Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) has cared for many returned service people and those with family members who went to war over many decades. Whether through combat on the front line, providing healthcare to returned soldiers, or keeping the home fires burning; men and women recall WWII as having an important influence on their future.
VMCH Bundoora resident Maurie Gerdtz, 93, was serving with the 19th Machine Gun Battalion in Darwin when the Japanese bombed the city during World War II.
“I was on the edge of the aerodrome when the Japanese planes approached us. I can remember the first day when the bombs started dropping,” he said.
“I had an old machine gun with only 17 rounds of ammo which would only last 17 seconds.
“The commander came out and said ‘forget about that gun, son, and get some shelter’.
“I found the nearest tree. This was the first lot of planes at 10am, then at midday 52 planes were sent in. I lay on the ground on my back and watched the Japanese planes fly over me.”
Maurie’s stories of war cross the Timor and Java seas to Borneo, where he spent six months training occupying forces. A knee injury and a bout of Dengue fever saw him finally discharged from the army in January 1946.
Berwick resident Stan Beazley, 92, says he experienced 22 air raids during his time serving with the Australian Imperial Force (1942-44).
Hailing from Warragul, Stan was a country boy with farming responsibilities; making him exempt from enlisting with the army. However upon hearing of the bombing in Darwin in February 1942, Stan, then aged 18, chose to enrol to “fight for his country”.
Stationed in Darwin, Stan’s role in the Australian General Transport Company (Ushers Mob) was as a driver delivering bombs, petrol, supplies and personal.
“We were always on guard, carrying weapons. I could never relax, even when I was off duty.”
During harvest leave from the army Stan met a young woman named Melva and within three weeks they were married.
In late 1944, Stan was told that he was being discharged from the army, as they were running out of food. Stan and Melva raised five children in the years that followed and he worked for Baguleys Flower Farm in Clayton South for 30 years.
Anzac Day is very important to Stan: “We must show respect and remember those that didn’t return from the war.”
Fellow Berwick resident Cedric Pobjoy, 89, was lucky enough not to see battle first hand, however he didn’t know this would be the case when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on his 18th birthday in 1943. The apprentice fitter and turner joined “to be a part of something” along with his mates. Several hours later he began to question his decision whilst sleeping on concrete in the grandstand of the MCG, which had been requisitioned by the Government for military purposes.
Over the next 18 months, Cedric undertook training in aircraft engineering on bases in Shepparton and Sale in Victoria and then South Australia. He says he was grateful not to see the horrors of war first hand, and even more grateful to meet his future wife Elva, then 17, while stationed in Sale. The pair married in 1948 and had two children, settling first in Oakleigh and later, Berwick.
Cedric’s VMCH Berwick neighbour, Freda Newsome, aged 96, served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service in England from 1941 to 1945. “As a woman, if you didn’t join the navy you got stuck in a factory or something, and I didn’t fancy that,” she said.
Her experience in maintaining navy personnel pay records set her up for her future job as a pay clerk and later, a milk bar owner in Mordialloc where she settled with her husband and two sons.
VMCH aged care residences across Melbourne will hold commemorative services on April 25 to honour those who lived and served through the world wars and subsequent military actions.