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October 09, 2023

Beryl Whalley: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Legacy

“I was born in Mascot on 22 August 1922, into a large family of seven brothers and two sisters, including my twin brother, Oswald, who we affectionately called Ossie. My father worked as a delivery driver, while my mother had her hands full raising ten children and caring for her mother, who lived to be 96 years old.  

My father always had trucks and cars, and some of my fondest memories are of the holidays we used to take around NSW. We camped all over the state when I was young.

School wasn’t my cup of tea, so I left at the age of 14 and got a job at a florist shop in Oxford Street, Sydney. I spent my days walking to deliver wreaths and flowers, sometimes taking a bus for longer distances. I stayed there until I was 17 and then found work at a button factory called “Bouton Buttons,” operating a drill machine. When the war began, I shifted to making camouflage nets. 

My twin brother, Ossie, joined the Airforce and later attended the air training scheme in Canada. He met his wife, Margaret, there, and they got engaged at the age of 20, marrying just before he turned 21 on August 13. Special permission was required since he wasn’t yet 21. 

During this time, I wrote letters to all my friends and brothers serving in the war, including my future husband, Doug. We met at a church. Although we started as friends, we always seemed to find our way to each other during picnics and group gatherings. Doug served in the Army during the war, and I continued working in factories while faithfully writing letters to him, even though I rarely received a reply. 

My twin brother, Ossie, went missing on April 24, 1945, just a few days before the war’s end, while stationed in England. We received this heart-breaking news via telegram, and he has never been found to this day.

My husband, Doug, was at Krangi Hospital in Singapore, a prisoner of war since 1942. After years apart, I finally received a letter from Doug in Darwin as he made his way home. We met him at Ingleburn Camp, NSW. When we saw each other, it was as if we couldn’t run fast enough to embrace one another, just like a scene from the movie Casablanca. From that moment, we were inseparable. 

We married on February 23, 1946, at the Congregational church in Mascot and spent our honeymoon in the Blue Mountains for three weeks. 

Soon, Doug had to return to work, starting his apprenticeship as a bootmaker. We moved in with his parents in Botany, and I found a job at the Johnson and Johnson factory, where I packed various products. 

In 1948, we bought our house in Botany. Doug later secured a job at Austral Bronze, where he worked for 26 years until his retirement. My last job in Botany was at a Shell petrol station, where full-service included filling up the car, cleaning windows, checking oil and water, and inflating tires – a far cry from today’s self-serve pumps. 

In 1969, Doug retired, and I retired a bit earlier in 1963. We bought land in Vincentia in 1963, cleared it, paid it off, and finally built our house in 1980, where we intended to retire. We spent our days fishing, feeding birds, swimming, and hosting family gatherings and celebrations. After moving, Doug became involved with the RSL, eventually becoming the vice president of the RSL sub-Branch at Huskisson. 

A friend from Doug’s army days suggested starting a Prisoner of War (POW) group in Nowra, as there was only one in Wollongong at the time. We held meetings at the Nowra Ex-Servicemen’s Club. While the men had their meetings, the women would sit outside and chat. We also attended POW reunions, including the first one in Queensland in 1986 and the 50th-anniversary memorial service at Krangi cemetery in Singapore in 1992. 

Doug’s health had been a challenge since his return. He had malaria the week we got married and underwent numerous leg surgeries. Eventually, he was diagnosed with dementia when I turned 80. I cared for him at home as long as I could, with some respite trips to Gerringong for me when I visited family in Canada. Finally, Doug had an operation at the hospital and became a resident at the nursing home. He fell ill with pneumonia and sadly passed away in September 2007. 

I stayed in Vincentia until 2017, keeping busy with Legacy, church, RSL, and spending time with friends and family. I even travelled to Canada for my 87th birthday. In 2017, I moved to RSL LifeCare Jonathan Rogers GC House, a decision influenced by my involvement with the RSL. I’ve made wonderful friends here, some of whom have sadly passed away, while others are still here. I enjoy participating in various activities, especially ANZAC and Remembrance Day services. I regularly speak with my family overseas and my family in Australia, who send me my ANZAC and Remembrance Day dress shirts each year. I find the staff here to be very good. They are friendly, helpful, and treat me with respect.



Last year, I celebrated my 100th birthday, marked by two parties in one day due to restrictions. One was with my family and friends, and the other was with staff and friends at RSL LifeCare Jonathan Rogers GC House. I’m proud to share my life stories and how much things have changed over the years. Not many people get the opportunity to do that. This year, I made a good friend in Jason Grimes from the RSL LifeCare Veteran Services Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre. He enjoys listening to my stories and is very kind to me. I hope for many more years, as many as God will grant me, with good health, good friends, and cherished memories.

– Beryl Whalley, RSL LifeCare resident

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