Kandos and Rylstone History P.34
Interview with Reg and Jenny Franks, 30/11/2000
Local Farms and Prisoners of War.
Jenny Franks was five when World War II ended. She can still remember meeting Prisoners of War and refugees at her uncle’s place when she went there to play tennis. Jenny lived 4kms away.
World War II refugees and prisoners of war were staying and working on Tabrabucca, at Ilford, which was owned by my father and my Uncle Walter Harding in partnership. POWs were also on Uncle Hector’s Cudgegong property, working for him there. Two or three Polish couples lived at Tabrabucca, and maybe six or seven Italian POWs lived at Uncle Hector’s, I think all men. I don’t know how many POWs my uncle had.
I remember some Italians on Uncle Hector’s property making custard. They were living in the shearing accommodation, not the shearing shed itself. They were unable to speak English, and I remember they made the custard using sheep dip because they could not read the label on the packet and thought it was custard powder and very nearly poisoned themselves.
The Italians made very good spaghetti and we enjoyed going there to eat spaghetti with them.
My uncle had a big orchard, and they worked there, picking apples and pears and packing them. There was always enough farm work to keep them busy, so I don’t think they worked anywhere else.
They were not locked up, they were trusted to stay. I think they knew they were a lot better off and there was only the farm vehicles and petrol was very tightly rationed, so they had no way of going anywhere.
The POWs had to go back to Italy after the war and some of them cried when they had to leave. They didn’t want to go home because there was nothing for them there. Some of them had been forced to fight or be shot, and didn’t believe in the war.
As I didn’t live on that property, I didn’t come into as close contact with them as the Polish refugees living in the house with my grandmother and Uncle Walter Harding. The Polish were refugees, the Italians POWs.
The Polish made cigarette boxes into beautiful jewel cases, which they sold. They decorated them with very intricate geometric patterns cut from straw. They were very fine and sometimes the little tiny pieces they had left over, they made into a pom pom. They lined them with silk, and padded them, and the result was a very intricate and beautiful case. My sister still has one that belonged to my mother.
There may have been some ill feeling in the community about the POWs, because both my uncles were belted up at a dance at the Cudgegong Hall and I believe it was because of the POWs.
As far as I was concerned, they were very good people, nice people, and there wasn’t any worry. Some of the Polish refugees came back to see mum after the war, one lady came for many years. They were very appreciative.
The house the Italians lived in is no longer there. Tabrabucca, the house the Polish people lived in is still there, the house can be seen from the Castlereagh Highway. We have an old single furrow plough they may have used, that was pulled by draught horses, which were used quite a bit in the orchard. We still have draught horses, but not the original ones.
My brother has renovated Tabrabucca, but the outside still looks the same. He has turned it into a B&B. My brother built a new main house, The Lodge, about 10 years ago.
My father was in the VDC, the Volunteer Defence Course. Reg (Franks) was in it too. They had to go and practise in case we were invaded, but because the boys were running a farm and that was a necessary industry and most of them were in their 30s, they weren’t called up.
My husband Reg Franks, with his father, Harry Franks, and brother Doug Franks, worked in a sawmill. I remember my father going off to the VDC with his packed lunch, in a big military overcoat.
I remember the ration tickets for butter, flour and clothing was in short supply. You couldn’t get a lot of things. My grandmother and mother knitted a lot of socks and different things to send to the army boys through the Red Cross. We made underwear out of calico flour bags, which weren’t too bad. We made sheets out of calico, and mum used to hang them on the line for a month during winter so the frost could soften and whiten them.
I was in the VDC, the Volunteer Defence Course, which was mainly for people who had to stop at home and work on essential services. When I left school I worked at the sawmill with my father on the other side of Dunns Swamp on the Coricudgy Mountain, cutting timber for Mosquito Bombers. We had enough coachwood timber there to build the first 72 Mosquito Bomber frames they had at the beginning of WWII. The frame was made out of timber and plywood was also made out of the timber and covered some of the frame, then it was covered with canvas.
The Mosquito Bombers were made at Richmond, Sydney, the timber prepared on machinery by the Slazenger tennis racquet factory. We cut the timber and railed it to Sydney. Slazenger also made the framework for the 303 rifles, cutting the stock and sending it to Lithgow Small Arms Factory to be made up into rifles.
The Mosquito Bomber motors were made in England by Rolls Royce. I often wondered if they were too powerful for the body, if they were to open up the engine, the plane would have fallen apart, it was so powerful. But the Mosquito Bombers were one of the fastest bombers.
I later met a man who was the first engineer to fly a Mosquito Bomber in India. He told me:
“I was sitting in it near the window, and something went past and I said to the pilot, cut the throttle in half and get this thing back on the ground. We got it down and hopped out and what they had done, they had glued the canvas under the bodywork and the temperature was that hot it melted the glue and the canvas was starting to come off. So they had to make a better glue and reglue it.” They imported wood from Canada after that.
I never saw a Mosquito Bomber until I went to Richmond about eight years ago and they were rebuilding one with new timber. You are not allowed to cut coachwood now. Coachwood is what you call a bush timber. It grows in the gorges in the rainforests and is long and straight, some of them 80 or 90 foot high. We cut it down with an axe.
My father had one of the first crawler tractors in the area to get the timber out, but it didn’t have a blade, just a winch. At that time the blade was not invented for bulldozers. They winched the timber out of the steep gullies at the back of Mt Coricudgy. We had to lower the crawler into the gorge, undo the winch rope, work up and down the gorge putting all the logs into a central pipe, then take the rope back to the top of the hill and winch the machine back to the top, turn it around, put it behind a tree, take the rope back down, then winch the logs up one by one. My brother and myself did all this work alone. We started at 5.30am and finished about 10pm. My brother did eventually go to the war, but while we worked at the sawmill, we weren’t allowed.
We didn’t have electricity and pumps and engines like you have today. We had to pump the water by hand, with a hand driven pump. You had to get up at 5.30 in the morning to cut the wood to fire the steam engine to get the steam up to drive the sawmill, then you could have your breakfast and go out and work all day in the mill, or you could go bush all day and cut logs.
We used to spend two days a week cutting logs, and three days a week saw milling. They paid me $4 a week and kept me in clothes and tucker, and I didn’t get paid until Christmas Eve, once a year. I used to have to ask for it too, because I wanted to go and buy my mother and sister a Christmas present, so I’d ask Dad to write my cheque out and he’d say, “Oh, all right”, and then he’d shake his finger at me and say, “now don’t waste it”.
The VDC was training to help defend your country if people came into this area. We had to do riffle training and manoeuvre training etc. We were billeted in the Ilford Hall and I remember one night there were so many fellows snoring, I couldn’t get to sleep, so I went down the road and slept in the foyer of the church. I just raked up some pine needles from a pine tree and made a bit of a mattress out of them and slept there. But during the day, quite often up till midnight, we had to go out into the paddocks and train.
They put an enemy post in the paddock and you had to conquer it. The post had a flag there, and you went through the paddocks and when the enemy saw you they raised the flag, and that meant you were shot. When it came my turn to go up the gully, I went down behind them and conquered them.
The fellow that used to live across the road from me, Bill Junge, was our training officer and on Sundays we’d take old machine guns into a quarry at the back of the cement works and have target practise. We reckoned they’d make pretty good kangaroo shooters, so we took the Owen machine gun back to the saw mill for the week, and up the other side of Dunns Swamp, there’d always be kangaroos running across the road, so I stood up and I into them with the machine gun and poor old dad nearly had a heart attack, because he didn’t know I had the gun. He thought he’d been ambushed.
Each magazine held 32 rounds and the barrel on an Owen machine gun was only 9 inches long, and it shot them out that fast, there were three in the barrel at once. That’s how fast it could shoot. And I could clean up those kangaroos pretty good with it.
The government used to give an extra issue of petrol because of the timber works, but it was never enough, so we felled the peppermint timber, stripped the leaves and Dad had a big 2 ½ thousand litre steel tank, and we stacked all the leaves in the tank, dug a hole underneath, fired it up, put some water in the tank to cook the leaves, boiled it up for 48 hours. It took three of us two days to fill the tank with leaves, then we’d boil if for two days and get 20 litres of oil and we’d add a little drop of oil to the petrol and it made the truck pull better. It was a gear difference.
There was a great shortage of everything during the war, especially petrol. Dad had a business in Mudgee Street behind the shop, a trucking company carting for the mine networks, and a couple of times he ran out of petrol, and he couldn’t work it out. Coming in from Brokman’s Creek one day, he ran out of petrol and he had to walk in and get Ernie Fountain (of Fountain’s Garage) to take out some petrol. Old Ernie got the petrol at 8 cents a gallon. Dad found out someone was milking the truck at night. So he went to the local Sergeant Todhurst, who lived near the old chemist shop, and said, “I’ve got a 12 gauge shotgun, how about I empty a couple of shotgun shells and load them with rice.”
The Sergeant said, “Yeah. Bloody good idea. You do that.”
So Dad rigged a couple of empty kerosene tins to let him know if someone came, and sat out on the verandah with a brownie automatic gun. Bang went the tins one morning early, and Dad woke up and grabbed his gun and saw a figure getting over the fence. Bang!
Dad went over and there was no one there, he was gone. But when he got up at daylight, he rang old Dr Darton, up on the hill near the museum, and he said, ‘Dr Darton, you wouldn’t happen to have a patient up there would you?’ And he’s chuckling away and he said, ‘I knew bloody well who did it, and I’ve already rung Sergeant Tolhurst and he said, ‘Yes, well I gave Harry permission to do it.’ And the doc said, ‘Well, I’ve picked enough rice out of his behind to make a bloody good pudding.’
Men from the cement works and other locals came and dug trenches at the school, the kids helping, and we used to have emergency drills. The works would blow the whistle and the school would ring the bell, and we all had to run out and get in the trenches. Ernie Fountain, the garage proprietor, had a plane, and he used to fly over and drop little paper bags of flour, flour bombs, on us and when they’d hit the ground they’d explode into big white clouds of dust. There was a big trench where the gas tank is now. There were also tunnels everywhere at Marangaroo, near Lithgow, packed with ammunition.
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