People - Sydney McGregor
Born: 15 March 1901 Northcote, Victoria, Australia. Died: 1 July 1942.
Sydney McGregor enlisted on 3rd June 1940 at the Melbourne Town Hall, then on to Caulfield. He was 39 at the time, married to Elinor Marjorie (known as Madge) and with three daughters, Marjorie aged 9, Mattie (now called Margaret) 7 and Helen 3. He was posted to the 2/22 Battalion, arrived in Rabaul May 1941, was reported 'Missing believed POW' in January 1942 and in October 1945 was presumed dead having been aboard the POW ship Montevideo Maru when it was torpedoed by the US submarine Sturgeon en route to Japan. Prior to enlisting Syd was employed by Sands & McDougal as a dispatch clerk and was studying accountancy. He was highly regarded by his employers and workmates, some of whom kept in touch with Madge for many years.
Syd was a tennis player and also a chess devotee. He carried on a postal chess game during his army service, but was eventually stopped from doing this because of the possibility of the moves being interpreted as code. When he left home he was teetotal, but smoked a pipe. Photos from the early days in Rabaul showed him smoking a cigarette, but we had no indication that he ever took alcoholic drinks. Syd is remembered as a devoted and loving husband and father with a gentle demeanour and a good sense of humour. Our mother grieved for him all her life and she never remarried, insisting that there was 'only ever one man for me'.
Madge was a bright, happy person who gave the girls a happy childhood and the household always had a lot of laughter. She died in 1965 at 62 years of age after a short and dramatic encounter with cancer. The family has always found strength in their faith in Christ. Marjorie was ordained Deaconess, later Deacon and then Archdeacon in the Diocese of Melbourne. She has been made a Member of the Order of Australia. Margaret and Helen both became nurses, Margaret at the Alfred Hospital and Helen at Queen Victoria Hospital. Margaret worked in geriatrics and Helen completed her nursing degree in community nursing and worked in the Geelong Hospital. Margaret married and had four sons - now all married - and has 8 grandchildren.
The Day the War Ended
So long ago now. Another world, another lifetime.
It wasn't unexpected in the long run. All sorts of hints had been given out in the newspapers and on the wireless that we would soon hear that hostilities had ended. But that didn't stop our teachers sitting us down to exams that August day in 1945. I had begun high school at Mordialloc that year and we had exams at the end of each of the three terms.
The blackboard was uncovered, the questions revealed and we were instructed to read them carefully. The science teacher was, like many of the teachers, a retired person recruited to fill the classrooms when their younger colleagues enlisted in the armed forces. Classes, especially in primary schools, were much larger due to the teacher shortage, desks sometimes pushed together to make room for even more children who were quite strictly disciplined. In our exam room we had just begun to settle when an announcement over the loudspeaker called us to assemble in the quadrangle to hear the news.
The war with Japan was over.
The trains were chaotic. Drivers disregarded timetables. There was a lot of tooting and whistle blowing. We youngsters didn't quite know what to make of it. After all we had only really known war. As long as I could remember the newspapers had had stories of advances and retreats, successes or limited successes. No one admitted to failures as that would have been bad for morale. I once asked my mother 'What do they put into papers if there isn't a war?' The war so dominated our thinking and actions, it seemed ridiculous that newspapers would want to print political or social items.
Speculation, excitement and apprehension about a change in our lives that we couldn't understand occupied our thoughts as the train stopped and started all the way home. Mum had told us of the celebrations at the end of the First World War. How she had been caught up in the jubilant, dancing crowds, even kissed soundly by complete strangers - it all sounded pretty weird to me. So what would happen now? When my sister and I arrived home from school Mum told us we were all to go to Footscray for a family celebration. We were expected to get ourselves right over to the other side of Melbourne to Footscray, walking to the station, about a mile, and then by train to Footscray of course.
We didn't want to go. None of us wanted to go. I knew I would be bored out of my mind, an uncomfortable child in an adult world with uncles, aunts and cousins who were older and remote from our lives. Marjorie would take her book and would just separate herself from the revelry. Helen was the youngest and would probably go to sleep anyway. I would wander aimlessly about wishing for an end to the pretending that I was having a good time. We were to stay the night so no amount of 'Please can we go home?' in Mum's ear would make the slightest difference to my misery.
So we sat on McKinnon station, with not a train in sight. Marjorie and Helen were in their customary places, one on each side of Mum. I wandered around, peering down the track, hoping a train would never come. Now and again bursts of celebration could be heard or glimpsed through the pickets of the station fence. Neighbours called to each other, strangers exchanged stories, and on the platform a few hopeful travellers had gathered at the working end of the platform. We sat on, isolated in our collective misery. We weren't excited or jubilant; we were conscious of the telegrams on the mantelpiece. The first one had said 'Missing, believed prisoner of war'. The latest one read 'Missing, believed killed'.
'So what happens now Mum?'
'What will people do if there isn't a war to work for?'
I gazed at the abandoned penny Nestle's machine. 'Will we be able to get chocolate now?'
'Will there be any more rationing? Can we throw away the ration cards?'
'What will we do with the car?' The Morris Cowley had been sitting up on blocks in the garage ever since our Dad had enlisted. Who would drive it now?
At last we began to talk about the party and squirm with reluctance.
'Do we really have to go?'
'Why don't we just go home?'
Our Mum gave a great sigh of hopelessness. 'We've got to go, the family expects us to be there, I can't not go'. She screwed up her face, 'Why are they making me go ... what have I got to celebrate?'
The mesh railway gates crashed down. A train whistle shrieked. People in the street called to each other in joy. And we huddled together in quiet loneliness, a mother, three daughters - and no father. The train rattled to a stop and we were on our way to the happy celebration party.
It was just as I feared. Hospitality flowed, everyone was being jolly, even our Mum. In fact I thought she was altogether too jolly, embarrassingly so. I must have voiced my disapproval because one aunt told me crossly 'Don't be such a spoilsport - let your mother enjoy herself'. Enjoy?
Two months later we learnt that our father had indeed perished when the Montevideo Maru was sunk in July 1942. My mother was heartbroken. We all grieved and mourned in our own way, but we were not encouraged to talk about it. We were children and in those days children were not consulted or considered in matters of life and death. There was no church service to honour our father, no funeral, no good-bye.
© Margaret Ruxton, Kyneton, Victoria 2003
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