The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.
By David Schoeffel
“Auntie Edna burst into the living room, yelling “War’s been declared!” I was twelve, in my first year of High School. I had been quietly doing my French homework. Auntie Edna Ferguson fixed her eye on me: “My dear, your life will never be the same again!”
Maybe she was right, but I still went back to school the next day, my homework completed, and studied hard for another two years. During this time, my brother, Bill, had got a job with the PMG and, in 1941, the RAAF had set up their Flying Training School at the Deniliquin Aerodrome.
At the end of that School year, my parents wanted me to leave school and get a job in the Public Service, so I joined up with Bill in the PMG, which, of course, in those days, ran the telephone system as well as the mail service. My first job was to take the mail over the rattly old Edward Bridge to the residents on the north side of the river. It was great, mostly, to be able to hand a letter to an anxious parent, whose boy had gone overseas to fight.
When I turned fifteen, I was moved to the Telegraph Office, taking phonograms. We were also taking signals from the Flying School then. Every Monday I had to take this signal, which was a coded inventory of all aircraft at the Training School. Sergeant Bob Herkess was in charge of their signals. He seemed very popular with the trainees, and he later became my brother in law.
There were such a lot of young men in the town during the War years. My family, like so many others in the district, regularly hosted young trainees. There were always plenty of dances and other social events, both in town and out at the Air Base. We were young and, particularly on the part of the men, there was a certain spirit of ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we die’. Nearly every girl in town would have had a ‘fling’ or two, with one or other of the young airmen.
The shadow of death really did hang over us, though. Obviously, not all the mail and telegraphs I delivered held happy news. Also, our close relationship with the Base and its trainees brought us into direct contact with tragedy.
One day, coming home in the car with my Dad, from Echuca, a Wirraway flew low over us, just before the Mulwala Canal crossing, and crashed. Dad made me stay in the car, while he tried to save the young pilot. He could do nothing. It was a horrible day for everyone.
My friend, Gwen Jackson’s Mum was making a lovely marble cake for the twentieth birthday of a young trainee friend, Martin Foley. I had to bring her the news of his death. I can still feel the sadness of it. By the end of 1944, although over twenty-two hundred trainees had graduated, many to die later in battle, over fifty had died here, during training.
On the lighter side, I can remember how amused I was, reading a telegraph to Major Landale, of ‘Dahwilly’, from his son, David, who was serving overseas. He said to me: “Just a moment, my dear, I can’t hear you. I shall have to get my glasses!”
Alas, what had seemed so funny to young Joyce Fitzmaurice, seventy five years ago, is a grim reality for this old Joyce Seymour, today!”