Shirley Summerville from Gympie tells us about her memories of the Second World War.
Shirley Summerville from Gympie tells us about her memories of the Second World War. Renee Albrecht

What it was like being a child in Gympie in WW2



WHEN two Gympie Times reporters came to interview me about memories I have of the Second World War, it was unfortunate they didn't have the space to print all some of the very important things and happenings during those years.

Firstly, I don't think anything was mentioned in the paper before Anzac Day about the Light Horse men who camped at the Gympie Showgrounds in 1942 with hundreds of horses.

My dad often took me to see the horses being fed.

I clearly can remember the time when, early one morning - about daylight - something disturbed the horses and they took to their hooves and stampeded. No one knows how they safely got across the now known Kidd Bridge without any of them being killed.

Many times planes flew overhead in formation headed for their destination.

It was also compulsory at night to have blinds, made from black cardboard, all pulled and, at night, the car lights were also made dull with black cardboard.

My dad only had four coupons for petrol per month (about four gallons).

Someone told Dad if you put mothballs and shellite into the petrol tank it would go further - and talk about smoke.

Going to the movies was such a big event.

When Gone with the Wind, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, was showing at the old Olympia Theatre, we were living in the bush at Greendale. The car went okay downhill but uphill we all had to get out and push.

As the ladies passed through the door at the theatre they were given a cup and saucer for making the effort to attend and, when the national anthem, was played and all stood up, the ladies forgot they had the cups and saucers on their laps. And so there was much crashing and broken crockery.

My sister played the background music for the silent movies in an old theatre near where Dimmeys is now.

The old piano we three girls learnt on still stands in my lounge room and can still rattle out a tune.

A contingent of 200 soldiers or more camped at Greendale Creek near where we lived and the cook called "Jack” used to walk to my home to get recipes from my mum.

But it was a bit hard to work out the ingredients to feed so many.

Jack the cook used to soak dried peas in a sugar bag in the water at the creek overnight so they would be soft and quicker to cook the next day.

Many of the soldiers came down to our home (when they were allowed) for a sing-song around the old piano on a Sunday night.

My sister, who was a nurse at the Gympie General Hospital during the Second World War, felt so sorry for some of the patients as everyone shared the same needle in those days. So the needles got very blunt and, on her days off, she would bring some home for my dad to sharpen with a tiny file.

My father took me to old Gympie Railway Station to see the troop trains passing through on their way south with many Japanese prisoners on board. The windows would all be boarded up, so we could barely see what they looked like.

And, if you needed to go to the toilet near the park, it would cost you a penny. If you did not need to use the amenities you could by a chocolate or an ice-cream for the same amount.

PS: Many thanks to the two lovely reporters who came to my home. We had a good laugh about old times during the Second World War.

Shirley Summerville,

Jones Hill.


AS A follow up to Shirley Summerville letter, I can tell you of my knowledge of the war years, even though there was no contact with soldiers.

We lived on a dairy farm outside of Toowoomba and supplied milk in milk cans to the Toowoomba factory.

The milkman called every morning to collect the milk in a truck and returned the cans we sent yesterday.

Dad threw nothing out, it was always "That might come in handy”.

We always thought he was a hoarder and when the farm was sold the tool shed (just a slab constructed building) had a dozen or more old milk cans and 4 gallon (20lt) drums half filled with every sort of bolt, nut, nail, pieces of steel etc.

The auctioneer had a ball selling these as they were a mystery as to what was in them.

We later realised that Dad never threw anything out because during the war years you couldn't buy anything.

Queensland Pastoral Supplies in Brisbane was where we bought most things, but even nails, any sort of bolt, roofing iron was unprocurable.

I can remember after a storm and we lost some roofing off the dairy and Dad had a piece of pipe on the cement floor and was knocking the corrugations back into the roofing iron as you couldn't buy any.

He made a wooden hammer to do it. I was only young then but can still remember that. It was during this time we converted from horse to tractor drawn implements.

If a bolt broke it was no good going to Toowoomba to try and buy one as none were available, so it was a case of going through the drums to find one.

Some machinery was converted and we had a forge and bellows in the tool shed and Dad did his own backsmithing to fabricate attachments.

I can remember the war rations and we used to take butter to town and swap that and eggs for petrol vouchers as driving to town used more fuel than just driving around town.

Parents used to take pigs and calves to town to the local pig and calf sale.

I got two shillings (20c) for helping push pigs and calves up to their pens and later help load them.

Thought I was a millionaire.

When school years came I rode a horse two miles to Douglas School and of an afternoon the elder students helped catch and saddle the horses for us younger ones.

Swaggies (swagmen) were a common sight, they'd call at home and Mum would get them to chop wood or dig some of the vegetable garden and they'd get a feed that night, sleep in the barn and a feed for breakfast and be on their way.

I don't recall Mum ever chasing one away.

Great memories and a pleasure to share some of them.

Rod Matthews,


Gympie Times

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