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Thursday 8 September, 2016
These were the popular pieces I remember my father singing as he worked on his fruit block at Renmark in South Australia. Often the lyrics changed to whistling as the familiar strains of ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ echoed over the rows of vines.
My father had not long returned from the devastation of WW1, when he set up a Soldier Settler block in the Riverland, along with countless other returned servicemen. His memories of Gallipoli and the battlefields of the Western Front were still vivid, and the marching tunes sung by AIF men still came often to the fore back in Australia. Soon too he had a young English bride to care for, and in the fullness of time, three young children. The newly established vines needed constant attention, the horses needed care, and the house was gradually being added to, as the children grew. So the life of Tom Hendrick was a busy and productive one.
The most highly anticipated day of the year at Renmark was ANZAC day. This day was celebrated by the entire town. The children of Renmark delighted in watching their fathers march proudly in their hundreds, medals gleaming and jangling, along the main street of Renmark. Then the famed bicycle races were held. The main race, the RSL Wheel Race, was the highlight, with 10 laps of the oval, and prize money of 5 pounds. The bikes in the ‘20s and ‘30s had no gears and no brakes, and could not freewheel, so the frequent crashes of bikes added to the excitement for the young watchers.
In the local river towns, settled by a vast majority of servicemen, it was to be expected that when WW2 broke out, many young men and women would volunteer, as their fathers had done 25 years earlier. When I reached my eighteenth birthday I enlisted, although my father strongly advised me against joining the army! I also had heard enough to know the drawbacks of life as a soldier. The Air Force, however, appealed to me, having read as a boy the W.E. Johns’ Biggles books and having been fascinated by the heroic pioneering flights of aviators like Kingsford Smith and Amy Johnson, as well as being caught up in the famous London to Sydney Air Race which captured the nation in 1936. It wasn’t long before I left Renmark with many of my mates, to begin training with the Royal Australian Air Force as Air Crew.
And so I come to some extraordinary and remarkable coincidences. Due to the first and second World Wars, my father’s life and mine ran parallel over many years.
At the age of 18 my father volunteered and joined the Australian Army. I too, twenty five years later at the age of 18 volunteered, but joined the RAAF.
At 19, my father was sent to Gallipoli. Again, twenty five years later at 19, I was sent to England for further training as a pilot.
At 20, Dad, having survived Gallipoli, was sent to the battlefields of France to help repel the German army. At 20, as a Lancaster pilot I was part of Bomber Command, targeting military installations in Germany.
At 21, my father was awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry at Bullecourt in France. At 21, twenty five years later, I too was awarded the DFC for ‘Consistent Gallant Conduct.’
At 22, my father, sent on a course to England, met and fell in love with a young girl from Bristol, and later married her when she came out to Australia. At 22, I met a WAAF girl while in England, and later married her. She too came to settle in Australia.
Both my father and I took up Soldier Settler blocks in the Riverland, bringing up our children in the peaceful environment there; enjoying the lifestyle on the land.
While to me there are almost incredible parallels, our wartime experiences had some significant differences.
Enduring the most confronting situations was my father’s lot in life for 4 years. Eating a poor diet for months on end, sleeping in often muddy, rat ridden dugouts, with a constant barrage of explosions, took its toll on the bravest. The fighting was conducted man to man, with rifle and bayonet.
In contrast, my wartime daily life was more comfortable as we lived in a house, were fed well, even with wartime restrictions, and enjoyed some social life.
For me all flying operations were dangerous with flight durations being anything from 4 to 9 hours. Over enemy territory, constant watch had to be kept for enemy aircraft, ground gunfire, search lights, and to avoid collisions with our own bombers. To add to the danger, all craft had to fly in total darkness. The sight of Lancaster bombers on fire, and spiralling downwards, added to the fear and sense of uncertainty. But, along with the necessary skills, there was always a certain amount of luck involved in surviving.
On reflection I realise my crew of seven, who trained with me and flew with me throughout the war, supported me and enabled us as a crew to survive; so too dad’s mates in the platoon were crucial to his wellbeing and chances of survival.
My dad and I were both very fortunate to survive the wars, and, like my father I became a soldier settler in the Riverland. My family tells me they could hear me singing as I pruned the vines, ‘This is the Army Mr Jones’, and ‘I’ll be comin’ round the mountain’, and at times whistling Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’ – off key, so my wife told me!
Lest we forget.
To listen to Howard and Winifred Hendrick Oral Histories interview at the South Australia State Library, find more information HERE.
To view Howard Hendrick’s Australian Virtual War Memorial profile click HERE.