so it didn’t go to the Java Sea/Surabaya with us. 18:33 We joined a convoy – a taskforce, I should say – consisting of five cruisers and nine destroyers. On paper, they were quite a force, but certain deficiencies. We hadn’t trained as a fighting unit before, just hurriedly got together. A Dutch admiral in Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 7 of 34 charge of the taskforce. Naval strategy of the Dutch at that time was – well, they hadn’t been in a war for 100 years or more. Communication difficulties between the four navies: American, Dutch, British, and ourselves. So, quite a deficiency amongst it. 19:43 Our skipper, Hec Waller, [unclear 19:47] on the destroyer Stewart. He was a good skipper. Terrific. Had a lot of confidence in him. He got the DSO and bar for his service in the Mediterranean. Extremely good. Capable. 20:09 The American cruiser, Houston, was with us. The English cruiser, Exeter, of Graf Spee fame – was in that when the Graf Spee was damaged down in the West Indies. Two Dutch cruisers: the [unclear 20:41] on one of them, the De Ruyter and the Java, and four-funnel US destroyers. World War 1 vintage, they were. Did a good job, though. Three British destroyers and two Dutch. 21:13 We met the Japs on 27 February, and it didn’t go well with us. Two Dutch cruisers sunk. Exeter damaged and had to return to port, so we were down to the two cruisers, Perth and Houston. Dutch destroyer sunk – torpedoed. We did damage to the Jap fleet, and two British destroyers sunk. That all lasted eight hours and we were straddled by the Japanese heavy cruisers on at least six occasions, but due to the skill of our skipper manoeuvring the ship, we more or less zig-zagged our way through the shells falling around it. 22:26 It lasted until about two in the morning, that battle. The Java, as I say, that was sunk that night, the Dutch cruiser, as also the De Ruyter. Heavy loss of life. We then broke off the engagement. Headed towards Tanjong Priok with the Houston. These two cruisers were the only two capable – or came through that battle unscathed, more or less. 23:11 So we reached Tanjong Priok. That was in a mess. The Jap bombers had done the place over. Shore installations destroyed, ships sunk in the Harbour, oil wells had been on fire. It was in a mess. We were unable to get an ammunition to replace or replenish what we had expended in the eight-hour battle. Same as Houston. The oil well had been on fire. We had no, or very little, oil to replace what we’d expended. So things were not good. 24:10 That afternoon, there was an air raid on. We came through that okay, and then we were to sail that night through Sunda Strait, that separates Java and Sumatra, to go around to the southern port of Tjilatjap in Java. We were to sail that night, which we did, with the Houston, and the skipper spoke over the intercom to say that a report had come through that a Jap convoy was heading in an opposite direction to what we were taking and did not expect to have any trouble getting through the strait. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 8 of 34 25:10 We arrived there, just to the entrance to the strait, about 11 o’clock that night and sighted a ship on our starboard side. The skipper said, “Challenge,” which we did. 25:28 It had returned a strange light, greenish light and, as it swung around, we could see it was a Jap destroyer; the silhouette of a Jap destroyer. So we opened fire, and it started the Battle of Sunda Strait. 25:54 As we proceeded, the Japs were already there, landing. The Jap transports were anchored within the strait. Near Merak, I think the place was. They were disgorging their troops and we had run into the western invasion fleet of Java. At least five cruisers, and twice that number of destroyers. Ships everywhere. We were firing at that time independently, meaning not all guns at once. They were on different targets. Each turret was on a different target. There were that many of them. Of course, there was only one outcome of that. 26:58 The battle lasted about an hour, just over an hour. We’d run out of ammunition by this time because we couldn’t get any in Tanjong Priok. The skipper decided to make a run through the strait. We’d just hit top speed, and the first torpedo struck on the starboard side, the for’ard engine room. Tremendous explosion. Knocked me off my feet, and a few others that were around me. Killed everybody in the for’ard engine room, including the engineer commander. Lifted the ship out of the water and settled back again. Then a huge fireball broke out. The heat went down the upper deck and it was like opening a furnace door, from the fire. Anyhow, it picked up speed again and then a second torpedo hit, again on the starboard side, further forward under the gun turrets – for’ard gun turret. 28:10 The skipper then came over and said, “Prepare to abandon ship,” when a third torpedo hit on the port side. After that, it was out of ammunition. Abandon ship was given then. 28:29 I went down aft onto the quarterdeck with some other fellow. Helped put some of the rafts overboard, and the Carley float – large float. The fellow next to me standing by the guardrail, he said, “Well, aren’t you going over?” I said, “Yeah, as soon as I kick these shoes off.” I wish I had’ve kept them on, because the following day on a hot steel deck of a Jap destroyer, it would’ve been handy to have them on. 29:06 But anyway, I went over the side and into the water. That was it. Floating around, and saw our ship go down. The Houston also went down just shortly after. All survivors were captured by the Japs over the next few days. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 9 of 34 29:34 Where we ended up that night, in a lifeboat, almost sunk. Off one of the Jap transporters I saw the name on there when we bailed it out. It was something Maru. So we got into that. We thought, ‘Well, this is pretty good. We’ll start rowing for the shore.’ But the current there was about a five-knot current and we were exhausted after two days of action stations. 30:12 A Jap destroyer on the other side of the strait doing patrol work headed towards us mid-morning. As it leered, the skipper, who spoke in English, ordered us to stop. We said, “Er, what are we going to do? Oh, bugger it. We’ll keep going.” We weren’t making that much headway towards Java. The Jap destroyer moved in closer. Again, it ordered us to stop. This time, they trained the for’ard gun on us. Five-inch gun. So, looking down the barrel of a five-inch gun from a few hundred yards away didn’t have much promise or much future, so we stopped. Then, the next order was, “Follow us out,” which we did. 31:15 Took us on board. Had to discard all our oil-soaked clothing from the fuel oil. Stinking stuff, it was. We were issued with a piece of cloth about a yard long, foot wide, with a string at the top. Tied that around our waist and put the cloth through our legs and lapped it over. Your lap-lap – that’s what it was. That was our wardrobe for the next six weeks or so. 31:56 We were kept on board that night. Treated all right on the destroyer by the crew and the skipper. The following day, we were then transported to one of the Jap transports, the Somdong Maru, anchored in the bay. We were on there for about a week or so. Again, okay. Treated us okay. Then, from there, taken ashore to a place called Merak in Western Java. We were then handed over to the Jap army, fronted by two machine guns. The Jap officer said, “You are now prisoners of war. If you try to escape, you will be shot.” Made to squat down. “No talking.” 33:11 Two machine guns were in the enfilade position. We just squatted there with the lap-lap on in the hot sun for a couple of hours. There was a waiting shed there. While I was sitting there, I just turned around. It was just like an ordinary waiting shed you’d find anywhere; probably for a ferry going from Java to Sumatra. There was a poster there and it said – would you believe it – in English, and Dutch, probably: ‘Come to sunny New South Wales.’ On that poster was the depiction of the Three Sisters from the Blue Mountains. Blue Mountains scenery. I said, “I can’t believe this.” So I nudged the bloke next to me. I couldn’t talk. I just nudged him, indicated to have a look. He turned around and had a look. I could see the look on his face. He didn’t believe it either.
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 10 of 34 34:34 From there, we were taken to a filthy place called Serang and lodged in an old cinema there- a disused cinema, no seating capacity, Just a concrete floor – along with other fellows. The Houston survivors were in there already. We were kept in the cinema just on about eight weeks. Bad news, that was. Dreadful. We were made to squat down all day in rows on either side of the aisle on the concrete, and numbered by the Jap guards, which took anything up to an hour or more for counting. One behind the other, sitting down, legs drawn up. There would have been, I think, at that time, about 400 or 500 in there that had been rounded up on Java and all that area. 35:59 We were given a small-sized tin, about the size of an ordinary plate of rice. Very shallow. Cooked by the natives and stowed outside of the cinema in the hot sun while this numbering took place – tenko, it was called, the roll call – and when it was brought in, it was caked on the top by the hot sun. That was our first meal. 36:43 The next one was anything from 8 or 9 o’clock at night. It was a small bun in the shape of a loaf of bread, but it would be the size of a dinner bun. That was our meal for the day. We thought, ‘Oh. The Japs only eat two meals a day,’ we thought. But that was it for the next three or four weeks. 37:18 So, consequently, when we stood up we got dizzy. We were half starved. With the cooking of the rice by the natives and stowed outside the cinema, myriads of flies no doubt were having a feed on that too, and they brought it in. Consequently, most of us got dysentery. We had a pit dug outside. That was the latrine. A few branches from the tree put across it where we squatted. It wasn’t very good. That was Serang. 38:04 Machine guns were placed on either side of the projection room, pointing down at us. Each day, a Jap officer, an arrogant so-and-so, would come in. We knew when he was coming in because the guard would yell out, “Kiotsuke!” Japanese for jump to attention. He’d stand there looking at all of us. Not a word. Silence. You could hear a pin drop. He’d drag out a Luger – click-click. You could hear it in the theatre. He put it on his hip, and he’d have his full uniform on, stride down with his jackboots to the stage, turn around and survey us as though he could shoot the lot of us, and then went back again. Anybody that was not in line squatting down got a boot from his jackboot. 39:32 One of our fellas was there – I saw this; I was in one row, he was in the other
and he had two pieces of schrap in his leg from the paddling. He couldn’t bend it up, so he had it sticking out. One day, this fellow, the officer, strutted down, saw the leg out and put a boot into it. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 11 of 34 40:03 Another fellow had been to the latrines. Came back. Wasn’t in line with standing. The officer smashed him across the jaw and broke his jaw. Collapsed. Things like that happened. We thought, ‘Oh well, we’d better just behave ourselves.’ It’s the way things were. 40:37 We had to salute all Japs, whether they were officer or private. Had to salute them either by bowing if you didn’t have a hat on, or if you had a cap or something on, salute. 40:56 That lasted two months. Then they gave us a uniform. Clothing. Green uniform with a Dutch hat. From there, we were transported by truck up to Bicycle Camp, as it was called, in Batavia, or Jakarta as it is now called. Some of our army fellas had been captured in Java. They’d been up there. 2/2nd Pioneers. Good bunch of fellas. Came from Victoria. They had been over to the Middle East, fighting in Syria against the Vichy French in the French Foreign Legion. They thought, ‘Who are these blokes?’ when we got off the trucks. Ema
ciated, unshaven, filthy. Still had oil fuel on
them. They couldn’t do enough for us when they found out we were off the Perth.
We’d escorted them, I think. So, there you are. They were terrific.
42:15 We were kept there, working on the wharves, oil wells, for about eight
months. Then we were told we were going to a better place, by the Japs. Took us
down to the Port of Batavia, Tanjong Priok, put on board a transport, down in the
hold. Not much room down in there. We thought, ‘Where the hell are we going?’ That
was our first leg to Singapore, on our way to Burma.
43:05 We landed in Singapore in what was called Changi, but it was a barracks
that the British had. Selarang Barracks. Plenty of room in there, lawns, the whole works,
overlooking the water. ‘Pretty good,’ we thought. But we weren’t treated that well by
our own crowd there, because they said, “You’re in transition camp only, and then
you’re on your way.” We were still barefooted, some of us. Didn’t have shoes or
anything like that. Those that were in charge of the place, said, “You’re only here on
transition.” So we didn’t get any supplies that way, but we did get a small amount of
food from our own crowd.
44:10 We were there about a week or two, and then loaded on board another
transport and headed to Burma, Moulmein, in Burma. We got there one night. We’d
been stuck down in the hold, of course. Stinking humid hold. When we got out it might
have been around about midnight. I don’t know. Landed on a pontoon and then on
the shoreline at Moulmein. Cold. It was freezing. Cold, with wind coming down the
Salween River. We only had shorts on. Things like that.
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 12 of 34
44:58 Jap guards there, soldiers, and an officer-in-charge who spoke English. Said,
“Right. We march to the local jail.” The local jail was the Moulmein Jail, built by the
Brits when they were there. It was a bright moonlit night. Cold. Deserted streets. We
thought it was about midnight. Taken to the local jail.
45:33 The Japs then handed us over to the local Burmese, or Indians, who were
there in the jail looking after the inmates. The Japs then went to the front of the jail,
away from us. We were in this compound with the young Indian jailer who was just
looking after us, in a different compound. He spoke English well, being an Indian. He
said, “We’ve got to go through here,” from the Japanese. “We’ve got to go through
that door.” “Okay.”
46:18 We were walking with him to get into some place where we’d get warm. He
had a bunch of keys. Opened this iron door. I was near him, and he turned to me and
he said – no Japs, they were out the front – he said, “How long, master? How long?”
That’s all. I just looked at him. I said, “How long before we get out?” They’d have the
Japs by that time. Eight months, been in there. I said, “Oh, Christmas.” I didn’t say
47:06 They took us into another compound. There was a two-storey timber
building, barrack-type. That’s where I went with a lot of blokes. Others went into a
small place, isolated, or a roundhouse. Some went in there to get out of the wind.
47:30 The following morning, the Japs came in. Tenko number again. Took a while.
Went out. Left us to the Indian gentleman. He came in amongst us after the Japs had
gone. He said, “We will get some rice shortly. Some food. How did you sleep last
night?” “Oh, good. Okay, yeah. In up there.” A few blokes said, “Oh, we slept in that
round building over there.” The Indian jailer, his eyes widened a little further and he
said, “Oh, master. You slept there?” I said, “Yeah. Yeah, it was good. Out of the wind.”
He said, “That is where the lepers are!” I said, “Oh, we slept all right. The other fella: “I
slept down there in that isolated place, that little building down there.” Well, the Indian
jailer nearly fell over. His eyes widened still, further. “Oh, master. You slept down
there?” He said, “Yeah. Yeah. I slept in there.” He said, “That is where the dead men
are!” It was the morgue, probably. He said, “I had a good sleep there,” he said, “I wasn’t
48:57 Anyway, we got our Dixie of rice. Melon water on it. It went all right, you
know. Melon water. We had a three-kilometre march to Thanbyuzayat, it was called,
which was the railhead of the rail going through the jungle. We marched through
Moulmein on that bowl of rice, or Dixie of rice. The local people came out. We had
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 13 of 34
guards all around us – Jap guards. When they saw us, mainly women, they went down
back to their camp and out of their own meagre rations, they brought up food. The
Jap guards didn’t like that. With their rifle butts, pushing them away. That didn’t matter.
They went down and got more. More people came up. Mainly women. Women
coming up, giving us food that they’d probably prepared for their own breakfast, and
this carried on right through Moulmein.
50:28 In the end, the Japs just gave up. The women then prepared meals and gave
it to their kids, and they were running up giving us food. I’ve never forgotten that.
They were terrific. Their courage. Their courage and compassion was terrific.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? That’s 70 years ago and you’re still very emotional from what
51:35 [Unclear 51:35].
What was the next thing that happened? Did you stay there very long? Then what?
51:54 From Thanbyuzayat, we were put on trucks. Taken out along to a camp. 35
Kilo Camp. That was our first camp on the line. Along the line for 150 kilometres, it
would have been.
You walked all the way?
52:25 450 kilometres along the line. I think it was 450 kilometres. Every five
kilometres there was a camp where our fellas were.
Did you work on the railway, building it?
52:51 We got to the 35 Kilo Camp. That’s right. From there, the work that we did,
with the Japs in charge, it was the dry season and it was quite okay. We were
reasonably fed at that time, after eight months with the Japs. We were given a
workload to dig 1.2 metres of earth a day, each man, to build the embankment of the
railway. We thought, ‘Oh. This is all right. We’ll do this,’ which we did. Got our rice for
lunch. Dixie rice.
53:44 Went back to the camp that night. There was a small stream there and a
well. We could get water and do our bathing, so we were okay for a couple of months
in that camp doing that type of work. We used to cheat a bit. After a while, we got a
little bit used to it. The Jap engineer would come along with his metre stick and
measure the 1.2 each day. Where the earth had been dug the previous day, you’d go
on from there. So when he’d gone to give another few fellas their work quota, we’d
dig the old earth, or that that was open, we’d dig along there and make it look as
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 14 of 34
though it’s just been dug and trim about half a metre, or something like that, with the
next lot. We got away with that for quite a while.
55:04 Then, the bridge building. That was another thing. It was a bamboo structure
on either side. Because of the dry season, the dry riverbed, and the scaffolding built,
with a Jap engineer who would climb up on it, and then there was a rope running up
thick rope with strands coming out that we manned on each side. These ropes went up over the scaffolding and down. On the end of it was this weight, huge weight, so big and cylindrical. A heavy weight to do the punching of these logs in to build the bridge. This Jap engineer, he’d be up on top: “Ichi, ni, san. One, two three.” It was a singsong way: “Ichi, ni, san…” We’d: “Ichi, ni, san…” all bloody day. Pull the weight up and then it would drop down on this log and push it into the sand. This kept going on for weeks. 56:31 The fella up top, the Jap, after a couple of weeks of this, he’d say, “Oh, one more. One more. Kampo.” We’d go back to camp after we did one more. So we did that for a little while, after a couple of weeks. 56:56 We said, “We’ll give it to him one day.” We had a couple of little characters. Sato, this fella’s name is. He said, “We’ll start singing Sato. Instead of ichi, ni, san, we’llsay, Sato is a bastard.” As we were doing it, “Sato is a bastard,” Sato: ‘Oh,’ he heard his name, Sato. He thought that was good. He didn’t know the rest of it. We did that, until one day this bloke said, “We’ll give Sato something.” So, instead of singing ‘Sato’ when he wanted one more, we said, “One, two, three,” and we pulled on – the weight went up, hit the scaffolding, Sato did a somersault, straight down in between and bounced off a few – in the dry riverbed. We said, “Oh, well. There’s a good Jap. He’s dead.” A bloody week later, who should we see with his major stick there, stumbling up the road? Sato. All he got out of it was a few bruises and a dislocated ankle or something. That’s all. He was still there, Sato. 58:40 We got through that. Then, the wet season. Oh, it was a horror, the wet season. The wet season – we didn’t think they’d do it. They didn’t think we’d work through it. See, we’re on the Burma side, then they had another lot on the Siam side and we were to join up at near Three Pagoda Pass, it was called, or Nikki; it was a trading joint. Anyway, we kept going through the wet season. We didn’t think they’d do it, but they did. 59:26 We were then called the Mobile Force. After the embankment was built, we had to lay the rails – sleepers, rails, and the spiking – so they gave us spiking hammers to do this, and the fellow with the auger, just boring a hole about so big while the Jap Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 15 of 34 engineers were there, we got him to take it down further when the Jap engineer was there. Make it easier to get it in. So, it wasn’t very secure, while we were doing this. While we were able to auger down a couple of inches, there wasn’t much holding the rail, but we did that right along. 60:22 We were getting weaker because of malaria. We were getting malaria every few weeks. Our doctors called it recurring malignant malaria. Fellas were just collapsing. They were starting to die. They had malaria, dysentery, beriberi, which was a tropical disease from deficiency of vitamins. Your face would swell up, your eyes would almost close, your hands would swell up with the fluid inside your body. You could put your finger in – it was like dough – push your finger into your flesh and it would stay there for a couple of minutes before it finally came out. That was beriberi. Hardly see out of your eye. Belly would be up. Legs straight. There was no shape in your legs; they were all swollen. But the Jap engineer said, “Out to work.” The doctors said, “Try not to.” Well, they’d bash the doctors up and give them a beating because, “No, he can’t go out. He’s sick.” Give him a bashing. Then, the Jap engineers and guards: “Out you go.” 62:08 With these fellas with the beriberi, the Japs – the engineer – would give you your workload for the day, and the bloke that was sick with beriberi couldn’t lift a shovel up. He’d be given what his work quota was, but the other fellas would do that. He’d be with his legs propped up against the embankment, just to try and drain the fluid back out of his legs. I believe some of the chaps had it that bad that their lungs filled with fluid and more or less drowned them. 62:52 The topical ulcers; oh, they were a shocker. You’d be in bare feet going along the track, and you’d be ballasting, putting a ballast in, knocking that in with the flat picks, and they’d fly off sometimes and might give you a scratch on your ankle or somewhere there. That scratch, in a couple of weeks, would be festered, diseased, festered, and spread. It’d spread from the ankle up to the knee, and the ulcer – without any basic food or basic medicine which would’ve cleared it up – went straight into the bone, or almost into the bone. Rotten flesh. The smell was nauseating. They had a separate hut that they called the ulcer hut. The fellas in there, they only had to have that, and a dose of malaria or dysentery, and that was it. 64:14 In the wet season, I was on light duties with malaria, working in the camp. I was in the funeral party, taking the fellas out to be buried. The stretcher – two bamboo poles and a couple of empty rice bags stretched between them. You’d put the fella on there and then put an empty rice bag over the top of him. Soaking wet. Pouring Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 16 of 34 rain. Monsoonal rain pouring down. You carried the bloke out to be buried. He was only just skin and bones. The place where he was to be buried, the grave, was already filling with water. You’d empty him into there and, with your shovel, pour the mud over the top of him and put a wooden cross on the top of it. We buried 15 blokes one day, doing that. 65:38 They sounded the bugle at this time. The Japs let us sound the Last Post. One of the Perth blokes was a bugler, or two of them, and he was doing that; sounded the bugle over this fella. As we walked back past the ulcer ward, our doctor came out and he said, “Please don’t sound the Last Post again.” He said, “These fellas are in a state. It’s demoralising them. They’re thinking that might be for them next.” So we stopped blowing the bugle. I forget what that camp was. 105, I think it was. Past the camp, or the Three Pagoda Pass. Past the border. A place called Songkurai, I think it was, or Konkoita. The Burma side, although we called them kilos: 5, 15, 25, 30, 105, they also had names. 55 Kilo was [Unclear], I think. Some name like that. Another one, Tha Muang, and so on, but we called them kilos. On the Siam side, it was their name; the name they called it. Nong Pladuc was one, that’s right, on the Thai side. 67:33 That’s how it went through. We kept going. Blokes dying right, left and centre. Still had to go out to work. They were bad. 67:49 The Korean guards, they were just as bad as the Nips. They were treated by the Japs as second-class citizens. Of course, they took it out on us. Were they worse than the Japanese for you? 68:07 Some of them were, because they were bigger than the Japs. We had one bloke there, six-foot. We called him Boof Head. That was one name he got. He’d strut around in jackboots. We had one bloke called Konsito. The different names we gave them. There were a couple of young-looking ones, like boys. We called him the Boy Bastard. He was a nasty one – and his mate. We called him the Boy Bastard’s Cobber. That’s how it was. But if you forgot to salute – well, you didn’t forget to salute – if you just went past them, you’d get bashed up. So how did you get out of there? How did that end, that period of your life? 69:13 There was one thing I was just going to say. Sorry. 69:19 The Stormtrooper. Boof Head. The Stormtrooper. We had an Englishman there who was captured in Hong Kong, spoke Japanese fluently, and he was the camp interpreter. Real decent bloke. We were having a bit of a singsong one night, about a dozen of us. We’d had an easy day out on the line because we were waiting on rails Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 17 of 34 to come up. We were singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling. I think that was it. Something like that. 70:12 Planes at that time, bombers, were coming over, doing Bangkok over – our planes coming over the camp – Boofhead – something must have upset him. He called on Drouer, the interpreter. Captain Drouer. “Who’s been singing?” Fallout. So, half a dozen of us, we were all there. Captain Drouer said, “He wants to know what you are singing.” We said, “Oh, When Irish Eyes are Smiling and Gundagai,” or something. He said, “What are the words?” Boofhead wanted to know. We said, “Now, you won’t believe this. ‘When Irish eyes are smiling, you can hear the angels sing.’” That was the next line. Boofhead, as soon as he heard ‘angels’, “You are signalling the bombing planes!” He had a bamboo stick about that long; about two inches wide, and each one of us – whack! Said to Drouer, “No more singing.” And that was it. No more singing. How stupid. “You’re signalling the planes.” So that was it. 72:00 Drouer, I might add, he survived. I met him down in Melbourne at one of our reunions. His hand was pretty useless. One hand. He fell out with one of the Jap officers in the camp, one camp, and the Jap officer – nasty – made him dig a foxhole. He was about six foot tall, Drouer the interpreter. Made him stand down in a hole after he got beaten up very badly. They filled that hole with water. Kept filling it with water up to his neck. He had to stand in it. That was one of the tortures that he got. They kept that up for days. He survived, though. Got back. But they did something with his hand. He couldn’t use it. 73:17 But anyway, we’re getting towards the end, where we join up with the fellas from the Siam side. 73:27 Think back what I said about the spikes, not very secure. We were being taken across the border to a large camp near the River Kwai and the bridge. Tamerkan, it was called. Large camp. We were transported on two bogies, say there and there, and the length of rails placed on them and tied on each bogie, and that was our transport to Siam. To the other side – Thai. When we got to the Siam side, we were going around, looking down at the river about 100 feet below. We thought, ‘Oh, I hope these blokes did a better job than we did,’ on the rails, you know, spiking the rails, because we didn’t do a very good job. But we did it. 74:39 We got to this place, Tamerkan, and we got better food. The barges coming up the river were able to bring food, whereas, on the Burma side during rainy season, a lot of it was impassable. The food couldn’t go under. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 18 of 34 75:00 Anyway, we were there, Tamerkan, with the better food. The Japs then went through our ranks and picked out the fittest blokes. I was one of them. In the Jap’s eyes, if you could walk, you were fit for the Japan Party. We were to be transported through Japan to augment the workforce in Japan. Because that was in ’44 – they were getting a bit knocked back down; feeling the pinch. We were placed on board a transport, the Rakuyo Maru. Over a thousand of us. 1300, to be exact. 76:06 After Tamerkan, the Japan Party, we were taken down the Mekong River, landed at Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and, what surprised us, we looked at it – French influence, see? They didn’t fight the Japs. They more or less came to the party. Beautiful tree-lined streets. We thought, ‘Oh, this is heaven.’ It was, after Burma, you know, in the jungle. But then, from there, we had to march through the jungle; hundreds of monkeys everywhere and through the old temples in Cambodia, onto Vietnam. We didn’t know it as Vietnam, it was just part of Indo-China, into Saigon. They kept us there for three months. We could’ve done the rest of the war there. It was the best camp. It was the best camp. Food plentiful. We’d just arrived there a couple of days and I told them what was going on. They didn’t believe us about Burma. 77:35 Well, we marched through Saigon and the French people came out, saw us, surreptitiously give us the ‘V for Victory’ sign. We started singing. Some of the fellas that had been in Syria fighting the Vichy French, they knew the French national anthem. A couple of them who didn’t have a bad voice, they started singing it. Well, the French people came out. The Jap guards, they didn’t know what to do. ‘What’s going on?’ They’ve seen that. I said, “Hey listen, fellas. They’d like to know who we are. What about singing Waltzing Matilda?” So some of us knew some of the words. So that was it, going through Saigon. Quite good. 78:45 We’re still singing as we go into this camp where there were a lot of Brits. They were jaw-dropping. ‘Who are these blokes?’ as we were singing. One, in a cockney voice, he said, “They’re Aussies, don’t you know?” They heard some of our blokes talking. 79:18 So, Saigon, we were there three months, I think. That was an eye opener to us. As I was saying, one of the little carts had driven in with loads of greens in baskets and that, and eggs, just after we got there. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get some of these eggs.’ So I rang alongside it, taking these eggs. One of the Brits saw me. He said, “What are you doing, Aussie?” I said, “What do you think I’m bloody well doing?” I said, “I’m getting some eggs.” He said, “They’re going to our kitchen.” I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Going to the kitchen?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Oh.” I said, “Over in Burma, Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 19 of 34 we didn’t see an egg for a long time.” So that’s how it was. It was quite good there. The work was easy at that time that we were there. 80:33 I’ll tell you an incident. It was after noon. I went to the tongs to have a bathe, and I took a shortcut. The Jap commandant, or the officer there, had his cottage within the area, and a tennis court there. So I thought instead of going right around I’d cut across the tennis court. Here I am, you know, little towel and what have you. Jap officer, he’s coming down, smoking a cigarette. I thought, ‘Oh, crikey. I’m gone.’ I got half way across. I gave him a decent bow. I thought I’d better give him a good one. He said, “Oh,” in English, “where are you from?” I thought, ‘I don’t believe this.’ I said, “Burma, sir.” “No, no, no. What country are you from?” I said, “Oh, Australia.” “Hmm. You Japan Party?” “Yes, sir.” “Oh. I hope you have safe journey.” He’s the commandant. I said, “Oh. Thank you, sir.” Bow. 82:26 I went back and told my mate. I said, “I’ve just been speaking to the commandant.” He just looked at me. He said, “What?” I said, “The Jap officer-incharge,” and I told him. He said, “Crikey. What’s going on?” That was the difference there that I saw and experienced, than Burma. Or anywhere else for that matter. Anywhere else. 83:08 Then, when we got to Japan, that was bad news too. Why did they send you to Japan? 83:17 To augment the workforce. They were feeling the pinch at the time. Not that we did much in the way of the war effort. No. 83:28 We were sunk going up there by the Yank subs. The Rakuyo Maru. Five days out from Singapore, 1300 of us jammed down in the for’ard. That was bad news too. Stuck down in there, 40-degree heat, blokes with tropical ulcers, dysentery, malaria, collapsing in the heat, putting blocks over and put them on the shelves to put them up on the upper deck to recover, and only a narrow stairway down or out of that place. Only one man at a time could go up or down. Some of our officers who were with us spoke to the Jap officer-in-charge, told him of the conditions down below, and it took a lot of convincing to allow a couple of hundred at a time up on deck on a roster basis. They’d be up there for an hour or so, down, another couple of hundred. Was it a submarine or was it a ship, the ship you’re describing? 84:53 No, no, it was a transport. A merchant ship, sorry. The Rakuyo Maru. Oh yeah, 1300 of us down below in a hole. Oh, yeah. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 20 of 34 85:12 Five days out from Singapore in those conditions. We were on the for’ard part of the ship. That night, five days out, on that night, the lead destroyer was torpedoed, and it was the Shikinami. Now, as fate would have it, the Shikinami, the destroyer, took part in the Battle of Sunda Strait and then it was sunk there, the lead destroyer, by American subs, who were four subs sweating on the convoy. The Yanks had broken the Jap naval code and they knew the convoy was coming through. They sunk half that convoy that night. Two tankers, destroyer, put two torpedoes into us; one amidships – tremendous explosion – and another one a minute or so later right up in the bow. In the bulkhead, where our fellas were in that hole, all of us – and some of us on the upper deck – that bulkhead held, so it didn’t do any damage to the ship itself, other than a great hole in the bow and right up. 86:54 All the Japs, they heard them clattering across the deck. Lowered some of the boats, most of the lifeboats. Left two jammed, in their panic. Jammed two lifeboats down aft in the davits. One on either side. A few of us stayed on board the Rakuyo Maru. It didn’t sink straightaway. 87:27 I meant to tell you this. When we embarked on the ship, each POW had to take on a square of rubber, so big, with handle fashions in it. The Japs were taking it up to Japan, all the rubber. There would’ve been over a thousand pieces of this rubber. Individually, they were heavy. Put them in the water, they’d sink. But we think that they more or less stopped the water coming in too much. Just a trickle of water coming into the ship when it was hit with the torpedo, because it floated most of the next day, that ship. Strange! 88:23 Some of us stayed on board when we [unclear] just on an even keel. I said to my mate, “It’s not going down yet.” He said, “No. We’ll have a look around.” A few other blokes did too. So we went down to the galley to see if there was any food. First thing, food. It was underwater. Came up on deck. Saw a couple of dead Japs. Went up on the bridge. Of course, all the other Japs had gone. They were in their lifeboats. I said, “Oh, here’s some charts here. I’ll take this chart. It might be handy for something.” So I took that and put it in my pocket. I had a dirty pair of shorts on. Met some other blokes, our blokes, down aft trying to get the lifeboat off. So we went past a couple of dead Nips there and went down. Finally, we got it off and there was a Jap girl there – one of their comfort women, as they call them – crying her eyes out. We ignored her. We just said, “Let’s get this boat off.” 89:50 Eventually, we did, and made out to the girl, “Do you want to come?” “Ikimasu?” “You want to go?” So we tied a rope around her middle and lowered her Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 21 of 34 into the boat. She was just taking room in the boat, the way we looked at it, my mate and I, who helped lower the boat. It was packed, because a lot of blokes in the water, treading water, jumped in – or scrambled in. We thought, ‘Oh, there’s no room for us,” but we clambered down the ropes and had to hang on to the side of the boat. There was no room in it and there was only about that much freeboard; two inches of freeboard. Over 100 in there, I reckon. 90:48 The Japs were about a few hundred yards away, and we called out to them. “Ah! Girl. Matte,
Jap officer came out and, through the interpreter, assembled us outside
and he said, “The camp commandant is going to talk to you.” So, there we are. The
camp commandant came out. Through the interpreter he said peace talks were going
on between Nippon and America.” He got his fist like that, smashed it into the palm
of his hand, and he himself spoke: “Nippon is still strong.” Afterwards, I thought, ‘I
don’t think they are. We’re getting too many air raids.’
124:30 Sure enough, my mate said, “I think the bloody war is over.” I said, “See if
there’s any air raid tonight, mate.” There was no air raid. I said, “Oh, you might be
right.” Midday – sirens went. No. Only a recce plane came over. It only lasted half an
124:57 Then, the following day, food parcels were going to be dropped. We were
given paint brushes, white paint on the roof of the hut, 30-foot letters: PW. I said, “It’s
over, mate. I agree with you now.” Sure enough, the B-29s came over. Only a few
hundred feet up. Bomb bays opened. I thought, ‘I hope it’s not going to drop bombs.’
They dropped these food parcels. They were huge. Coming down by different
Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 29 of 34 coloured parachutes. Broke one bloke’s arm. I said, “I’m not going to be killed by a bloody food parcel.” I went up to the air raid shelter. So, there it was. 125:43 Then we were taken down and put on board a hospital ship. They treated us like royalty, the Yanks. They were a generous lot. Incredible. Hot showers, fluffy white towels, soap. I said, “It can’t be. Soap!” And that’s how it was. 126:07 Then, from there, we got put on board HMS Speaker, a small aircraft carrier. Took us an hour to go out of Tokyo Bay. They lined up all these ships. The Missouri. We went past the Missouri. HMAS Hobart was there. They wanted to bring us back. They said, “No, they’ve got to go through medical.” Took us an hour. We went down on one ship, got a lot of cheers: “Yeah! You beaut!” and all this business. It was fantastic. 126:49 Then, from there, to Manila. From Manila, I met a bloke who I used to work with. He was there in the army. He was looking after the fellas coming back, the POWs. He came to the tent one day. We were all there, only about a week. “Frank McGovern there?” I said, “Yeah, mate.” Phil Phillips, a fellow from the Water Board where I worked. I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “Looking after you blokes.” I said, “When are we going?” “Straightaway.” I said, “Go straightway?” I said, “Yeah. Now. Right now.” He said there’s a flight going out tomorrow morning. Liberator. I’ve got a photo of it, by the way. Liberator. He said, “There’s a spare seat on it.” He said, “I’ve never seen a bloke get dressed so quickly as you did that day.” 127:57 So, eleven hours from Manila to Darwin. Engine trouble on the way. RAAF crew said, “It’s all right. There’s one engine out. We’ve got three others.” I said, “Good.” 128:18 We were in Darwin for about 24 hours until they flew a part there, and 11 hours then down to Sydney. Beautiful. 17 September 1945. A sunny spring day in Sydney Harbour, glistening in the sunlight. Flew in low over the bridge, and around, and did another circle. I thought many times, ‘I didn’t think I’d see that.’ 128:52 Then the navy took over. Took us to Balmoral, the pair of us. That was it. Well, you must have some lucky angel looking after you, what you survived. Incredible. 129:06 Five times. Five times, and I do believe. I do. Your guardian angel. 129:20 Yes, I do. I’ve got a few more questions. 129:23 Yes, mate? Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 30 of 34 What was the worst thing, do you think, about being in that war? 129:32 Oh, being away from my loved ones from home. That was the worst thing. I always had faith that we wouldn’t get beaten, but we had to survive. We lived from day to day. That’s what I mean. Your brother didn’t make it, did he? Tell me about him. 129:57 Vince, as I say, was in the navy. Permanent navy. Engineer room artificer. Two years older than I was. the last time I saw Vince on board was that afternoon before we sailed that night. There was an air raid on, and I didn’t see him that much on board because, you know, there was nearly 700 in the crew and different parts of the ship. Some people couldn’t understand that. When I came back they said, “You must’ve known what happened to him.” Midnight. Shells going on everywhere. Torpedoes hitting the ship. Different parts of the ship. Doing our own job. Vince was down below. I was on the upper deck. That’s how it was. 131:05 The last time I saw him was that afternoon when the air raid was on. I was going to the guns, closing up, and he was in a passageway going down below to his station. He said, “Oh well, it’s on again.” I said, “Yeah, mate. It is.” I said, “Oh well.” He said, “[Unclear 131:29] a few.” I said, “We’ll do that. See you later.” So sad. Now, you’ve been awarded recently with a Medal of the Order of Australia. 131:41 Yes. That’s an honour. 131:44 It is, really. Yes. I’ve got it in there. Do you want to see it? Okay. Sure. That’s very significant. 131:54 Oh, yes. It’s really something. Wow. You should be proud of that. 132:06 I am. I am. You’ve certainly deserved it. That’s for sure. 132:13 Thank you. Just a few more questions. You had a long association with the Perth survivors. The Perth Association, is it? 132:24 Oh, yes. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 31 of 34 Tell me a little bit about that, in a few words. 132:30 Oh, well, we got together shortly after the war and formed an association with the survivors in each state and called it the RAN Ex-Prisoners of War Association. A few years later we were talking about it and I said, “What about naming it the HMAS Perth Ex-POW and Naval Ex-POW Association, which we did. But over the years – a few years – only Perth survivors came along to each of our reunions. No other naval ex-POW. There were a few on the DEMS, as they called them: Defence Merchant Ship Gunners, whose ships had been sunk and they had been captured also. I met a couple of them on the way back. But they never came along. 133:50 So then we made it HMAS Perth Ex-Prisoner of War Association. I’m the only one left. You’re the last one… 134:03 Yes. …of the HMAS Perth Association? 134:05 Ex-POW. Yes. How do you feel about the Japanese today? About Japan and – because you suffered at their hands. Do you still have any ill feelings? 134:22 No. You can’t keep hating. It will rebound on you, I think, if you did. So, I don’t. I’ve been back to Japan with a mate of mine. He’s dead now – passed on. We went up there and visited the Allied War Service in Yokohama where our fellas as buried. What about your personal life? Did you get married after the war? 135:09 I did. Tell me a bit about your wife and… 135:13 I met up again with my wife. Before I went away, we used to go dancing quite a bit. Met her at a dance one night. That’s how we met people then. Formed an association. But then, away I went, and that was it until I came back. Met up again with her. Got married in ’47. How many years were you married? 135:55 My wife died 13 years ago this month. So it was a long marriage, yes. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 32 of 34 136:03 It was. yes. Do you often think about your mates and those people who didn’t make it back? 136:09 Oh, yes. Often. Often think about them. How come, do you think, that you were lucky and they were not? 136:23 Just one of those things. I don’t know. I often think about it. I say, “Why me?” But I don’t know. I don’t know. What’s important to you now at this stage of your life? You’re 99 and three quarters. That’s not bad. 136:49 Thank you. Oh, the family, and they’re good. I am very fortunate to have them around. Very fortunate. How many children and grandchildren do you have? 137:05 Children? Four: Two girls, two boys. Grandchildren: 10. Two great grandchildren. That’s fantastic. So how would you most like to be remembered? 137:19 As not a bad bloke. I think that’s definitely right. Is there anything else you want to talk about before we end this session? 137:32 No. Thank you. Thank you. We’ve really been very impressed by your story. It will go into the libraries and Woollahra Council will put it on the internet. We’ll let you know when that’s going to be. It won’t be long. There’ll be a transcript done, which is every word that you’ve spoken will be written down, so you can have that, with the compliments of the Woollahra Library, for your children and grandchildren when we do it. We’ll give it to you. 138:07 Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. An honour to have been able to interview you. We both are very honoured. 138:14 Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thank you. So that’s the end of the interview with Frank McGovern. Thank you. Interview of Frank McGovern by Frank Heimans, recorded on 5 July 2019 Page 33 of 34
There’s a page with pictures following, that have not been copied
Eleven years ago, in April/May 2012, I was ‘only’ 77. I think I felt then that I was already very old!!
I had bad arthritis in my right leg as well as some inflammation in my right knee. This resulted in difficulty with walking because of huge pain. But on the first of May that year Peter took me on a lovely drive. I did enjoy this outing so very much. I don’t think I experienced a lot of pain that day for Peter made sure that I did not have to walk much.
It was a time when Peter was still very fit. But four years later, in 2016, he had to get some cancer treatment. By mid 2020 the cancer had spread to his bones, and that was then very soon the end of him.
Now I have outlived Peter by more than two years already. It took me a while, learning to live on my own. But I am now resigned to live by myself. I feel, this is still better, than having to go into care. But of course, it would have been so much better, if Peter could have remained reasonably healthy. We had very much enjoyed our carefree retirement life together. And really, usually none of us had too much pain to suffer while we were still together.
But going back eleven years again. Actually, I want to go to something I published eleven years ago! I want to try to collect my thought to look at bits and pieces from this old blog; and I want to write about it, what comes to mind when I look at it today!
The awful pain in my right leg and knee apparently started on my way to church on Sunday, the 29th of April 2012. But I made it to the church, arriving there just in time for a beautiful Mass service with a lot of singing! Here is what I wrote:
“I was very moved by the beautiful singing in the church. Both Fr Francis Tran and the Seminarian, Mr Stephen Varney, were singing Mass. Both have such beautiful voices! The church choir sang very well too. Stephen was given the homily that morning. He pointed out that for some people the Priesthood can offer a fulfilling way of life. They may think that it might be too hard to stick to being a priest. Even though for most people it is right to get married, you may think about it that it is also often not easy to stick to being husband and wife. It all depends on what God wants you to do, doesn’t it?
On Wedesday, the 2nd of May, I say the folowing:
“Monday has come and gone, so has Tuesday. Today is Wednesday and the pain is still there. I can cope with it as long as I don’t do too much! I cancelled the walks with my neighbour, Irene. I didn’t even go to the pool on Monday or to the Thai Yoga class on Tuesday. Peter could have driven me to the pool. But I declined.”
“Peter suggested on Tuesday, the first of May, we could drive to Berry and then further on to Hampden Bridge, I joyfully agreed to this. We had a lovely day out. The weather was perfect for an outing. The good thing was, I didn’t have to walk much. Peter took lots of pictures. I took quite a few pictures too, some of them out of the window from the car.”
Seeing the doctor or the dentist or the optometrist? Apparently, I did not want to do this, for I wrote:
“At the moment I do not want to think about seeing the doctor or the dentist or the optometrist. Within the next couple of months I ought to see all these people. Just now I only want to rest and get better.”
Following are some of the pictures I took on our drive!
From there we drove on to Berry where we had some pies for lunch. We also bought some cake at the Milkwood Bakery. This is a newly opened bakery in Queen Street. They are a branch of the Berry Sourdough Cafe in Prince Alfred Street, which is famous for very good breakfasts.
This picture shows a tree with autumn leaves in a street in Berry
We turned off from Berry taking the Tourist Drive to Hampden Bridge
21 thoughts on “What does God want me to do?”
likeitizEditHello, Aunty Uta. Sad to hear you are in pain. Do you have arthritis? Or is this an old injury? I hope it’s been looked at and you are getting the right treatment for it.Reply
auntyutaEditThanks for your concern, dear Mary-Ann. It’s not an old injury. It’s probably old age, don’t you think?Reply
likeitizEditSome mild discomfort and initial stiffness that gradually alleviates with increased movement is natural in aging but not the pain you described. I would recommend that you have it examined if it recurs or persists. It may be something that’s easily treated. The last thing you want is something that will restrict your mobility. This would be very detrimental to your continued well-being.
auntyutaEditYou’re right, Mary-Ann. What you say makes a lot of sense to me. Actually Peter has to see his doctor for his annual check-up so he can keep his drivers’ license. In the past he liked to see his doctor at the Medical Centre Wednesday nights, when he was on night duty and there wasn’t a very long waiting time. We both tried to see this doctor last night. There were already ten people signed in waiting to see him. This would have meant a waiting time of more than two hours for us. After consultation with the receptionist we decided we would see the doctor early Friday morning, because on Thursday he’s not available. So I hope for the best now, that it can be easily treated.Reply
berlioz1935Edit“What does God wants you to do?”How can an atheist, like me, answer this question? Philosophers, sages and other wise people have thought about this important question for centuries. It is practical the same as asking, “What is the meaning of (my) life?”Let’s assume that your implied assumption is right and there is a God. I think he does not want you to do anything other than to be. His purpose for you falls under the inscrutable. Who knows what God wants you to do? Even bad people have a mission given to them by God. Think of Judas. Without him Jesus could have escaped capture or not? Even Jesus wasn’t sure what was happening when he asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” He of all people should have known that was his purpose.To say your cross is your hurting knee, might be a bit harsh, but it is a reminder that our bodies are subject to decay and sickness; two other aspects of God’s plans for you.And what if we assume there is no God? You have to take responsible action and be happy with what you done. Try to be sure within yourself. Every action is the basis for the next action – cause and effect. Resting in the church was the right thing to do. Seeing a doctor will be the next right thing to do.Reply
auntyutaEditThanks, Berlioz, for this comment. Of course I realise that seeing the doctor is going to be the next right thing to do. It looks I won’t be able to avoid it!Reply
berlioz1935EditHaving the outing with you was the right thing to do. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the clouds in the sky were performing in an artful way.The bakery in Berry is a French bakery and it felt like a trip to the “Provence” in the Autumn. The cake was delicious and the bread wholesome.Reply
auntyutaEditThe bit of “Provence” in Berry was indeed very welcome. I loved the whole outing. We are very blessed to live in such a beautiful area.Reply
reflectionsofaprodigalsonEditHi Uta,I am sorry to hear that you are experiencing some pain and I hope that you find some comfort soon.However, it would appear that, in spite of your pain, you still managed to find some enjoyment. Perhaps there is a lesson for us in that ie even in our most difficult moments, we can still find joy in our lives.Get better soon,CarthageReply
auntyutaEditHi Carthage,Oh yes, there’s a lot of enjoyment in life even in old age. Pain just tells me I have to change something. Maybe just slow down a bit more? Thank you very much for your good wishes. UtaReply
WordsFallFromMyEyesEditLOVED LOVED LOVED your pictures, and very much envy you! An excellent blog, & very interesting. I am sorry you appear to be n pain & I hope things even out, work out.Sincerely, Noeleen 9859 0132Reply
WordsFallFromMyEyesEditAunty Uta, I meant also to say that I think it’s great you do thai yoga & swimming. I think these things are perfect. I am genuinely sorry about your pain & I just don’t know what you can actually do, because I truly would have thought the swimming would do it. I truly hope you’re better at least today…And the pictures, sigh. Great camera!
auntyutaEditYou are right, Noeleen, thai yoga and swimming are perfect exercises for me or have been for as long as this arthritic pain didn’t overwhelm me. Yes, I found out now from the doctor that it has to do with arthritis. My knee was xrayed. So now I am on anti-imflammatory tablets. The doctor didn’t mention diet. Personally I think I ought to do some changes to my eating habits. Wish me luck with this, Noeleen! Thank you so much for thinking of me. I keep thinking about you a lot too!Reply
auntyutaEditBy the way, Noeleen, if you would like to see some more of those pictures we took last Tuesday, please go to Peter’s blog. If you go to the end of my writing (before the pictures start) you’re going to find the link. I think you’ll be interested in browsing through Peter’s blog!Reply
auntyutaEditActually Peter wrote about our excursion to Hampden Bridge in two parts. Both parts have some good photos in it.
WordsFallFromMyEyesEditI do wish you luck, Aunty Uta, all all luck! YOU CAN DO IT!!Reply
auntyutaEditReblogged this on AuntyUta and commented:I just have been reading again this old blog of mine and found it very interesting! And I love all the pictures in it! The links to Peter’s Blogs also are of great interest to me!
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