Beauty, Pleasure and Death
"Rathmines was known as the Country Club being right on the lakeside. I think many airmen would have liked to be there as it was a beautiful setting as compared with the other dusty, noisy stations." (David Bernard)
The natural beauty of the Rathmines RAAF base is one of the most common recurring themes in the memoires of personnel. That natural beauty is unchanged. Likewise, the base’s relative safety meant personnel were able to relax and enjoy their time at the "Country Club" without the constant threat of attack that accompanied their time in other places. Memories of the beauty of the place, fun with comrades and the development of relationships dominate the recollections of people who served here.
However, human memory tends to recall things that were different, pleasurable or emotionally significant. People rarely recall their ‘normal’ life when recounting their experiences, and what many memoires of Rathmines personnel tell us, is that death was a constant reality. When recalling friends she made while working at Rathmines, Narina Griffen recounted:
"There was a lovely girl from Taree who came to me one night and told me she had word from the Red Cross to say her boyfriend was a POW. Still later she told me "I know I shall never marry this lad" calling him by name. Then still later she told me he had died in the POW camp. I do not remember where."
Griffen recounts the death of this POW unemotionally because it was a normal reality of wartime. This reality is even more evident in David Bernard’s recounting of meals at Rathmines. He discusses the military formality that accompanied meals and the quality of the food before adding:
"One day, while marching to the mess at midday we noticed a Seagull [aircraft] attempting a landing. The aircraft hit a wave and bounced then hit the next wave which bounced it higher, where it stalled and nose dived into the lake. The fitter was rescued from the tail but the body of the pilot was found floating some days later by an airman who used to live out [off base] and rowed his skiff to the base daily. The Seagull was recovered and the nose badly crushed. I do not recall if it was rebuilt or not."
Like Griffen, Bernard presents an unemotional remembrance, as such risks were a normal part of wartime. Death was an ever-present reality that could occur at the hands of the enemy but also as part of the total war effort. Today, we can see the beauty of the lake the same way these smiling young people did in the 1940s. But we must always remember that beauty and pleasure was tempered by the constant spectre of death, and that is a reality we should strive to understand in order to prevent it ever occurring again.
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License