A soldier's homecoming as told by his daughter
YOUR STORY: On a sideboard in our living room sits one of my favourite photos.
It is a black and white photo, taken long ago, of three people. The pretty, young woman is my mother, the handsome, young soldier is my father, and the rather cute, little girl is me.
This photo has been frozen in time - but when I look at it, a thousand precious memories flash through my mind.
It was taken just before my father left to fight for his country in Papua New Guinea and some of the surrounding islands of the Pacific.
Because of the bravery my father showed during his war years, he was twice Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Military Medal.
During the time leading up to his departure overseas, my mother and I followed my father to various towns in Queensland where his battalion was sent for training. I was born in Mount Morgan during which time my father was in Townsville.
The day my father arrived home from fighting in the war was, of course, very special for my family. I have very little recollection of that day except for this flash of memory which involves the first time I remember meeting my father.
This small pocket of memory has been locked away in my mind for many years. Perhaps I still can recall this event because it has been retold many times within my family.
My mother told me that she talked about my father constantly, showed me photos, and every night and morning we would pray for his safe-keeping. I would tell everyone that my father was a brave soldier. However, to a small child this probably seemed unreal, like one of the fairy stories my mother read to me.
Our home was in Baree, a suburb of Mount Morgan, a small mining town in Central Queensland. We shared this home with my grandfather and I know I felt very safe and contented as we had various relatives nearby as well.
My memory begins with my cousin Rowlee and I standing in a corner of our kitchen. This is a long room with the dining area at the opposite end. The dining room is filled with people, family, friends and neighbours, coming and going, laughing and talking.
There is an air of celebration and happiness like I have never experienced before. The kitchen table is covered with plates of delicious food and the wonderful smells make my mouth water. The kettle is bubbling away on the wood stove and the teapot has been refilled countless times.
Sitting at the end of the table in the dining room and enjoying all this "carry on" is my mother and the man. They are holding hands and smiling at each other. This man, I am told, is my father.
I stand with Rowlee and stare at this stranger, this interloper, whom everybody seems to admire and I am confused. My mother and the man are smiling at me and other family members try to encourage me to "come say hello to your father Yvonne".
I refuse! Can't they see I don't need a father? I have my grandfather whom I love dearly. He tells me stories and sings Welsh songs to me as I sit on his knee in front of the wood stove at night. We love going on walks together to the creek to see the tiny fish. I don't like the man!
Rowlee who has been my supporter, suddenly pokes me in the back and whispers, "Don't be a scaredy-cat, say hello". I shake my head, NO!!
I suspect that Rowlee is becoming bored with these proceedings and is eager to join the children who are playing games downstairs. Rowlee has a great father, my Uncle Ed. He did not go to that war so he is no stranger.
Uncle Ed and Aunty Zena and family live behind our house, across the creek and up the hill. They have lots on animals and a garden full of vegetables and trees full of delicious fruit.
At the back yard are bee hives and Rowlee and I love to suck on the honeycomb until we are sticky with honey. They have a house cow and we love to watch Uncle Ed milk her and then sample the warm, sweet milk. Free range chooks roam their yard and it is great fun trying to find where they have laid their eggs.
These pleasant thoughts are interrupted by Rowlee poking me again. I look over at the man again. He is still watching me. I make a decision. I take a deep breath, and cross the floor to stand, very nervously, in front of him.
Suddenly the room becomes very quiet. The man smiles at me and in a soft voice says, "Hello Yvonne". His eyes are twinkling and he looks friendly. I smile shyly but say in my loudest, bravest voice, "Hello man," and then take off back to my safe place in the kitchen. I do not recall any more of that day.
My mother tells me that after my brave stance, Rowlee and I joined the other children playing downstairs until it was time for our guests to leave. Apparently, I had decided the man could stay and I took him on a grand tour of our house.
I introduced him to my toys and even let him read my favourite story books to me when it was my bed time. However, through the night my parents were woken by a great scream. I was standing at the foot of the bed with my pillow and doll, demanding to know what the man was doing in my mother's bed!
They had forgotten that I often hopped into her bed during the night if I woke and felt lonely. So mum and dad had to wait until I was asleep again before they went back to bed. What a homecoming for my father.
Over the next few weeks, things settled back to normal. The man found employment, my mother was happy, grandad and I still sang our songs at night near the wood stove, and the man and Yvonne became father and daughter.
Submitted by Yvonne Lewis
Postscript: Yvonne wrote this story as part of her memoirs for her family. She said; "It portrays a different slant on the end of a war, the problems for families of soldiers returning to their homes, and the strangeness for the children born while they were overseas in battle."