Fleeting war-time love: Royce & Roma
He was just a teenager from Adelaide—a yard hand who dreamed of going to sea. But in December 1941, Royce Phillips’ life changed forever. Pearl Harbour had just been bombed and Australia declared war on Japan. The next day, Royce signed up with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
The threat of war was very close to Australia when Royce’s train pulled into Spencer Street Station in December 1941. He was headed for Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings, where thousands of RAAF and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force personnel would be based for technical training. Royce was soon studying to become a fitter.
Life in war-time Melbourne had many attractions for Royce—ice skating, drinking, flirting with girls. One girl fell madly in love with him. Roma Wright wrote him passionate letters and rushed out to see his unit marching by on their way to training. One of their dates, she said ‘was the happiest night I have ever spent in my life’.
‘Gosh I don't know how many things I've done wrong today (or supposed to have done). I upset a bucket of water all over the kitchen floor, broke the hose, spilt a kettle of boiling water, someone said it’s because I'm too much in love.’
It wasn’t to last. Royce pushed her letters through gaps in the floorboards of the Exhibition Buildings and soon took up with a new girl. His father was worried and sternly warned, ‘you have to be very careful with who you mix with over there’. With all these distractions, and a bout of ill-health, Royce was soon struggling with his studies. He failed his basic fitting course and was remustered to Aircrafthand.
Yet Royce was determined and, despite his early setbacks, he was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman. By July 1945 he was a Flight Mechanic. Royce served at air bases across Australia during the war, including at Darwin in 1942—too close for comfort to Japanese bombing raids. Fortunately, Royce survived unscathed.
After the war he returned to Adelaide and settled down to life in the suburbs. Roma’s letters were rediscovered under the Exhibition Building’s floorboards during renovations in 1989, along with many more of Royce’s possessions. Roma’s story remains unknown.