An unlucky charmer who found his feet
Very little of Dick Colbert’s service during World War II went to plan. He was a clean-cut, 21-year-old orchard farmer from Kyabram, in Northern Victoria, until his father sold the family farm. His three older brothers had already joined the war effort, so Dick enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), hoping to be an airman.
Dick had been a bright student, but only completed three years of high school and lacked flying experience, so was not suitable for air crew. He was sent instead to the No. 1 School of Technical Training (1STT), based at Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings. He took a fitter’s course and was then posted to the No. 3 School of Technical Training in Sydney in June. But that didn’t last long—Dick was laid low by a serious illness in October and spent much of the next four months in hospital.
In February 1945 he had sufficiently recovered to return to the Exhibition Buildings and 1STT to undertake wireless maintenance training. But the illness had clearly taken a toll—it was too much for him and he failed. After a short posting to Adelaide Dick yet again returned to Melbourne, this time training to be a clerk. He ended the war on clerical pay and was discharged in June 1946—but his luck was about to turn.
Elaine Smith was a bright, creative young woman who was studying to become an architect. She did what she could to support servicemen who were far from home during the conflict, and in the early post-war years. She acted as hostess at local dances for servicemen and sometimes invited them to her Brighton home to enjoy her family’s hospitality. In late 1946, one of those was Dick Colbert. The meeting was a roaring success—Dick charmed both Elaine and her family, and by the next year they were planning their wedding.
Elaine designed her own dress and bought the fabric with clothing coupons from Georges department store. They were married in a Presbyterian church in Brighton on 6 September 1947. Dick and Elaine had a long and happy marriage, loving and supporting each other for the next 60 years.