My father’s birthdate is 23rd March, 1917, and if he were still alive he would be 98 on Monday. His given names were Peter Lorraine. It always drove me nuts that he had a girls’ name for his middle name, and when I was at school I always arranged for my Mum to sign any required forms, because the other kids mocked my father’s name. If only they’d all known.
I suppose I was in my 20s before I thought to question my father’s name. Turns out the Peter was for his own Dad, and the Lorraine was for his mother’s brother, his uncle Herbert, who was away at the Great War at the time. They couldn’t name Dad Herbert after his uncle as they’d already given that name to their eldest son. All they knew was that ‘Bert’, as he was known to the family, was “somewhere in France” and probably in Alsace-Lorraine. Dad could have been named Alsace! At least that would have silenced the kids at school.
Herbert’s war service records at the National Archives of Australia show that he served with the 10th Field Ambulance, was wounded a few times (gunshot wounds to the head) and was also sick a few times (“trench fever”). He enlisted in Bendigo on the 23rd July 1915, where he had been working as a clerk. I have this photo of him; written on the back is “[with] two of my Bendigo mates, Jack Laffin and Wally Garry”. I never met my Great Uncle Bert, as far as I know. He died in Heidelberg in 1966.
However, Great Uncle Bert did make another appearance in my life. In 1990 I achieved a lifelong ambition; I was appointed to drive a Mobile Library - in the Goulburn Valley, based in Shepparton. I decided that I would live in a farmhouse if I could, and found a wonderful place on an orchard next to the Goulburn River, about 30km from Shep. I was thrilled and rang Mum and Dad to tell them the news. Mum wanted to know all the details about the house and garden, but Dad was more interested to know where exactly I was to be. Oh don’t worry Dad, I said, it’s such a tiny place you won’t have heard of it – it’s Toolamba. My father was one of those people you can never put anything across. He had heard of it. He said Hmmm - that’s where your Great Uncle Bert was station master for many years between the Wars.
Toolamba was the junction for the rail lines from Echuca and Shepparton to Melbourne. It makes me happy to think of Great Uncle Bert living in such a lovely area, with a busy, responsible job, after the gruelling years of the War.