Goolwa At War - December 1939 and January 1940

Goolwa goes to war again 1939-1945 - December 1939 and January 1940

December 1939

Much of Goolwa’s community life continues with some effects of the war appearing in homes, workplaces and elsewhere that requires thoughtful consideration. At home it may be the absence of a husband, father or brother who we now see in khaki or blue uniforms during their all too short leaves. In the workplace here and there, older people we knew in retirement have re-appeared to fill the places made vacant by those now in service.

When Bert Orr signed on for the last great riverboat freight haul to Echuca in the dying days of the old era of the Murray-Darling river trade, the war had been on for several weeks. He had been torn between enlisting or taking this last great trip in riverboat history, but his great love of the river pulled him back on its waters. When Bert arrived back home to Goolwa last month, he signed off as barge hand of the PS Murrabit’s crew, and after spending a week with his family, he enlisted in service with the 4th Garrison Battalion. Merv Ward, elder son of Constable H. and Mrs Beryl Ward of Goolwa, had enlisted in the RAAF on the 28th of last month and was already in training at Laverton air base.

On Saturday evening December 2nd, after a rousing send-off gathering by family and friends during that afternoon, the AIF enlistees moved from the village and headed on down to the Goolwa railway station platform for the final hurrah. They have been on leave before departing interstate for further training prior to overseas service, so now it was time to report back for onward movement.

Last Wednesday night prior to their departure, townspeople had crammed into the Institute Hall for a formal farewell function for them, but on this Saturday summer evening, without speeches or ceremony it would become more real, more personal, because these young men were now prepared to go to fight in yet another European war. Through the afternoon everyone had a chance of having their time with them but now there on the station platform with the awaiting steam loco stood hissing and panting, brushing them with wisps of steam and coal smoke, the emotion of those final moments had come. With friends standing back, the families closed about each of them to say their final farewells and embraces.

The guard blows his whistle and calls “All aboard”. One by one, Bert Smith, ‘Bucky’ Lovell, Jack Dodd, Alf Tuckwell, ‘Jock’ Sauerbier, Dave Evans, Colin Newsom, George King and Sid Amey said their departing farewells and stepped onto the train. Then quickly finding open windows, they began to wave to the cheering crowd now moving forward.

Jack Dodd pulled a folded Australian flag from his tunic pocket and waved it to the excited people on the platform. Jack had bought the quarter sized flag from the old Boer war veteran, Percy Wells chemist’s shop in Cadell Street that morning. He would carry that flag through his war service and would bring it home with him, covered in places with signatures of mates he had served with in the battlefields of the western desert. The guard waves, the loco blows its whistle and as the train pulls away from the platform, Goolwa goes to war again.

In picking up their daily routines in the township, people began to feel the changes in their mood and purpose was no longer as separate individuals, but now as apart of the whole community with a job to do to support our boys on their way to fight a war involving the community of the free world. Christmas would soon be with us and we must not only support the war effort, but we must ensure that as much as possible we must keep up morale at home by continuing civilian life as near as possible to the pre-war spirit.

A brighter side of local life was that the past wet winter was producing a bounteous harvest for the farming community of the district. Garnett Holme reports that he has harvested a phenomenal return of 80 bushels of barley to the acre from his land alongside the main road between Goolwa and Middleton, as well as a 40 bushels of wheat per acre from another crop. In fact, the whole district throughout is reporting better than average crops being harvested as a result of good winter rains.

Receding floodwaters in the Murray has been recorded locally which shows a fall of twelve inches from its highest level recorded at Goolwa at the start of the month. Although the river is expected to flow strongly for some time, it is expected that the town’s fishers will soon be harvesting good catches of mulloway when they start to run in through the Mouth.

The annual Goolwa Regatta, on Boxing Day December 26, was held recently in fine weather with a brisk south-west wind ideal for full-sail racing. The ten boats entering the main sailing race of six miles were a mixture of Goolwa vessels and those from metropolitan beach sailing clubs. The local boats claimed a clean sweep over the visiting boats by taking all top positions. In the main sailing race, Bert (Hooky) Armfield in his boat Hookee crossed the finish line first, followed by Artie Sweetman’s Penguin scoring a second, with Jack Bedford’s Heather in third place. They were closely followed by Tommy Atkins in his boat Mary, leaving the metro boats to bring up the rear.

In the 4-mile handicap sailing race later in the day, Bert Armfield in his Hookee took another first by crossing the finishing line ahead of visiting boat Falcon with Tommy Atkins in Mary taking third place. In the All Commers sailing race, to follow, Bert and his Hookee would have to be content with second place. But with two firsts and a second place for the day he would be a happy man considering he had to sail against some of the top metro club boats in the regatta.

Meanwhile the younger set was competing in some of the other traditional regatta water-sports games of swimming, rowing, and including the efforts of beginners and experienced performers in challenges to demonstrate their winning technique on the greasy poles. On the horizontal greasy pole, the inimitable Frank Dodd with A. Lang won in a tie for a dead heat. Then on the vertical pole, Frank Dodd again tied in a dead heat in this event with George Godfrey.

Frank went on to score a win in the cork scramble with Murray Lundstrom taking second place. While these crowd pleasers were going on, the auxiliary motor-boat race was run with first place being taken out by Jack Lundstrom’s Rungey. That evening, in the Goolwa Institute Hall during the Regatta concert, the prizes were presented to winners in the major events of the day.

Goolwa’s Christmas was celebrated with the seasonal joy accompanied with a little fear about where the world was heading. Church services had congregations swelled in numbers, perhaps by some seeking comfort in the faith of others, but all were praying for peace.

King George VI, in his 1939 Christmas Day speech from London being broadcast across Australia by the ABC, quoted to his war-nervous subjects an extract from English poem which the Queen had selected to include in his message:

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year “Give me a light

that I may tread safely into the unknown”

And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way”

The King in concluding his 9-minute speech added:

“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all”.


Hitler’s pressure on the lowland nations by stepping up an aggressive posture is believed to show his intention to move against them. Accordingly, Holland and Belgium are moving to put their armies on a war footing. A request from the Allies who on recognising the weak spot in the northern border line restraining the German forces, to allow their troops to cross over Belgian territory to reinforce the line was put to these neutral countries. However, both neutral Belgium and Holland bluntly responded by refusing to allow French and British to cross Belgian territory to reinforce their borders against German aggression.

The Dutch and Belgian response brought a withering reply from Winston Churchill as the First Lord of the British Admiralty, who in a BBC speech on January 20, regarded their attitude as an appeasement to the Nazi leader:

“Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. “All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear greatly that the storm will not pass. It will rage and it will roar ever more loudly, evermore widely…”

While Germany hovers while preparing to invade the European lowlands, back home in Goolwa Miss Joyce Brooke, M.Sc., was setting about to prepare for her forthcoming wedding in England. Early this month she was given an afternoon tea party by several of her friends in Adelaide. Joyce a non-smoker, is a research worker at the Waite Institute involved in development of the tobacco plant. She met her fiancé, Dr James (Jerry) Price, D.Sc., at the University of Adelaide where they were both studying for their separate degrees. Jerry comes from Mt Gambier and is now doing research work at the John Hawkins Agricultural Institute in Wimbledon, England.

Joyce is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Roy Brooke of Goolwa, who began her education at the Goolwa Primary School and joined the local girl guide troop, an interest she has since held. She will leave for England by flying boat on March 6 and the couple will marry in England on March 23.

The new Goolwa branch of Red Cross which was formed last November has been hard at work since then. At the fourth meeting of the Goolwa Circle, their primary business was to draw up a town and district division plan for house-to-house canvassing which will begin this month. Members were working hard resulting in two parcels of goods being sent on to headquarters. Three contributions of garments have also been forwarded for Polish relief. Collections, competitions and the sale of badges in the town during the holiday period raised three pounds for the funds. Good support comes from the many visitors who have set up in the Goolwa Progress committee’s camping ground on the riverfront in Liverpool Road during the holiday season.

Officers of the Goolwa Red Cross branch are; Mrs W.H.A. Cochrane, president; Mrs H.A. Ward, secretary; and Mrs R.H. Bristow-Smith, as treasurer.

At the Goolwa barrage final work has been completed in the construction stage when all the stop logs were lowered into position which now separates the fresh and sea waters. The overall construction work from Goolwa to Tauwitcherie and Pelican Point is now complete, and it is anticipated that the whole scheme will be operational within a fortnight.

Another Goolwa man enlisted in the armed services on the 23rd of this month. He is Keith Neighbour, son of Mr and Mrs Arthur Neighbour, who has become the second Goolwa enlistee to go into the RAAF from the town and is at present in training at the Laverton air base in Victoria.



The Goolwa branch of the National Trust wishes to collect photographs of all Goolwa service men and women who served in WW2. We plan to develop this collection to honour them in the same way as we have for our WW1 service personnel. We would also like to receive any material, photographs, documents, souvenirs and other memorabilia into a permanent exhibition and collection. If you can help us work together to honour them in this way, we would welcome your aid. You may make enquiries or leave material at the reception desk at the Goolwa Museum or contact any of our members. Or perhaps drop into a Wednesday morning workshop between 9.30 to 11.30am for a chat. Entry would be at the rear of the museum (Church side). Or ring Anthony and Jill Presgrave (85553311), Bob Williams (85552895).

Or Arthur Bell (Curator), Goolwa Museum Military services collection

Frank Tuckwell (branch chairman) (85552991)