Everard arrived in Sydney on Boxing Day - they were quarantined in Melbourne as I feared. He spent his last night down there with Alma where she is living with her mother. Poor Jack was killed by an aerobomb whilst helping unload a wagon.
There were eight special trains from Melbourne that day and when I first saw Everard in a motorcar I did not know him for a minute. It has not been easy since he has been back. He seems dissatisfied with everything, including Australians. I have been working so long with Australians and for soldiers I do not hold with his opinions. He stays at home and takes things easy. Perhaps when he gets a job he will grumble less. He has a large appetite and is in the best of health. I do not know what his plans are. He won’t go out anywhere and I am telling lies for him all day. We have been out twice only since he returned, both times to town to do some shopping and we have paid some local calls together.
I am hoping to get out to the Bulls this week but it is so hard to get Everard to go and see anyone. Clifford hasn’t gone back to work yet, which I think is a pity. So many returned men seem to drift along without any desire to work again. Even Everard is like this. He doesn’t seem to want to take up anything except argument. I am trying to get him to go to Manly today and he seems to like the idea, anything to get him out of the house. Sometimes I am at my wits end wondering when my old husband will return.
The weather has been very hot and trying. I find it stifling and having a man in the house all day long makes a lot to do. He had a friend over to dinner last night who is in a bad state of health and is not up yet though it is nearly noon. He is almost blind, poor man. I expect Everard will have to take him in to town.
I am just longing for my sons to come home. I suppose it will happen after all the 1914 men have come back. I get bad fits of depression and somehow I don’t think I will ever feel the same again. I really want a rest and have a holiday which seems unlikely I shall ever get. The garden is an ash heap. It’s heartbreaking after all one’s hard work.
John is evidently going to stay in London if he can get a hospital there. He had a most interesting trip across Europe back from Mesopotamia. They were put in a ship in Port Said but to his dismay he could not visit Belle’s hospital, although he could see it from the ship. He was in London the evening of the Armistice and says the people went quite mad, as they did here. He has been visiting all his father’s friends and having a good time, though it has been awfully cold in England and influenza and pneumonia are rampant.
We are all going around liked masked burglars in Sydney on account of the influenza, everybody masked down to the smallest child. All schools and churches, picture shows and theatres are shut, also all public houses. All race meetings are stopped and auction sales except those in the open. Mask wearing is very trying in this hot weather so I go out as little as possible. All Red Cross depots are closed but I am spinning at home for the knitting machines.
Everard hates wearing his mask too, always cursing it. I think he is getting a little more used to the quiet life, but he says he is quite unfit for home life and that he will probably go wandering again when Gerald and John return. For days he will scarcely speak and refuses to go out and see his old friends and doesn’t like having anyone here. Hanging around the house all day, doing small jobs and staying in bed reading doesn’t help him to like home. I must be patient, I suppose, but I find myself getting very nervy. I am convinced he will never settle down here after being used to the life which he seems to have chosen. It’s very disheartening to find I do not count in the least. It was unlucky this wretched influenza should break out just as he came home, as it keeps us from going out. He might like surfing or walking or something. He isn’t even trying to get a job that makes me think he means to go away again. I do my best but nothing, he says, interests him in Australia. We have been working together in the garden which I suppose is something. The drought has made everything die, though temporarily I hope and it is enjoyable doing something together.
We had tea at the Bennett’s last Saturday, and for once Everard was more cheerful. Of course he had the floor and proceeded to enlighten the family on various subjects.
We have at last had rain, about three inches, and the world seems clean again, though it is still very hot. We took a trip down to Manly yesterday. The law on masks has been relaxed and we only have to wear them on trams, trains and in the cabins of ferries. I am sorry to see influenza is so bad in England. I only hope John escapes it as he is so liable to colds.
Everard being home ties me to the house. Day after day, evening after evening, I have to listen over and over again to his excited outbreaks over British rule of hypocrisy, bad government and so on, or else the failure of Christianity and the churches. Nothing else seems to interest him except investments. He lets his mind dwell on some things and forgets others he should remember. Abuse of everything, British and Australian, becomes somewhat trying. There is a great deal of good in the world if we look for it and don’t suspect a motive in everybody.
I have practically given up Red Cross work since Everard came home, but do what I can at home. I have been repeatedly asked to teach permanently invalided soldiers at Randwick, but at present it’s not possible and such a long journey from here. Poor fellows. It’s very hard to lie there and do nothing.
I am hoping we can get to see the Bulls and do hope Everard will be in one of his good moods. He can be very entertaining when he likes. He is going in to town this afternoon so I might get out for a while. This would be a great day for surfing if one had a mate. If Belle was here we could have afternoon tea. I hope she will be returning soon – I shall be awfully glad to see her.
Everard is beginning to be more cheerful now. I hope it will last. He recently spent a weekend in the mountains with friends but nobody seems to think I might want a holiday after four and a half years war and worry and work.
Joe Makinson’s sister, Miriam, the one I don’t know, died last Saturday from typhoid. She was a nurse at the Prince Alfred Hospital and only ill for a few days. That poor family has had more than its fair share of sorrow.
I did not hear from Belle for a long time until recently, and she complained of not having heard from me though I have written pretty often except when I was sick. I will write next mail but she may be gone to England by the time it arrives. Belle thinks Gerald might not get away early, so I will have to be patient. I thought they’d send those who had seen long service first of all, but some are coming back who have seen just a few year’s service. I find the wait very hard.
We went to the Bulls last Thursday for dinner and had a very pleasant time. Everard was more his old self and thought them a very nice family. I noticed he did most of the talk and they did the listening. I don’t think Clifford is at all well. I asked Everard if I might ask him over to visit. He wants to make Gladys a spinning wheel and Everard says he can have the workshop and his help. I am extremely fond of the Bulls and am quite one of the family. Annie is much more her old self now. She sees so many sad cripples from the war. I think she would rather dear old Col at rest than crippled for life. I think Clifford will get all right in time but he seems to have lost will power. Annie has to plan out all his time for him. He has been doing a lot of home jobs and is a talented workman.
Tomorrow we lunch at the Blashki’s who have sold their house to the Red Cross. It is now too big for them since Roy was killed in France and Eric is engaged to be married, so there will only be their daughter left.
It was a joyful surprise to find out a fortnight ago that Gerald is actually on the way to Australia. He left Egypt a month ago. I was quite shaky for days after getting the news. I have told the Bulls. They are looking forward to his return and Annie is much more cheerful than she has been for a long time and is very impatient to see Gerald. I can scarcely believe he will be with us so soon – his ship is due tomorrow. He is sure to be quarantined as they have smallpox on board, but the Red Cross will look after him. I have retrieved his civilian suits and had them cleaned and pressed so they will be ready for him to wear when he gets rid of his uniform. We are so looking forward to seeing our boy again. I have a big steak ready for his first breakfast at home, as requested.
We had a telegram from Gerald yesterday to say they are still to be kept in quarantine. It is wickedly tantalising that he is so near home and yet still can’t get here. Despite telephoning all day we cannot find out how much longer they mean to give the ship. I will just keep on sending over papers and food until we hear further. Owing to Easter holidays I can’t send over after tomorrow so am sending a big parcel that I hope will keep him going. It contains one roast fowl, 6 hardboiled eggs, 1 tin strawberry jam, 2 tins sardines, a cigar which I won in a dip, and one lb butter. I hear such tales of men not getting enough to eat. I am fearfully disappointed Gerald is being kept to long. Surely this waiting will end soon.
In the meantime I ponder on this list I have been keeping of many of the lost and damaged lives of those I have known. There are many others I did not know so well or knew of, but I thought the list too long if I put them all down.
It has been two months since I last wrote anything in this faithful journal that has kept me company for the long and lonely years of the war. Yesterday Gerald finally received his official discharge from the army, having given three years and 257 days of service overseas. It has been a time of adjustment for all of us with two of my soldiers home, though Everard has not yet shown any interest in getting a job. I think the war has been more of a strain on him than he cares to admit. He has been writing a lot, and some he has had published, and they are full of memories and musings of his time at war.
He and Gerald have been enjoying each other’s company, and together they spend time with Clifford out in the shed. Gerald has a letter of referral from the manager of Dunumbral Station and I doubt it will be long before he is back in the saddle and out in the country. He says he needs to get to work, that it would be the best thing for him now,
October 10th, 1922
When sorting through some books I came across my account of time during the war, and have been distracted from my tidying up with the urge to go back and write a little more in here. Reading through it has brought back many memories of living alone during what was the longest and loneliest time of my life. I thought my sorrows were over when peace was declared, at least for a long time, but it was not to be. I hoped never to feel like that again, but we cannot know our fate, for here I am, all alone again in my little cottage.
Everard left this life two months ago, on August 18th, aged sixty-eight. He had been unwell for a long time, slowly becoming weaker until he could scarcely lift a pen. He ended his days in St Ives Private Hospital where he was comfortable and well looked after, and now lies in Rookwood Cemetery under a large Celtic cross of his homeland, his beloved Ireland.
If he had lived another month he would have seen the crown of our joy married to his sweetheart. Gerald was at home for a short while when he returned from the war, but was keen to fill his days with work. He went back to the Collarenabri stockman’s position, but the heat brought on recurring bouts of malaria he had contracted in the Jordan Valley, forcing him to cooler climes. He met Francie McKee when he was resting cattle on her parents’ property in Queensland, west of Dalby, and they are to be married in Toowoomba where she attended school, on October 9th. They have taken up a soldier settlement near Glen Innes on the New England Tablelands. John is to come up from Tenterfield where he lives with his wife, Phyllis and their little boy, Everard, named after his grandfather. John and Phyl were married in 1920, the year after he returned from France.
Belle returned to Australia in April 1919 and married in 1920, the same year as John. She now lives in the Hunter Valley and we still correspond. I had hoped their romance would lead to something more permanent, but it is they who make the choice, not me, and it was not to be.
I often think of all those boys who lost their lives, and cannot believe how I was blessed with the return of my three soldiers. I pray there will never be another time like it, so mothers all over the world can live without the fear of their sons being killed in some terrible war.
Poem sent to Edith in 1914
"To Mrs Digby, with Mrs Ranken’s love”
by E. Beaufils Lamb, Dec. 1914
They heard the Empire calling,
Dear lads in homes of peace,
Where southern sun is burning,
The land of the golden fleece.
There was mustering on mountains,
And down by rolling plains,
The lads in khaki marching,
To catch the city trains.
Oh, it’s my boy and your boy
Went marching past that day;
And though our hearts were breaking,
We would not bid them stay.
Shouldering gun and musket,
The sunburned lads we love
Are off to join the Allies
Where England’s armies move.
Their King and country call them-
The boys who could not lag,
They sail for death or glory
Beneath Australia’s flag.
Oh, it’s my boy and your boy
That leave the golden shore;
And it’s your boy and my boy
Who may return no more.
The troop ship slips her moorings,
And mother’s eyes are wet,
The bugle call is rallying
A soldier’s deep regret.
They scan the crowded wharf line
For those their hearts would find,
And the boys are laughing, looking
For the girls they leave behind.
And it’s my boy and your boy,
Someone’s boy or brother,
It little matters whose boy
If you are one boy’s mother.
Tonight when stars are shining
Above the waters blue,
If waking we’ll be thinking,
If sleeping, dream of you.
O God of Nations watching,
Divine, Majestic, Strong,
Give back our boys we lend you
For Right to conquer Wrong.
They’re our boys and your boys,
You gave and you may take;
But, oh, remember mothers
For Mary’s gentle sake.