Plane builder denied WWII sign up
SHE was her father’s shadow: He and his only daughter were inseparable... so when tears filled his eyes as she asked about his war medals, Ron McPherson knew it was time to tell his nine-year-old the truth.
Warwick woman Lorraine Wood, now in her 60s, can remember this childhood scene vividly – one she repeatedly describes as “poignant” – and wanted to share a different slant on her own Anzac Day hero.
“When I was in primary school, all I remember is that my teacher told the class to bring in their father’s war medals for show and tell,” Ms Wood said.
“So I asked Dad that night, innocently enough as you do at nine years old, if I could bring his medals in to school.”
That was when her normally “cheerful and humble” father broke down and sat his only daughter down on the bed.
“He said ‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ and showed me these three letters,” Ms Wood recalled.
“They were letters from the air force declining his request to join because during the war years he was working on planes for the war effort.”
Mr McPherson told his daughter how hard he had tried to join the force, as he felt it was his duty to serve for his country like all the other young men were at that time.
But the qualified carpenter continued to build war planes near his hometown of Westmead, near Parramatta, in New South Wales.
“He was very sad and it was like he had let me down,” Ms Wood said.
“Of course it didn’t matter to me – I still loved him and I was so conscious of making Dad feel better about it we never mentioned it again.”
The mentality of letting down his family and his country was something Ms Wood believed her father struggled with, along with countless others who contributed in their own way but stayed back in Australia.
“I often wonder what it was like being an able-bodied man walking down the street – would people wonder ‘why aren’t you joined up?’,” Ms Wood said.
“Did they get insulted? Or did people just accept that they must have been doing something important, like my dad building the planes, or making bullets or doing farm work at home?”
These questions are ones which still remain unanswered for Ms Wood, whose family continued to stay silent about their efforts during the war.
“That day (when I asked about the medals) was the only time we talked about the war; I would sometimes watch the Anzac Day march on the telly and my brother played the bagpipes a few times during services,” she said.
“When I look back on those times they must have been constant reminders for Dad that he never went to the war.
“Maybe he was fine with it, I don’t know.”
Somewhat ironically, Mr McPherson passed away on Anzac Day, 1988, aged 75.
“Dying on Anzac Day, maybe it was God or whoever it is up there’s way of saying to Dad ‘you did your bit’,” Ms Wood said.
The war ran in the McPherson family, with Ms Wood’s older brother Graeme working for ASIO, serving in Vietnam as an advisor and a spy.
“Like my father, Graeme was a very humble man and never spoke about his time in the war – I didn’t even know he was out in Vietnam until a fellow approached me at his funeral,” she said.
“He told me about the time Graeme and his group were out in the jungle and a couple of guys got cut off; it was Graeme’s cool head that got everybody out and back to the safety of the camp.”
Ms Wood stressed that she did not want her father’s story about an Australian man doing his bit from home to take anything away from those who served overseas.
“I’m a bit of a war buff and have a tremendous amount of love and respect for those who went overseas and died overseas leaving loved ones at home – they are to be thanked for our freedom,” she said.
“But Dad’s story is just another perspective on the war – even though he didn’t go overseas he still did his bit.
“I don’t know if others changed their names to go overseas but Dad was too honourable and kept building the planes, doing the important things they wanted him to do.”
And in his daughters eyes, it is obvious Ron McPherson will always be an Anzac hero.