Away so long, Frank’s own daughter didn’t recognise him
Family was everything to Frank Walsh. He was a country Victorian teacher before he joined the Royal Australian Air Force on 9 February 1943. His cousin, Ralph McDermott, was among the 350 sailors killed in the sinking of HMAS Perth, in Indonesian waters, in March the previous year.
Most Aircraftmen who were billeted at Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings for technical training were far from their families, but Frank’s wife Rene and little daughter Paula boarded just across the road in Fitzroy. Frank sometimes had his mates cover for him while he slipped away from marches to care for Paula while Rene went to work as a telephonist. ‘So little time left to hold her,’ he wrote in his diary. Frank’s father Francis—a Gallipoli veteran who lived nearby—sometimes proudly marched alongside Frank’s unit through Carlton.
Frank found his technical course too difficult and left the Exhibition Buildings in August 1943, to train as a medical orderly at the Medical Training Unit in Preston. In May 1944, he was posted to Goodenough Island in New Guinea. Frank battled constant rain in the camp, living in tents with falling trees and sleep deprivation, and resented working under the nuns at the hospital. In August he wrote: ‘It is Paula’s second birthday tomorrow. How I wish I could be home for it. Am just living for the day when I shall see my two dear ones again.’
Germany surrendered in May 1945, and a month later the Victorian Education Department applied for Frank’s release. But it was not until Frank developed acute appendicitis in October, while he was in Borneo, that he was brought home as a medical evacuee.
Frank was reunited with his beloved Rene and Paula, then aged three, at Bendigo train station. Paula still remembers it vividly—the fear of a strange man trying to grab her, not recognising him as her father. Frank returned to teaching, and he and Rene had a long and happy marriage—welcoming another five daughters. Paula still treasures Frank’s diary, and a little shell bracelet he made for her while overseas.