Letters from the front-line
“WHEN you know he lost his life, it just tears at you,” says Cheryl Rideout.
“I said to my sister Margaret, ‘We never asked mum how she felt getting that letter knowing he was (already) dead'. And my sister said, ‘I don't think we needed to ask'. The way mum told us the story was enough.”
Wartime memories come in many forms, but none are more poignant than the letters our diggers sent home and Mrs Rideout's mother, Olivia Nugent, kept one for the rest of her life.
By the time Olivia received the letter from her colleague and good friend, Ronald Patrick, she already knew he had been killed in battle on December 26, 1942.
The tragedy was that Ronald's letter was jovial and witty, starkly contrasting his situation.
He wrote: “Last week we were able to go swimming in the old Med again (Mediterranean Sea) and it was great. The surf was not too bad… I caught a boomer the other day and, after turning three summersaults, it finally lifted me up and dumped me behind – first into the sand and barked my head.”
Olivia was engaged to marry Bob Power and Ronald was disappointed to be missing their wedding.
“You mentioned about being sorry that I was not among the mob that arrived home… But one of these days I may get there. And if it's not in time for your wedding, maybe it will be in time for the first christening. I'll take the opportunity now of wishing you and Bob all the best that you could wish yourselves, and a bit more.
“They've made me into one of those two-pips-artists they call officers, so I am just ‘it' now. But I'm a bit crooked about coming to this place after spending twenty-odd quid on uniforms and not even getting a chance to wear them. Worse still, I have just received thirty quid I wrote for from Cairo. It couldn't arrive while I was there. What a bust up it would have been. But it'll be all the more appreciated if we go home after this. I might even get a chance to buy a nice cold pot at the Commercial.”
Tragically, as Olivia read these spirited words from her 21-year-old mate, she knew he would never make it back to Gladstone for that pot of beer.
Lieutenant Ronald Power served in Tobruk, Syria and El Alemain. He was awarded a Military Medal.
Anzac Day services:
Agnes Water: 6.30am Dawn Service at Cenotaph, 9.30am parade from Tavern to Cenotaph
Biloela: 4am Dawn Service at Alton Downs, 10am march to Memorial Park
Bororen: 6am service at Cenotaph
Boyne-Tannum: 5.30am Dawn Service, 9am Memorial Service at Stirling Park
Calliope: 10.45am march from Bunting Park, Archer Street
Gladstone: 5.30am Dawn Service following march from Valley Shopping Centre, 10.30am main parade departs City Council Building
Mount Larcom: 11am service at Show Grounds
Mount Morgan: 4.28am Dawn Service at Anzac Park, 10.30am march from Anzac Park