What is ‘war’ a little girl of six years pondered as she sat outside the hedge which surrounded her mother’s garden? The adults talked about what they read in the newspaper and listened intently to the news on the radio. It was late 1939 and I was that six-year-old girl. At first, life on the dairy farm went on as usual. My parents remembered that other War of 1914-1918 and they probably wondered what would happen this time. When my elderly spinster great-aunts came for a visit they began the conversation at the evening meal by asking my father “How is the war news, Jack?” We were soon to find out what that war would mean for us.

When the war in Europe became widespread, young men were called up for military training and I think this was for about three months. I have memories of my two oldest brothers being away for a period of time. The Japanese entry into the war and their invasion of New Guinea and later the bombing of Darwin and the submarines found in Sydney Harbour, brought the war very close. We were not far from the sea so could an invasion come towards our shore? This was serious. Children were evacuated from the city and two children who lived in the city came to live with their mother’s sisters who lived not far from us. We now had neighbours nearer our age.

As part of preparation should war come to our neighbourhood, windows had to have some means of black-out. Periodically sirens went and we had practise runs. No light must be seen coming from the house and we would be in trouble if a glimmer showed from our windows or doors. At our school we had practises, too. One procedure I remember was that when the whistle blew we were to get in our family groups and race to shelter under an appointed tree in the yard. Later a trench was dug in a corner of the playground. It was about four or five feet deep, a few feet wide and was in zig-zag shape. I don’t recall that we ever had to get into it but we knew that it was there just in case.

Many people in Sydney built air-raid shelters – dug-outs in their back yards, but in the country we didn’t seem to bother! At least we didn’t have one. My sister remembers that the cattle had to be branded so that if the Japanese invaded from the sea, all the cattle would be let loose and led into the bush.

My eldest brother enlisted in the AIF as did many of the sons of farmers in our small community. He was twenty-two in late 1941 and I was the one who watched for the postman who drove a horse and sulky from the town to our little postal agency. When I came home with the mail there was an official letter for my brother who was out in the paddock. I can still recall his excitement when he opened that letter. He jumped up and down – he would be off to war! Did he realise what was ahead of him?

He left the farm and went into training. Periodically we had letters, sometimes a photo of him in uniform and occasionally he came home on leave. There he was dressed in his uniform and carrying his kit-bag. He was in the 1st Tank Battalion and was to sail for New Guinea when he came home for his ‘final leave’. It was hard for my parents to farewell their eldest son. He was not to know that this was a final leave taking from his father who died at the early age of fifty-three before my brother returned. Letters came from New Guinea and we learnt from the news reports that his battalion saw action in various strategic places where he was part of a tank crew. A neighbour, whose son was in the same crew, gave my mother a photo of a group of the local boys, including her son and my brother, with the New Guinea jungle as background. Mum wept over that photo.

Meanwhile all the milk from the farm had to go to Sydney so no cream and, therefore, no more home-made butter. The pigs had to go as there was no more skim milk. Everything was rationed. We received little books of coupons for each member of the family. Butter, sugar, tea, meat, clothing and petrol were all rationed. Each of these items had a price tag, not only of money but a certain number of coupons for each. This was a hardship we all had to accept as part of the war effort.
The car, our chief means of transport, was used only for necessary trips. If used after dark, the headlights had to have a blackout shield where only slits of light lit up the road. My father saw what they were like if purchased, so, clever man that he was, he made his own using old floor polish tins that were just the right size. He painted them black and they were very effective.

At school we began to find it difficult to acquire the necessary articles we needed for our subjects. We did get some extra coupons when we wanted to buy materials for our needlework classes. One of the most difficult articles to buy was a rubber eraser, particularly for our art class. Every rubber was guarded jealously and we learnt to erase by other methods, for example, with fresh bread! As such things as socks and stockings were limited we rejoiced when we could go to school without wearing them. Improvisations that we could think up took the place of articles that children of today take for granted. We made paste of flour and water; newspaper had a variety of uses: as an outside wrapper for food, when you went to the butcher or the fish and chip shop. Cut into squares, it was an effective toilet paper. Nothing was wasted-there would always be a use sometime.

Ladies became adept at making their own jewellery. If they could secure some plaster-of-paris perhaps from a builder, a mould was made of the desired shape and size and painted. Then flowers were made using fresh bread. The bread was carefully kneaded, coloured with whatever was available, perhaps some food colouring, or crushed crepe paper in water, or extracts from plants. Then the bread was ready to be rolled between the fingers and pressed into the desired shape. Roses, lilies, other flowers emerged in this process. Some very creative arrangements were glued on to the base which had a safety pin embedded in the back of it before the plaster set. Hey Presto! a beautiful brooch emerged. Some women were so creative that their pieces of jewellery were much sought after.

So the years of the war crept on until 1945 saw the turning point and the war in Europe ended in May. A few months later the Japanese surrendered after the atom bombs fell on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Soldiers returned and tried to rebuild their lives. My brother returned to this fatherless family and took over the management of the farm and became the father figure for us young ones. He rarely spoke of his experiences unless we asked specific questions. I guess he drew support from the close friendships he had formed with the other young men of the district and his loving family.

Rationing continued for some four or five years as food had to be shipped to Britain until that country returned slowly to some kind of normality. But would our world ever be normal again?