Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

18.3.05

Uncles.

What were the uncles doing while all this cooking was going on? They were having a beer and singing a few songs.

Uncle Pat sang the most. Uncle Pat would have a few beers and then launch into his favourite songs. He had a high-pitched voice, almost a falsetto. Everyone loved hearing him because he was so amusing. He was - is - a very funny man. Everyone loves Uncle Pat.

Uncle Pat would be telling some joke and laughing and then he'd start singing Danny Boy and he'd get halfway through and then he'd start crying. And then everyone cried because you can't not cry when Uncle Pat is crying and singing Danny Boy.

I'll tell the story just for St Patrick's Day (my, how quickly another year has flown!)

*

One morning in the dark days of 1940, Pat's two older brothers, Daniel and Lawrence, walked out and enlisted. Daniel was barely old enough but Lawrence lied about his age. They were just boys.

Pat said goodbye. He must have been nine or ten, the youngest of five.

The first telegram - on a pre-printed Birthday Greetings letterhead - was dated 29 November 1940. It was addressed Att. Miss Frances Kennedy, Speciality Press, Little Collins Street, Melbourne:

Many happy returns. On way to Bonegilla. Love to all.
Danny.


Bonegilla was the departure point from Australia for overseas theatres of war. Danny was not yet out of Australia, but he wasn't too excited to forget his older sister's birthday.

Christmas came and went. Daniel found himself in Asia. (Lawrence never saw active service and ended up in New Caledonia where he picked up a smattering of French and took black and white photos. Mainly pre-war cars, bikes and buildings. Exactly what you'd expect a teenage boy to photograph. I still have many of the photographs. Lawrence was my father.)

1941 slipped by.

Another 'gram, date 2 January 1942, Christmas pre-printed letterhead, office of origin, 990 Malaya:

All my love. Keep smiling. Best wishes for Xmas and New Year.
Danny.


Then, less than a month later, another telegram. No festive letterhead:

I regret to inform you that Kennedy D M has been reported missing between 18 and 22 January. The Minister for the Army and the Military Board extend sincere sympathy.

Who knows what his mother would have thought? And who knows how she would have struggled to check her growing dread while hiding it from the youngest?

Another telegram, two days later, agonisingly devoid of any news:

From information received from overseas, we are now able to give you the following further details in regard to the above named. Missing believed wounded 18 or 22 January. Any further particulars will be promptly conveyed to you.
Lieut. Officer-in-Charge, Records.


Who knows how many times she cried at night, thinking about a lost boy in some jungle on the other side of the world, perhaps in pain, perhaps dead, perhaps captured? And who knows how much she would have dreaded the loss of her other son as well? While trying to be brave for young Patrick.

Shortly after this time, Pat's older sister joined the AWAS, the Australian Women's Army Service. She might have had a mad fleeting thought that maybe she would find him somewhere, bring him home.

They never found him and no-one ever knew what happened to him and the grief went on down the years and life went on as well.

*

And now, it's years later and it's a family party somewhere and Pat is singing. And then everyone is singing.

And, fleetingly, Danny Boy is in the room again.

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