LOOKING BACK: Shirley Sommerville has many vivid memories of life in Gympie during the Second World War. INSET: A young Shirley with her father.
LOOKING BACK: Shirley Sommerville has many vivid memories of life in Gympie during the Second World War. INSET: A young Shirley with her father. Renee Albrecht

'Many times a good old fight broke out'

SHIRLEY Sommerville can remember their uniforms well, the American soldiers looked smart compared to the Australians in rugged khaki.

Shirley's family lived near Glastonbury and was 11-years-old when the second world war ended. During the war Gympie was flooded with soldiers, both Australian and American.

"At Londies Café, near the five-ways in Gympie, was a good meeting place for the American soldiers and the Aussies to congregate and many times a good old fight broke out, mostly jealously as the yanks and their lovely starched and ironed uniforms looked so smashing and smart as our Aussie soldiers in their drab old uniforms did not compare very well.

"The Americans could afford to buy their girlfriends silk stockings as their pay packet was worth a lot more than the Aussies.”

Shirley, a talented pianist, remembered Gympie's air raid shelters.

"Oh yes. The air-raid shelter near Smithfield street, I remember so well, as my mum showed me where it was in case we had to use it.

"When I first read in The Gympie Times the council workers thought it might be an old cellar, I immediately said to myself "I know what that was, an air raid shelter”.”

With war threatening Australia's shores, Shirley remembers the extent of precautions. Her father would put moth-balls and shellite into the fuel tank to "go further”.

"My dad only had four tickets for Petrol for a month which was about 4 gallons, but someone told dad if you added moth-balls and shellite to the tank it would go further and talk about smoke. It went good down the hill but we had to get out and push the car up hill.

"I can remember the planes gong overhead flying in formation on their flight to their destination overseas, and it was compulsory at night to draw all our blinds inside the house, made from black cardboard and also the car lights at night would be made dull also using black card board.

"Food rationing was introduced and I can remember my mum swapping butter coupons for tea coupons as we made our own butter, but needed tea instead.”

The people of Gympie embraced the visiting soldiers and got along with them well. Shirley said they often mingled with the townspeople. Her brothers would play cricket on Sunday's with the troops.

Shirley's father and brothers worked in the sawmill nearby, exempt from service. She remembered the victory celebrations well.

"Peace was declared in 1945 and everyone stopped work and immediately drove into Mary Street to join in the celebrations. There were trucks driving up and down the street with people sitting on the back and ringing bells and signing and it was something I will never forget.

"At night people were dancing in the street.”

Gympie Times


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