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September 03, 2019

80 years ago today

80 years ago today, Australians listened to their radios as Britain, and therefore Australia, declared war on Germany. Thousands of RSL LifeCare’s residents heard the radio broadcast with their own ears – a moment that would change the world and their own individual lives, forever. Here are a few of their memories…

We were next to a playground where the children would play and every day you would hear the children’s voices and that day, it’s amazing how different everything was. There wasn’t a dog barking, a child crying. And the silence had an effect – you thought “This is getting serious” and you knew something was about to happen. That happened at the end of August and then on the 3rd of September, war started.”

Colin Hilan from Kokoda Village, Ballina: “At the outbreak of war I was eight years of age and living in Ballina. I was attending Ballina Primary School and helped to dig diagonal trenches between the school fence and the roadway. We practiced getting from the classroom to the trenches and practiced knowing where sand, buckets, water and First Aid equipment was. At home we made block-out curtains. All the small vessels were confiscated and some late model cars too. We were given ration tickets for food, clothing and petrol and I remember many of the First World War diggers took an active part in the defence of the town through their membership of the VDC (Volunteer Defence Corp). During all of the years of the war a lot of the boys came home and then returned to the front lines.”

 

Colin Hilan as a young boy in Ballina

 

Cynthia Turner, resident of Kokoda Care Home Narrabeen, was a young girl living in England when the news was announced: “It was in the holiday time and a friend of mine, Margaret Pern, her family owned a little beach house down the coast and they invited me to go there in the summer holiday. There was the news that Hitler had been invading everywhere, it looked like he was going to invade Poland and if he did, we would go to war. So we were sitting down having lunch and Chamberlain came on [the radio] and we sat there and that was the speech. Before that we were warned that there might be gas, so we all carried gas masks on straps. When the war was declared all the people down there started going down to the beach and filling the buckets with sand, it was quite funny in a way. So they were coming back down to protect their doors in case the bombs came.”

Malcolm Stening, past resident at ANZAC Village, Narrabeen, was a newly graduated doctor and member of the Navy when war was declared. He was in London at the time, having travelled there as a ship’s surgeon on a cargo passenger ship: “London had reached the top of its entertainment – entertainment was everywhere, and that was the position before the war. August was the most beautiful month as far as weather was concerned. August in 1939 was exceptional. Everyone normally goes on holiday in August but they didn’t this time because everyone knew what was coming and they knew they were preparing for war and the entertainment went without expectation. A person was very lucky to be there at that time. Because I think we were seeing London at its best. Everything was just a matter of pleasure and fun.”

I’ll never forget when the children were evacuated from London just before war was declared. Oh that was an extraordinary day. All these children, and I think a lot of their pets, were taken out in trains – over a million children went out in one day. We were living in London House near Gravesend Road. We were next to a playground where the children would play and every day you would hear the children’s voices and that day, it’s amazing how different everything was. There wasn’t a dog barking, a child crying. And the silence had an effect – you thought “This is getting serious” and you knew something was about to happen. That happened at the end of August and then on the 3rd of September, war started.”

Lest We Forget.”

 

Colin Hilan today

 

Story by Helen Johnston

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