LOVELY surprises still happen when you’re 91 years-of-age. When Beryl Murray was called by Melbourne author Jacqueline Dinan to inform her that extracts of her war recollections would be going into print in her book, Beryl just laughed.
“I said, oh! It’s not good enough for that!”
But sure enough, Gloucester’s Beryl has found herself immortalised in print in ‘Between the Dances’, a collection of short stories from the women who lived through World War 2. The book reveals personal conversations with more than 300 women who embraced the challenges presented by war.
“This book is a ‘living history’ told at the eleventh hour by a generation that was there,” Jacqueline said.
Beryl’s involvement began after she saw Jacqueline’s advertisement for stories in the Department of Veterans Affairs newsletter. As a junior member of the Newcastle Red Cross, Beryl had assisted with the knitting and sewing on of buttons onto the pyjamas made by her mother. Later, aged 17, she would receive a weekly letter from her beau and future husband Bunyah’s Milton Murray, who enlisted and served for three years until his return from the Pacific at the end of the war.
“Blossoming in my late teens, I thought how great it was to be attended to by an army man,” she recollects in the book.
In this digital era, it is prescient to pause and think of the worth of a hardcopy letter sent during times of war. Gloucester’s Beryl Murray received many such weekly letters from her husband during World War 2, but she sent him more...
“I wrote to him three times a week! I think it kept us together. We always had a lot of belief and hope for the future,” she said.
“I still do.”
One week Beryl’s letter arrived, but began with Dear Mum. His mother’s letter began with Dear Beryl.
“A good laugh was had by all,” she said.
Beryl found a job as a domestic at the Newcastle Hospital, where the majority of patients were civilians, though occasionally there would be a military case on the serious list. Some army medics also went to the hospital for training. They always had full staff, but no advanced cleaning equipment. Accommodated in the nurses home, her eight-hour shifts began as early as six-thirty and each domestic was rostered on to keep the building clean.
“The staff were all good-willed, accepted whatever was on offer and there was little staff turnover.”
Serving their country as nurses, farmhands, community volunteers, ration juggling housewives, corporation managers, munitions workers or members of the defence forces, author Jacqueline said the stories expose women’s struggle with gender stereotypes, the difficult release of social liberties and the dawning of new opportunities for all Australian women.
“The last tradition left was the weekly dance, which ceremoniously brought these courageous women and men together for a quickstep, jitterbug or fox trot and a brief respite from the rigours of wartime.”