Following a VC
The Second World War brought with it a sense of obligation and duty that hung heavily, indeed. The Second World War was to us precisely like the First World War, a war between good and evil. Good was Great Britain, King George, the Queen and the unquestioned loyalty of the British Empire. Evil was the Kaiser, the terrible wickedness of Germans and, with the advent of the Second World War, Hitler and the Nazis and their aim to dominate the world. Not even faintly were there any shades of grey. The day the war was declared, 3 September 1939, I was on school holidays and we listened to the Prime Minister, Mr R. G. Menzies, intoning the news:
"It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of the persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war. No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement ..."
There was no delay, no waiting period, we were not even consulted. R. G. Menzies, it seemed, wanted to be the very first to show the loyalty of the Empire. For Australia in another hemisphere, far from Europe's problems, it was purely black and white. We had to be there. I was fascinated. Almost from that moment I started a scrap book. I bought big Norman Brothers diaries from the stationer, and every day I cut out the war news from the Herald, the Sun, the Age and the Argus. On days when the news was insufficiently spectacular, I cut out diagrams and sketches showing intimate details of Royal Air Force aeroplanes, such as the Gloster Gladiator, the Fairey Battle and the new Hawker Hurricane. These scrap books I continued for nearly three years until I joined the Royal Australian Air Force.
It was inevitable as the coming of the dawn that all the family would be involved in the war. On the living-room wall there was a very large, gold-framed photograph of my father receiving the Victoria Cross. Does it ever strike you that somehow photographs were better when taken sixty, seventy, eighty years ago? This one is in sepia, superbly sharp and well composed.
Dad is on the steps at Parliament House, Melbourne, with those big, pawnbroker's-ball lamps in the background. Incredibly the same photograph could have been taken yesterday. The scene has not changed. The cast, of course, is very different. Dad is shaking hands with the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Crauford Munro Ferguson, who wears a general's uniform. Over to the left - huge moustache, classic gold-chain across waistcoat, and bowler hat - is that tough campaigner, ex-carpenter and minister for defence, Sir George Foster Pearce. Dimly in the background is a white figure, Nellie Melba. She had to be there, she was practically patron saint of Australia. All are wearing black armbands. Why? Four days earlier, on 5 June 1916, Lord Kitchener had been lost at sea. He died when his ship was struck by a mine or a torpedo on its way to Petrograd. Oh, Lord! In this picture William Dunstan looks so round faced, clear of skin and young - far younger than any of my children now. He was just 20 years old and a corporal when he won his Victoria Cross. A columnist for Table Talk, 15 June 1916, reported:
"Our latest V.C. hero, Lieutenant W. Dunstan, is a modest young man, and was rather overwhelmed by the ordeal of the ceremony at Parliament House on Friday . . . There was no catching him to chair him and carry him shoulder-high, for he incontinently fled. The photographers were there with their glaring camera-eyes focused to where he should have been but was not, and they waited in vain. One more lynx-eyed than the others noted a fugitive-looking figure in uniform plunge into the Grand Hotel doorway. After some search he found the valorous one hiding in the most obscure corner of an innermost room. The hero was coaxed to venture by quiet corridors to an obscure out-door spot, where he could be snapped, but he could not be induced to face the crowd again. In spite of what he has faced and gone through and achieved, this youth of twenty still has a great deal of the boy and the boy's shyness in him."
Undoubtedly the photographer had some success because Table Talk carried a whole spread of pictures, including one of the entire Dunstan family. There was William Dunstan, senior, in black bowler hat and Mrs Dunstan in a fox fur and a hat bedecked with flowers. Three brothers and two sisters were also present, and they, too, were wearing very fine hats. The reception after the ceremony was at the Grand Hotel, a very good choice for the Dunstans because it was a temperance hotel and uncontaminated by drink. The Grand did not get its licence until 20 December 1920; on that day it changed its name to the Hotel Windsor.
There are so many legends about Dad. He was born in Ballarat. His father, also William Dunstan, was a bootmaker; a surgical bootmaker, our family always emphasised. Dad was educated at the Golden Point State School, which he left at 14 to start work. He used to deliver goods by bicycle for Snow's Stores and study in his spare time at night.
Dad was always interested in the Army. When only 18 he joined the Army cadets, rose to the rank of cadet captain, then transferred to the Australian Military Forces as a lieutenant. When the First World War broke out, he was in camp at Queenscliff with the 70th Infantry Regiment. You could say he was involved in the very first shot that was fired in the First World War. On 5 August 1914 the German cargo vessel Pfalz - so new she wasn't even on the Lloyds register - sped at high speed down Port Phillip Bay. Just as she was entering the Rip, the fort at Queenscliff opened fire and a shot plunged 50 metres astern. The Pfalz, very sensibly, returned to Williamstown to become the first prize for the Allies.
Lieutenant Dunstan was desperate to get into action. He resigned his commission with the Australian Military Forces, left his job as a clerk with Snow's and on 1 June 1915 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces as a private. He was courting my mother at the time, and she used to ride pillion behind him on a Red Indian motor-bike. This was received with little enthusiasm by her father, Harry Carnell. The Camas felt they were definitely superior to the Dunstans. Harry Carnell was manager of Farmer's Hams and Bacon, while Billy Dunstan was the son of a bootmaker. Legend has it that Grandmother Carnell said, 'You can marry my daughter if you come back with the VC'. The legend went even further. When Dad did win his medal, the news boys for the Ballarat Star shouted, 'Ballarat boy wins the VC'. Grandmother Cornell did not buy a paper. 'Wouldn't be anyone I know', she said.
You can gauge the terror and urgency of the Gallipoli campaign by the speed with which my father was sent into action. He enlisted in the AIF on 1 June and sailed on 17 June. He went straight into action with re-enforcements to the 7th Battalion at Lone Pine. Lone Pine was the second great attempt to take the Gallipoli Peninsula and has been described as the peak of valour in Australian military history. There were seven Victoria Crosses awarded for bravery at Lone Pine, four in twenty-four hours. The 1st Australian Division lost 2000 soldiers, and the 7th Battalion was almost destroyed. It went into action with fourteen officers and 680 other ranks. At the finish only two officers were still alive, and 340 other ranks were dead.
Before the fatal day of 9 August, W. Dunstan had already been mentioned in dispatches two times and had been promoted to corporal on 6 August.
C. E. W. Bean tells the story in Volume II of The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. In the early morning of 9 August the Turks staged a massive counter-attack on a trench newly captured by the battalion, which went on for three days and three nights. Lieutenant F. H. Tubb had ten men at his disposal. He put eight up on the parapet, while two corporals down below had the job of catching Turkish bombs and throwing them back or smothering them with Turkish greatcoats, which were lying about the trenches. Tubb recklessly exposed himself on the parapet, firing his revolver and shouting 'Good boy', whenever a Turk was hit.
One by one the bomb catchers perished. Corporal Wright was killed when a bomb exploded in his face. Corporal Webb, an orphan from Geelong, had both his hands blown off. Several bombs landed in the trench simultaneously, killing four. Tubb, bleeding from wounds in the arm and head, continued to fight. Twice the sandbag barricade was blown down. Dunstan climbed up to build it again. Finally only Tubb, Corporal Burton from Euroa and Corporal Dunstan were left. Dunstan and Burton were rebuilding the barricade once again when a bomb landed between them. Burton was killed and Dunstan terribly wounded by shrapnel to the head. Tubb obtained help from the next trench but by now the Turks had given up the fight and did not attack again.
All three - Tubb, Burton and Dunstan - were awarded the Victoria Cross, Burton posthumously. Tubb, rising to the rank of major, went on to France to be killed at Passchendaele in an action that could well have earned him another Victoria Cross.
Dunstan was sent back to Australia to recover. He was blind for almost a year. As he recovered in the repatriation hospital he often walked around arm in arm with another soldier. Dunstan had sight in his right eye only, his colleague had a little sight in his left. This way they did not bump into doors and chairs. On his return to Australia, Bill Dunstan had been promoted to lieutenant, and on 1 February 1916 he was demobilised from the AIF, an invalid.
There is yet another legend concerning Dad's Victoria Cross. There was no greater shame in 1916 than being a non-soldier. One day, when he was wearing civilian clothes and travelling by tram in St Kilda Road, a diligent lady handed him a white feather.
He married my mother two days before Armistice and they spent their honeymoon at the St George Hotel, Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, a very fashionable watering-place in those days. They watched the Armistice celebrations from the hotel window.
Of course, it was a matter of great pride having a father who was a Victoria Cross winner. It hung over all of us, my brother, my sister and myself. Yet the First World War was something that was never mentioned in our house. I was dying to take my father aside and say, 'Dad, tell me all about it'. But I never did. We might almost have never known he had been in the Army. We just knew action in Gallipoli had been so terrible that it was something he did not wish to discuss. I have pondered many times the reasons why he did not want to talk about the war; so many others had similar experiences, but they talked. I suspect now there was a feeling of guilt. He won the Victoria Cross, he was feted and he returned as a hero, but what about the others? Many of his mates, right there in the 7th Battalion, were just as brave. They, too, could have won the VC, yet they remained, buried in the mud at Lone Pine, unknown and unhonoured.
The VC and other medals were kept in a box in a cupboard under the stairs. Maybe on two or three occasions my mother secretly took out that box and showed them to me, and I marvelled at the rather dull medal made from the bronze of cannon captured at the Crimea.
Now it is too late and I curse myself that I did not ask for at least some of his Army experiences. He had shrapnel permanently in his brain and for the rest of his life he suffered from terrible headaches. When the headaches came there was no sleep and as children we were told to move very quietly about the house. The entire household was aware of his suffering.
There was one day when it all came back: Anzac Day. My mother dreaded it. Dad would go off to march with his friends of the 7th Battalion and have a drink. That was the only day of the year when he maybe had a little too much to drink. I have vivid memories of them all coming back to the house and sloping arms with broom sticks up and down the hall. One Anzac Day there was a huge dish of salmon for dinner and Dad dropped it on the floor. It wasn't easy salvaging salmon among the broken crockery. On another Anzac Day Peter McIntosh, my future brother-in-law, approached Dad to ask for my sister's hand in marriage. Things had to be done formally in the 1940s and late on Anzac Day could not have been a better time. It worked.
Immediately the Second World War broke out Dad contacted General Blarney. He expected to be given a command. He saw himself as a colonel, at least, in charge of a commando unit. The job would have been ideal for him. Of course, it was just a dream. He had not the faintest chance of passing his Army medical. He was disgusted when he was rejected on medical grounds.
It was taken for granted that the children of a VC winner would all join up. There was prestige to be had by joining up very early. If your mates lagged behind until 1940 or 1941 you would say, 'Bit slow to hear the bugle, weren't you mate?'. The answer to this was: 'What got you moving so early? Didn't you have a job?'.
Brother Bill heard the bugle very early, but not quite as early as he wished. On a Saturday at the beginning of September 1939, just after the outbreak of war, he went to a party at Croydon. He remembers: 'Quite a lot of people were there and I met rather an attractive girl. After the party was over I offered to give her a lift home. Unfortunately she didn't tell me where she lived, and I found it was a place called Montrose in the foothills of the Dandenongs'. He was driving a little green open Austin tourer. On the way home at midnight he lost his way and crashed into a tree. It was after 4 a.m. and approaching dawn when he recovered consciousness. He had gone through the canvas roof of the car and was lying on the side of a dirt road. He managed to stagger to a nearby farmhouse and gave the occupant the Dunstan telephone number, so easy to remember and well-organised: Windsor 6000.
Dad rushed out in the early hours of the morning, collected his 19-year-old son and laid him in the back seat. Bill had a depressed fracture of the skull. So started a nightmare, as Dad went the round of Melbourne's public hospitals. One after another refused to do anything. They were all full, they said; they had no beds available. Dad was frightened, indeed. Bill could die from these injuries. Finally, and it was a last resort, he went to the Mercy Hospital. There the nuns said they had no room available either, but they could not turn him away. They set up a bed in a passageway and he was there for several days until a room became vacant. Altogether he was in the Mercy Hospital for six weeks.
Bill recalls: 'One of the people I met there was Lindsay Nicholas of the Aspro family. He was suffering from some form of leukemia, from which he finally recovered. He was either married or engaged to Hepzibah Menuhin, and she used to look me up from time to time when she was visiting Lindsay. She was a beautiful girl - looked about 16, with blue eyes and blonde hair. Lindsay had a suite in the hospital and had a grand piano installed so that she could play to him. I was wheeled in to attend the concerts'.
My father never forgot the Mercy Hospital. It was the start of a lifelong association, and I think he was half in love with Sister Mary Brega, who eventually became the mother superior. Dad had a number of serious illnesses and he always went to the Mercy. He used to send the nuns all sorts of little favours from the Herald and Weekly Times office, and there would be a case of champagne at Christmas. We never knew whether they drank it or not.
At the time of his accident Bill was already in the militia. He was called up in February 1940 and that April the Second AIF called for volunteers. Bill was one of just three from his militia unit who actually volunteered. He went to Puckapunyal and became an original member, a gunner, of the just-formed 2/4th Field Regiment. That day there was a photograph in the newspaper with the headline 'VC's Son Joins the Army'. It almost stated, 'We expect him to get the VC, too'. I won't say that he spent the Second World War looking for a VC, but I am sure it haunted him. He hated periods of inaction. He embarked for the Middle East on the Mauretania in September 1940 and transferred to another vessel, euphemistically called a troop ship, at Bombay. Actually it was a bug-ridden, cockroach-ridden tramp with decks so close together down below the troops couldn't even stand upright. Our father had travelled on exactly the same troop ship during the First World War and it had not improved. Bill was with the 2/4th Field Regiment in Syria, with the British Army at the Second Front, at the terrible action of Anzio in Italy and even in Java when almost everyone else had finished fighting.
Dad, I think, had a hand in Bill's movements. Dad was gregarious, a man with an immense number of friends and, as general manager of the Herald and Weekly Times, quite dynamic in business. He was a brilliant administrator. He had a photographic memory for facts, names and telephone numbers, and a relentless determination to get what he wanted. Melbourne was smaller then and I am sure there was not a person of importance he did not know. He belonged to all the clubs, and at some time or other he was president or on the committee of most of them. He was a member of the Australian, the Melbourne, the Athenaeum and the Naval and Military social clubs, the Royal Melbourne, Metropolitan and Barwon Heads golf clubs, the Victoria and Moonee Valley racing clubs and the Melbourne Cricket Club. It was an era when people belonged to clubs but he out-clubbed most.
No one could ever argue with Dad; he was convinced he was right, and he usually was. As children we were frightened of him but he never raised a hand to any of us. When I had even a single hair growing over one ear he would thunder: 'Get a haircut. If you came to me with hair looking like that and you wanted a job you wouldn't get one'.
When he was away touring he carefully went through all the local newspapers and magazines, took out clippings and then posted them off in dozens of letters. Asked why he did this, he said: 'That article on farm machinery will be very interesting to Chester Manifold. This piece on mining will fascinate Harold Darling and that story on swimming III send to Frank Beaurepaire. This sort of thing costs me very little and it is very useful to them'. It was typical of his thoughtfulness for the needs of others.
Dad also prided himself on being a fixit, a get-things-done man. There was, for instance, the time after the war when my friend Brian Johnstone came down from Brisbane on a visit. He came to dinner and had an argument, at times extremely heated, with Dad on the military merits of the British intervention in Suez. Brian thought the British Prime Minister Anthony Eden had made a terrible mistake.
'Give me a battalion, just one battalion, and I'll clean up the whole mess', Dad thundered. He would have, too. I thought it was the end of Brian Johnstone, but next day Dad said: 'I liked that young man, he's got a bit of spirit. I'd like to take him to the races at Moonee Valley'. I tried to telephone Brian, but there was no answer. 'Go out to the house and contact him direct', said my father. 'I can't. l don't know the address.' 'You have the telephone number, that's all you need.' 'The PMG won't give you the address from a telephone number.' 'Why not?' 'I don't know. It's the law. We'll have to forget it.' 'I'm not going to forget it. I'll ring up the Postmaster General and get it from him.' You can't do that', I pleaded. 'It would be outrageous to worry the Postmaster General over a thing like that.' 'Nonsense', he replied. He went straight to the telephone, found Norman Strange, the Postmaster General, at his home and got him busy tracking down the address of the house where Brian Johnstone was staying.
I went out to the address. Brian was still not to be found. But Dad had had his triumph. He had proved a point.
Perhaps, however, my father's most remarkable fixit triumph was for Ben Chifley, immediately after the war. In 1948, as well as being general manager of the Herald and Weekly Times, Dad was a director of Newspaper Supplies, a company comprising representatives of all the metropolitan daily newspapers in Australia. Newsprint was still in very short supply worldwide in 1948, and in Australia there was strict import licensing and credit control. Prime Minister Ben Chifley was part-owner of a small a country newspaper in Bathurst, the National Advocate. National Advocate newspaper stocks became Iow, indeed, and the PM asked W. Dunstan if he could help. My brother remembers Dad telephoning one of his friends at the Powell River Company office in Vancouver and telling them how important it was to help the Prime Minister. The newsprint, about 25 or 30 tonnes, was manufactured the same day and arrived in Sydney less than three weeks later. There was much embarrassment about the PM having no import licence. Undoubtedly the Herald and Weekly Times wrote it off against theirs.
So, given his temperament, it was entirely predictable that Dad would play a part in Bill's wartime movements. When Bill returned to Australia from the Middle East in 1942 he was posted to the Armoured Division. He soon became very fed up with defending Western Australia, so he applied to join the British Army. He did not really believe there was a chance that anybody would listen to him. He thought he was doomed to spend the rest of the war doing nothing. However, miraculously an order did come through. In late 1943 he was posted back to the Middle East, discharged from the AIF and enlisted in the British Army. He went almost immediately to join a regiment in Italy, where he fought on the beaches at Anzio in an action that had some of the terrible overtones of our father's battles at Gallipoli.
Bill says: When I left Australia Dad was overseas on business so I didn't see him. I always suspected that he had something to do with my transfer, that he pulled strings with his top-brass Army friends. Although he never admitted it, I am fairly sure he did, because I called on General Rowell at the War Office in London in June 1945. General Rowell had been sacked by Blarney in New Guinea and eventually given a job by the British Director of Plans at the War Office. When 1 saw him he said, "Don't ask me to get you out of the British Army, you will have to stick it out"'.
Helen joined the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, the women's branch of the Royal Australian Navy. She worked at Monterey, near Albert Park, with a United States radio unit. Their job was intercepting messages from aircraft and ships, interpreting and decoding. The women had the same shifts as the men, eight hours on and eight hours off, round the clock. Helen suffered from exhaustion, which brought on a serious ear infection, and she had to go into hospital at the old Queen Victoria at the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale streets. Her illness gave W. Dunstan another opportunity to prove himself a man of action. Helen did not improve in hospital and Dad became increasingly impatient. He visited her every night and finally announced, 'I'm taking you home where you can be treated by our doctor'.
'You can't do that', said Helen. 'I'm in the Navy now, I'll get court-martialled.'
'Rubbish', he replied.
The next night he arrived at the hospital with a suitcase, packed her clothes, put her over his shoulder, carried her out and took her home. Then he called Dr Cyril Tonkin, his own doctor. Helen remained at home for three weeks.
Next he went to work on Commander Gos Lane, Helen's commanding officer, and the whole problem was smoothed over. 'I think Dad really believed that women had no right to be in the armed forces', Helen recalls. Our house in the war years was actually like a camp for the combined armed forces. It was always filled with soldiers, sailors and airmen who bad come to stay while on leave. My mother belonged to an organisation called Flags Fly that billeted servicemen. There was almost an air of desperation about her work. Keeping busy with war activities was one way to overcome worry; but there was another angle, too. Mum believed that if she was kind to the sons of others, someone might be kind to her sons wherever they might be. Most of the billeted soldiers were very grateful, and for years afterwards they wrote letters to her and sent pictures of their wives and children.
There were many characters among them. Norman McKinnell, in particular, was a favourite. He stood over 193 centimetres tall and had natural charm and style. He had been in the newsprint business. Every time Norman arrived on leave he had a new rank. He came home as a corporal, then a sergeant. After that it seemed no time before he was a lieutenant, then captain. He celebrated his captaincy with a party at Menzies Hotel. He was about to embark overseas for the Middle East so the whole occasion had an eve-of-battle madness to it. Just before the main course was served Norman whipped all the spoons and forks off the table and put them into the capacious pockets of his military jacket.
'You will be able to use those, Marjorie. Bit short at home aren't you?' He called the waitress for new settings. As soon as she was gone he put all these in his pockets, called another waitress and had them replaced. He continued this with the dessert cutlery. Mum became more and more nervous. She pleaded with him to put everything back on the table. Eventually he relented. 'Aw, all right, I suppose I have to keep you honest', he said and emptied his pockets. The party returned to Wallace Avenue and Dad opened some beer for a nightcap. Norman started emptying his pockets again; piles of knives, forks and spoons clattered to the table. 'Well, we didn't do too badly. I had a few left over.' Mum was almost in tears. 'Norman, you shouldn't. We will have to get out the car right now and take them back.' 'Oh, no', he said. 'You have so many guests. It was the least I could do to supply you with some decent eating irons.' Then Mum looked a little more closely. It was her own cutlery. He had stolen it out of the cupboard in the breakfast-room when she wasn't looking.
There were some disasters. There was an Army man from Malta who arrived with an enormous quantity of baggage and equipment, which he stacked all the way down the back passage. He had electric fans and he had radios. We wondered whether it had all been legally acquired. He treated everyone as his servant: clapped his hands when he wanted anything, snapped his fingers at the maid if he wanted more bacon and eggs. A United States serviceman was also there. He snapped his fingers at the Army man from Malta. 'When I do that I am saying I'd like one of your cigarettes', he said, but nothing changed the man from Malta. We couldn't get rid of him.
My mother was always tired, coping with all the hospitality. Violet, the maid, never quite approved of this strange military invasion. After servicemen departed she went over the bathrooms with Lysol. She particularly disapproved of the Navy. She had noted their 'goings on'; she had seen the way they behaved in the park. She thought it terrible to have strange soldiers and sailors in the house.
As the war proceeded it was patriotic to knit for the armed forces, so an endless stream of balaclavas, socks and sweaters poured from Mum's loyal needles. Patriotic people saved money and bought war savings certificates for 16 shillings, which in five years matured to a pound. When they did very well they earned a metal sign, stating 'This is a War Savings Street', which they could nail on a lamp-post outside their houses. Later, in the 1960s, Barry Humphries started a campaign to find out which streets still sported their old `War Savings Street' signs; a great many did. Patriots could also be part of the 'Fats for Britain' campaign and seal up tins of dripping to send to Britain. Mum did more than that. Her war-long personal campaign to prevent Britain from going hungry was beyond belief and must have cost the Dunstans a fortune. Every week she sent off at least eight food parcels. They contained all kinds of tinned meats, fruits, nuts, biscuits and powdered milk. The parcels themselves were a work of art. They were covered in calico and carefully hand stitched, with the address beautifully printed on top. Then there were the fruit cakes. The Aga slow-combustion stove in our large kitchen went night and day. During those war years it never seemed to stop baking for Britain. Mum's fruit cakes, packed almost solid with Mildura dried fruit and laced with brandy, were something to behold. She even learned how to handle a soldering iron, and these cakes would he soldered into the tin before being packed off to England.
Many of the parcels went to a Mr and Mrs William Surrey Dane in London. News came through that lemons were in short supply in England (in fact, they remained almost unseen for the duration of the war). The Bill and Marjorie team prepared a special food parcel. Already they had been sending eggs rubbed all over with Kepeg to preserve them. This time they packed some lemons in diatomaceous earth, the material used for filtering swimming pools and clarifying beer. The lemons arrived in perfect condition, and Mrs Surrey Dane was so overcome by this marvellous treasure that she presented them at her church fête. Parishioners were allowed to inspect the lemons for threepence a sniff.
There was sugar rationing, butter rationing, meat rationing, but somehow Mum's cakes and parcels kept coming. She used to hide spare cakes around the house. It was an era of drinking dry sherry or tawny port and my father bought his from Morris or Sutherland Smith at Rutherglen. It came by rail in 5-gallon stone jars covered in basketware. The prices were absurd, just a few shillings a gallon. Naturally after dinner it was necessary to have fruit cake with the port. 'I think possibly I could find a mouldy old cake somewhere', Mum would say. She would disappear into the cupboard, which was like the Magic Pudding, an eternal fountain of fresh nourishment. The cake she produced was often more than a year old. It had matured beautifully like an old Grange or Lafite.
We battled eternally with ration tickets. There were tickets for meat, sugar, butter, clothing and petrol. They came in little books, and the correct number had to be cut out by the butcher or the grocer or the garage attendant. The scissoring process caused a delay with every transaction. For those good at losing things, such as car keys, spectacles and wallets, ration tickets were another dreadful item that had to be found daily.
The monster most to be feared was the gas producer. Gas producers were made in Melbourne. They looked like over-sized steel rubbish-tins and were mounted on the luggage-racks at the rear of cars. In the early days of gaslight, back in the 1860s and 1870s, before the City Gas Company provided a regular supply of gas by pipe, enterprising shopkeepers made their own gas to light their shops. They had their own retorts and made it from coal. The gas producers of the Second World War were similar, except that the gas was made from charcoal. To say that the whole system was horrid is an understatement. The charcoal had to be put into the gas producer and lit and then gas pressure had to be allowed to build up inside the tank. This could take thirty minutes or longer. Blonde females who had gas producers turned into brunettes, white-collar workers turned into black-collar workers. The idea was to start the car on petrol, then cut in the gas supply from the gas producer. God willing, the car glided along happily.
We had one extraordinary journey, using the gas producer, when Bill returned from Syria with the 7th Division, to defend our shores after the fall of Singapore, and went into camp near Adelaide. This was supposed to be top secret, vital war information, which must not leak into the hands of the enemy, but naturally Dad, with his contacts among the generals at the Naval and Military Club, found out the second they arrived. He announced that we would all drive to South Australia to see Bill. He extracted me on special leave from Geelong Grammar, and packed Mum, Helen and me into the Buick. There was no possibility of getting to Adelaide on ration tickets that did not allow petrol for even 80 kilometres a week. It had to be done with the gas producer.
Hannibal crossing the Alps by elephant could not have had a more difficult expedition. We covered the 725 kilometres to Adelaide in a single day, starting at 5 a.m. and arriving at 9 p.m., driving almost non-stop. On the morning of our departure there was the delicate operation of starting the producer. At home we used to fear starting the Aga stove when it went out. This was worse. Getting the producer going was a work of art. Nor did the Buick like its new diet. It was a big eight-cylinder car capable of over 100 kilometres per hour. Now it became a creature in the throes of emphysema and unhappy with 80 kilometres per hour. Sometimes the wheezing of the Buick got too much and we had to stop to put in more charcoal and wait until the gas pressure built up again. That was another thing. There was little room on the Buick for luggage. Running-boards had to be occupied by bags of charcoal.
We drove straight to the military camp. Dad had with him several dozen precious bottles of Victoria Bitter. This was wartime: you did not ask how a human being had happened to put his hands on two dozen bottles of Victoria Bitter. If Mum stroked the butcher's cheek to get good meat, heaven knows whose cheek Dad stroked to get the beer, but it was a wondrous, riotous reunion with Bill. It was my first excursion interstate and I still look back on it as one of the great adventures of my Iife.
As the war became progressively more serious, the playground of Glamorgan school next door was cut up for slit trenches. We had to put brown paper over all the windows for the black-out. We had buckets of water at the ready to put out fires after a bombing. There were pamphlets about what to do: get under tables; don't stand in doorways; listen for air raid alerts and all clears. We had air raid practice. Mum was very important. She was in charge. At our first rehearsal she instructed us all to get under the table in the hall. She looked at Violet, whose face had gone all crinkly and sunken around the mouth. 'Well, it said in the pamphlet, you put a piece of rubber between your teeth', Violet said. She had taken out her dentures and carefully stored them with a piece of rubber between top and bottom. I joined the Royal Australian Air Force. Dad grumbled when I chose the Air Force. That was not the Dunstan tradition, I should have joined the Army. Reluctantly he admitted that had he been my age he would have done the same thing.
The Dunstan children were photographed walking down the drive at Wallace Avenue - Army, Navy and Air Force. Once again we made the newspapers: the patriotic children of a VC winner I must confess my motives for joining up were not so splendid. This was coming out of gaol, the release from Siberia; no more chemistry, no more calculus, no more cross-country running in the frigid Corio south wind, no more dry bacon on toast.
Then there were the aeroplanes. For years I had made model aeroplanes from kits supplied by the Central Aircraft Company, Princes Walk, Melbourne, just under Princes Bridge. Children started with the Rocket, proceeded to the Meteor, then the splendid Ibis and lastly the huge Albatross sailplane. I made them on the table-tennis table in the attic at Wallace Avenue. Strips of balsa, ribs and spars were pinned down with Mum's sewing pins, then laboriously covered with Japanese tissue, which was shrunk tight and doped. Propellers I hand-carved and the power came from long strips of rubber. Our flying-field was Como Park, but flying was a hazardous operation, with the most disastrous crash rate ever seen in aviation. Como Park, shaped like a basin, was a whirling cauldron of unpredictable winds. Models that had taken months to make rarely survived three or four flights. The experience was character building. After several appalling crashes I would return to the table-tennis table and start again. boob of war cuttings and they always had a leaning to the activities of the Royal Air Force and the Battle of Britain. Scores of the aircraft shot down I kept like football results. RAF shootings down were always double those of the Germans. Cobber Kane, the champion British ace, was my hero. My life almost came to an end when he was killed in France, trying to loop a Spitfire at low altitude. What a great man. Wouldn't it be splendid to be another Cobber Kane.
So it had to be the Air Force. I had continued to build scrap Bob Dalziel and I were members of the Air Training Corps, which gave us priority in the call up. I could not be called up until I was 18, but I went into the Royal Australian Air Force with Bob Dalziel on my eighteenth birthday, 3 February 1943. There was a farewell lunch with Bob's father, who was a neat, handsome, but slightly awesome, figure. He was very much the old sea captain. When he gave orders he expected them to be obeyed. The farewell lunch was at the Ritz. We waited an interminable time for a waiter to bring the menu. The Captain's glare grew more pronounced as the minutes passed, until finally he brought his fist down on the table with a thump and shouted, `Steward!'. The result was immediate. Waiters came running from all round the room. It was an interesting lesson on how to obtain service in a restaurant.
We had expected to be posted to Number 1 Initial Training School at Somers. Instead we went to 2 ITS at Bradfield Park, Sydney. We were issued with dark blue dress uniforms for wearing outside the camp and dark blue, single-piece outfits, almost like overalls, for general wear, which were known as giggle suits. For head gear we wore dark blue forage caps with a flash of white to signify we were trainee air crew. The term at Bradfield Park was to be three months and we were on 38 course. Our group arrived on a Monday morning and received its uniforms immediately. A second group arrived in the evening. We looked in contempt at the newcomers in their miserable civilian clothing. `Rookies!', we shouted at them. One of the so-called rookies had a splendid check sports coat with huge shoulders. 'I believe he still has his coat-hanger in his suit', Dalziel said.
The spell at Bradfield Park was a time of lessons in theory of flight, aircraft identification, meteorology and elementary navigation, but most of all it was a period of moulding - of months of parading, jumping to attention, saluting, performing wretched menial tasks, being observed and being turned into an utterly correct model of discipline. Our orderly sergeant could not believe this man Dalziel. 'What's your name?' 'Dee-I, Sir.' 'How do you pronounce it?' 'DEE-L, Sir.' 'Oh, yes, Dee-I, eh? And how do you spell it?' 'D-A-L-Z-I-E-L, Sir.' 'And can you tell me, DAL-ZEAL, how you get Dee-I out of D-A-L-Z-I-E-L?' It goes back many centuries, I believe, to France, Sir. We Dee-Is have always pronounced it that way.' 'Well, so far as I'm concerned, from now on you are going to answer to Dal-zeal. Get it? DAL-ZEAL. So what is your name?' 'Dee-I, Sir.'
Dalziel was fearless. Although the sergeant roared, raved and bullied, Dalziel remained Dee-I and never gave in. There were other sergeants, warrant officers, even group captains who attempted to turn him into an ordinary, common Dal-zeal but, like the Normans at Agincourt, Dalziel refused to concede.
The first two months at Bradfield Park were a sorting-out period. The serious moment came with the interviews for air crew. What did I want to be? 'A pilot', I said.
Very carefully I explained my passion. I told of all the wonderful models I had built - the Rockets, the Meteors, the Scorpions, the Ibis, the Albatrosses and even the little Gladiators, Hurricanes and Spitfires that I had carved out of balsa. 'What is your second choice?', asked the assessment officer, a flight lieutenant. 'I don't have a second choice, I answered. Somebody had told me this was the way to behave. Be bold, strong and definite. This would impress them no end. So I added, 'I am only interested in being a pilot, nothing else'.
The assessment officer looked at me sourly. Clearly I was making the wrong impression. He started asking pertinent questions about my sporting prowess. Was I in the school football team? No. Cricket team? No. Crew? No. I nearly added timidly that I had been captain of the house seconds for two years in both cricket and football - positions of inestimable importance for training purposes - but thought better of it.
Several days later the results were posted. Both Dunstan and Dalziel were to be trained as wireless air gunners, or WAGs. Suddenly my entire career seemed over. I had imagined myself being a pilot, an aviator, a Kingsford Smith even, for the rest of my life. Now I was to be a WAG. Even the word sounded awful.
The next two days were terrible. I telephoned my father and told him the humiliating news, and I resigned myself to learning about wirelesses and gunnery. I had at the time an ingenious shaving kit, given to me by my Uncle Harry. It contained a clever device that would sharpen razor blades. It was unnecessary because the RAAF provided a ration of free blades, but I was fascinated with this wonderful device. In my misery I left it behind in the wash room, in the bag with my tooth-brush, shaving-brush, everything. Later I observed the awesome flight sergeant carrying my wash-bag in the direction of the guard house. I should have rushed forward and said 'Hey, that's mine. I left it in the shower-room'. But no, I was too frightened. That would be held against me. It would be another example of my incompetence and unreliability. Dunstan leaves things in wash-rooms.
That afternoon there was an order for Dunstan and Dalziel to report to the commanding officer at 5 p.m. 'My God', I thought, 'they have discovered the owner of the wash-bag. Now they won't want me on course at all. I won't even be a WAG'. The moment we saw the group captain we knew something was terribly wrong. He was white with rage. We stood before him at attention. 'You know somebody, don't you Dunstan?' 'No, Sir. I don't know what you mean, Sir.' 'Oh yes you do. You know how to pull strings. You have been shifted from here. You have jumped a course, and a whole month of training. You have been posted to 11 EFTS Benalla, and you start there on 37 course next week.' 'Sir . . . I?' 'Get outl', he said. 'Get out!' He had decided it was better to say no more to people who pulled strings. What had Dad been up to? I found out later. He had gone to his friend Air Commodore F. R. W. Scherger and arranged for Dunstan and Dalziel to go to Number 11 Elementary Flying Training School, Benalla, as - oh heaven! - future pilots.
Continue to chapter five: The Sprog