The iconic images of crowds dancing in the streets come to mind when we think of Victory in the Pacific Day. Despite this unrestrained display of joy, experiencing war on our nation’s doorstep left many with wounds that would never heal.
As a way of remembering one million Australians who served in the Australian military in the Pacific war and the millions more who supported them in all ways from the ‘Home Front’, let me briefly commemorate the two closest to Anne and I, my father Andy Molan (married to Noni) and my father-in-law Frank Williams (married to Margaret).
Two Victorians amongst many, whose futures were intertwined.
Andy Molan and Frank Williams both hailed from Melbourne and were posted to neighbouring anti-aircraft units in Darwin during 1940. Unknown to each other at the time, a few decades later they would become family.
As a Gunner in the Royal Australian Artillery (Frank), and a radar technician in the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (Andy), they defended Darwin’s skies from the Japanese bombing attacks.
After doing their duty quietly for years, families sharing their sacrifice with little complaint, both men eventually resumed their civilian lives. But war changes everyone.
When questioned by his daughter Helen, Andy would joke and claim that he had “slept through” the bombing of Darwin just as he had “slept through” the submarine attack on Sydney harbour when he was doing a course at the artillery school at North Head in Sydney and billeted in the tunnels. Years later, we think his story about the Sydney attack might be true, but appreciating the scale of devastation wreaked on Darwin and the magnitude of the bombing attacks across the north of Australia, Helen acknowledges that his Darwin claim was a joke to handle more difficult memories.
Andy rarely spoke of his service, shied away from ANZAC events, and preferred to spend the day alone. However in 1971, Eric Bogle’s ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ struck a chord – he listened to it repeatedly, even contacting the ABC to request that they play it on ANZAC Day (they refused, and he was furious!). This poignant ode to “tired old heroes from a forgotten war” reached my father in ways that I, my mother and siblings rarely could.
Frank moved to Canberra after the war, and always remembered fondly his Army mates, especially “Gunner (Norm) Kelly”, and less fondly, the “singing” crocodiles at Batchelor in the Northern Territory.
In 1972, the two men finally met when, having joined the army and graduated from officer training, I married Frank’s daughter Anne. Whilst Andy and Frank are no longer with us, the family’s tradition of service continues through Frank’s grandson, Ben Page, a recent ADFA Naval graduate now training as a Maritime Warfare Officer and currently at sea.
Andy and Frank will be remembered with love and gratitude by their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren across Australia, as well as by Frank’s loving wife of over 60 years, Margaret.
Like all of us, everyday Aussies involved in the big events of the world, they did their duty.
Today is not just the 75th anniversary of VP Day. It is also 75 years since our greatest generation started their long (and sadly often unsuccessful) journey back to a life of normality, security and peace.
Lest We Forget, and part of never forgetting is realizing what Australia has to do to prevent that ever happening again.