THE 503d IN GORDONVALE
_________________
H. Clive Morton 

 

 

The War Years at All Saints 1939 to 1945

Extracts from the Parish Book of 
The All Saints Church, 
Gordonvale, Queensland, Australia 

"Men began to leave the area to join the Forces. The Anglican Community, along with the Rector and his wife, were among the foremost to join the Red Cross, the Comforts Fund, etc. The fall of Singapore (February 1942) and the great exodus of civilian population from the North, with the threat of invasion, left the Parish with scant congregation and still scanter contributions to the Parish funds. These were dark days for All Saints' but not of despair."
 

The example was set by the Rector and his wife who never wavered, along with men like Billy Griffin, Ben Gane, Norman Fell, Bill Bell and the faithful women of the Guild. [Explanatory Note. W C Griffin Mulgrave Shire Councillor 1907-1929. 1939-1951 Chairman 1944-1951, Ben Gane then Station Master Gordonvale, had heavy responsibilities with troop, Red Cross wounded trains, and heavy concentrations of rail traffic, Norman Fell secretary of Mulgrave Mill also came under wartime pressure with the mill marked down for demolition to stop it falling into Japanese hands, and Bill Bell was also on the mill staff].

After the Battle of the Coral Sea, people began to return to the area and life took on a brighter aspect. Troops began to arrive, the first being Australian troops from Darwin, who camped in the bullock paddock with their rations of bully beef and biscuits, well seasoned and able to look after themselves.

Then two thousand American paratroopers arrived, ration less, as their provisions were still in the hold of the troopship. Along with women of the other organisations, All Saints' Guild set to work to give an evening meal to these men. Thousands of sandwiches were cut, myriads of water melons divided, and trestles and tops set up extending from Gordonvale Hotel to the Corner Newsagency. Mrs. Gane, the president of the Guild was foremost among the workers.

"After a short time, the American camp was set up on the way to Riverstone, the Commercial Hotel became an American Hospital, and Thomas Central Hotel became an American Red Cross. Many of the Americans were Episcopalians (a part of the Anglican Community). Mrs. Stalley and Mrs. Yesberg organised square dancing and other entertainments."

American servicemen had a keen appreciation of Mother's Day, the second Sunday in May. As the little wooden church of All Saints' was too small for this special occasion, a combined Mother's Day service was held at St. Michael's and attended by all denominations. St Michael's was packed to the doors. Two pioneer women, Mrs. Kate Crossland and Mrs. M. Mighell, were chosen as "Mothers of Mother's Day, because each had lost a son in the first world war. The Communion service was followed by a Communion Breakfast served in the park [Norman] under the huge marquees and entirely catered for by the Americans."

"One sad incident occurred when paratroopers whose jump field was at Green Hill, were awaiting the arrival of General MacArthur. [on 25 June 1943] The General was late and the planes had circled and re-circled for about two hours. When the jump eventually did begin one parachute failed to open and the paratrooper lost his life on the fields of Green Hill."

"The funeral was held at All Saints' with full military honours and the casket sent to America for burial. This happening cast a gloom over the town as the paratroopers were popular with all, and as the parachutes were packed in the park by local women, most of the men were known to these women. [No blame was attached to the women packing the parachutes, the soldier Private Donald Wilson, did not attach a static line to his main parachute, and did not open his reserve, possibly because the cold weather through the open doors of the aircraft, and the continuous circling, disoriented both the jump master who checked the paratroopers as they left the aircraft, and Wilson when he jumped]."

This is the end of the quotation from The First Seventy-five Years. The wartime theme also occurs in John Stalley's reflections of a Child at the Rectory, but first he gives a wonderful insight into his father's puckish humour, which was never unkind, always deadpan, and yet never detracted from the respect young parishioners held him in as a preacher of God's word. John Stalley recalls,

"Those of you who knew my father, may see his sense of humour in that my sons thought for some time that I had been born on the banks of the Mulgrave River. I had jokingly told them such, and, of course, this is partly true. Many of us of Gordonvale extraction first saw the light of day in Nurse Smith's maternity house. This was situated at the eastern end of Gordon Street, not far from the old timber traffic bridge, and therefore near the bank of the river.

The bridge had loose timber planking and whenever a car crossed there was such a distinct clanking sound that my mother, at the Rectory, had an indication when my father was returning from some demand of the parish on the other side of the river. General traffic would have been infrequent in those days for the family lived in Gordonvale during the Depression years and World War 2."

I was born in 1937. The family left for Innisfail Parish in 1946 with my father, having been Rector at Gordonvale for eleven eventful years.

As a cub we once hiked to the abandoned campsite of the American 503rd Paratrooper Regiment. All that I remember remaining was a concrete cold room and large indentations cut into a hill face. We thought these holes must have been made by the firing of machine guns at targets, using the hill as a stop butt. The reminders in the town of the 503rd Regiment during 1943, indicates the remarkable effect their presence had on Gordonvale and also on this then small boy.

My first recollection of their being in town was when Chaplain Herb visited my father as a courtesy introductory visit. I joined them in the Rectory lounge. Chaplain Herb spoke of his "ANT" which puzzled me until I learnt he was speaking of his Aunt Mary of whom he was very fond. His pronunciation of aunt had baffled me. He was a frequent visitor to the Rectory and used the churchyard for the funeral services of those Americans killed while training. Rifles were fired over the caskets and I understand the bodies were sent back to the States." 

A poignant incident is recorded in the 1945 Minutes of the All Saints" Working Society (later called the Guild) in a reference to the women attending a communion service on 4 November 1945 on the anniversary of the death of Miss Catherine Irving, director of the American Red Cross in Gordonvale during the period that the 503rd Parachute Regiment had served locally. The American Red Cross occupied the Central Hotel, and was visited by such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, its patron and wife of the US president, and movie star John Wayne. Miss Irving died on board a troop ship returning her to the United States.

 

H. CLIVE MORTON

 

 

 

         

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