McAllister Brothers

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 Janet Mathewson

"I am sitting here in the sun of my family’s farm remembering when my brothers Angus and Gordon and I had just been rescued from the cold sea.

Our boat, the “Ballarat” had been torpedoed by a German submarine in the mouth of the English Channel. As we waited with other men to be rescued it seemed to take forever, and all I could think of was what my father had said to me when we left home to walk from Finley to Melbourne to enlist.

He asked me to promise, “Keith, please look after the boys as best you can, so you can all come home safely to us.”

I promised him I would do my best, but of course I had no idea of what I was promising, and how hard it would be to keep my brothers safe. We had never experienced anything like what was to come.

Luckily, when the boat was torpedoed we all three of us stayed together in the same lifeboat, so I knew they were both safe for the moment. I was so relieved that I had been able to keep my promise to my father so far.

Angus and Gordon and I had walked side by side all the way to Melbourne from Finley. It is a long way, and it took us weeks on the road, walking around 20 miles a day, but we battled on and finally made it to the recruitment centre.

So, after the torpedo put a bit of a hiccup in our plans, we three brothers were luckily still together and continued on to the front line in France. But the fighting in the trenches was a terrible shock to all three of us as we had never encountered anything like it. The enemy was doing his best to try to kill us, and we were trying to kill them.

That was a very difficult thing to come to terms with as we had never killed another human being!

We three looked after each other as best we could in the circumstances, but it was very hard as sudden death was all around us, from enemy bullets and from the cold and the deep, slimy mud. Men fell and simply disappeared into the mud and were unable to be saved. It was horrible to see it happen and not be able to do anything to help.

But, I have now been returned to Australia having been classified as “Unfit for Duty” after being shot in the back. As I lay in the hospital ward on the ship on the way home I could feel the worry for my brothers deep in my body the whole time we were sailing and could only pray that my brothers Angus and Gordon would remain safe and also be able to return home after the war. I did not like to think that I had failed in my promise to my father to try to keep them safe. That promise will echo in my head until we three brothers are all together again, safe at home.

We are so excited. We have just now received word that both Angus and Gordon are on their way home. I cannot tell you of the joy in my family’s hearts as we wait for them to come back. My mother cries with relief, and my father can’t stop smiling. I feel an incredible sense of relief and happiness that my family will be whole once again.

But I also know that even though the family will be together, we three brothers will not be same men who left home and walked to Melbourne what seemed long years ago. We will carry the scars of the horrors we have seen and felt in that war with us for rest of our lives."