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

2.6.11

Extract.

One of more hair-raising stories from the book I worked on (on and off) for six years until the thing finally appeared last year:
I am uncertain of the year I started at St Bernard’s - being 1942 or 1943 - but I have clear recollections of the reason. While in Grade Four at St Monica’s, we did regular air raid practice, and helped dig air raid shelters in the large dusty wasteland that was the schoolyard. During these exercises there were various boyish discussions about the war, and to where we would be evacuated if the war were to get any closer.

I remember in particular becoming friendly with a group of boys - in particular, two brothers whose father was at the war; and as I recall, missing in action. These were Ted and Jack Harris. They lived above Williams shoe shop in Sydney Road, Moreland. Ted was in my class and Jack in my brother Leo's class. One day they came to school with a fistful of money, how much I am not sure. Nor am I sure I knew at the time how they had come by this windfall and probably did not care, but found out later that they had entered the shoe shop through a manhole accessible from their upstairs accommodation.

We decided that we should spend it wisely and invest in some treats, rarely if ever seen by we poorer kids. Two or four kids were dispatched to the nearest place of purchase for Violet Crumbles, licorice straps and Coca-Cola. We gorged ourselves beyond measure, devouring most of the booty either behind the toilets, in the bike shed or in the half-completed air raid shelters. Like all good things, our party came to an end, maybe within a week; and we thought no more about it. Until one day, Br Hayes or Ryan asked Ted Harris to come to the front of the class. They both left the room together, Brother returning a short time later and searching Ted's desk for evidence related to this heist from the shoe shop.

I was taken out of class next, down to the brothers' lunch room; and to my horror was confronted by two plain clothes detectives and interviewed regarding our involvement in this crime. A few of us who were interviewed became so scared that we met after school and decided to run away.

You can imagine how well prepared we were, no food or warm clothes etc., etc. From memory I think we chose the Pascoe Vale area, due to the many trains going through that station and area, taking troops and supplies north for the war. I distinctly remember that the trains quite often slowed to a walking pace due to the steep rise out of Pascoe Vale, particularly Heavy Harry, the largest locomotive ever built in Australia. Heavy Harry and other locomotives quite often used to slip and get wheel spin on the frosty tracks, and then reverse back some considerable way for a re-run at the incline. Just the right place for us to board and hide in a goods wagon and be on our way to Sydney or somewhere.

However, we had to abandon this plan as no train would slow down sufficiently enough for us to board. As I recall, it was getting late, dark and chilly so we decided to go to the aerodrome boundary and find shelter in a hut we had previously seen while mushrooming in the area. No accommodation was found, and we arrived at the huge trestle bridge that is on the main Sydney line between Keilor and St Albans.

Climbing the supporting steelwork was no mean feat, one that I would not contemplate today. This bridge had a service walkway along its length and was a welcome resting place for the night.

I cannot recall the police being notified, possibly because my father had a huge network of friends. I do recall seeing lights at night flashing all over the place, but am not sure whether these were searchlights, which were very common near the airport during the war. I remember we froze at night and after the second night we decided to head back to a more populated area under cover of darkness. We gathered what we called plum puddings, which were unripe grass seeds, and ate them voraciously, but hunger lingered.

On the third night I found a sheltered spot in a telephone box in Gaffney Street near the station; and had settled in nicely when an American serviceman sought refuge from the cold while affectionately saying goodnight to his girlfriend. He entered the phone box and stood on me. I don't know who got the bigger fright.

Now I needed to seek cover quickly, both from the cold and detection; and immediately found shelter behind the shutters at the nearby newsagent’s. In those days shops and houses had to be blacked out with tar paper, and the newsagents had a trellis in front where the paper bundles could be thrown for weather and other protection. An ideal place for a sleep in an emergency. Such was not the case, as soon after I was battered by the paper deliveryman hurtling his bundles through the opening. I retreated to the parcels shed on Pascoe Vale station, where I think two of the others were, and slept. We were nearly apprehended by early station staff and took off. By this time hunger and disunity had set in and the rest is a bit vague, except I recall being home shortly after and belted to within an inch of my life.
Murphy's Lore: A History of St Bernard's College As Told by Those Who Were There
Edited by Paul Kennedy
Penfolk Publishing Blackburn (2010)

More information here. (Click on cover to request information or purchase.)

No comments: