Boomerang Boy by David Wilson, Take A Leaf Publications, October 2021. Available: Kindle (Amazon Australia) $11.99; Paperback (Waterstones, UK) £20
BRISBANE - The book, 'Boomerang Boy', tells the compelling story of Taurama Barracks Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Frederick Alexander (Fred) Wilson.
This remarkable soldier died suddenly while serving with 1PIR on 27 March 1968 aged 43.
But the story began when Fred, and his older brother, Philip, aged eight and ten, saw their family torn apart in the United Kingdom of the 1930s.
Handed over to a Barnardo's Home, the boys were later separated from each other permanently when Fred was sent to the Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra near Perth in Western Australia.
When World War II broke out, Fred enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force and was posted to the UK where he became a tail gunner on Lancaster bombers flown by the Royal Air Force.
Unbeknownst to both young men, Phil was close by, training for infantry service before deployment to the European campaigns to fight German forces in France, Belgium and Germany.
Fred returned to Australia after the war, and the two brothers never met.
In 1948, Fred enlisted in the Australian Regular Army and in 1951was sent to fight in Korea, probably in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, attaining the rank of Sergeant.
Not long after, Fred was chosen for a prominent assignment: to represent Australia at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London in 1953.
But he had no opportunity to contact his UK family while there.
A posting to the Army Command Staff College in Fort Queenscliff in Victoria came, along with three more promotions.
And it was here that 33-year old Fred met bank employee, Vera, who was 19 and they dated for four years.
In 1961 Fred was despatched as RSM to Taurama Barracks in Port Moresby to restructure and bring order and stability to the battalion after soldiers had staged a protest over wages. (The CO sent 50 of the protesters on patrol in a shrewd move to get the out of the way.)
Meantime, after seven years at the bank, Vera resigned and followed Fred to PNG, where they were married in December 1961 in the Taurama Barracks chapel.
Over the next four years, 1962-66, the battalion regularly patrolled the border with Indonesia and Fred and Vera were blessed with two children, Anthony and Susanne.
In April 1966, Brigadier Ian Murray Hunter was promoted to head PNG Command and later that year the first of the Education Sergeants (colloquially known as ‘chalkies’) were appointed to each battalion. I was one of them, serving at 1PIR from 1966-68.
As senior NCOs we regularly attended dinners, movie nights and mess get-togethers with Fred, Vera and their family.
Fred died suddenly at the barracks due to undiagnosed health problems on 29 March 1968.
The entire battalion marched behind the coffin and family cortège. Fred was buried in the Taurama Cemetery.
It was 43 years later in 2011 that several former chalkie sergeants and I revisited 1PIR and saw that the cemetery had been vandalised and 'raskols' had removed the metal plaques attached to the graves.
I wrote an article that was published online and stirred action as a result of which many of the original headstones were restored. A redevelopment of the site followed with a rededication of the gravesite.
Since that time Vera has been buried with Fred in the Taurama Cemetery.
In October 2011, I wrote an article about conscript soldiers in PNG which was published in PNG Attitude and on our Nashos PNG website which was in its infant stage at that time.
This helped David Wilson, Fred's nephew living in the UK, to find his Australian cousins and to learn that Fred had died.
This had far reaching outcomes. David Wilson and later Susie Ellis (Wilson) made contact with me after reading the articles, creating a link between cousins on the other side of the world.
Our chalkies network began to locate members throughout Australia which were added to our growing list of ex-servicemen.
And then we witnessed the birth of the book, 'Boomerang Boy', by David Wilson and have been honoured to be a small part of the narrative.
By locating orphanage records, war diaries and personal correspondence, David pieced together the sad story of his father, Philip, and his uncle, Fred.
Maybe, as a family history, it's not for everyone. But to me, Fred's life at 1PIR was an inspiration. He was a true Aussie gentleman.
Historian and writer Leo McKinstry wrote of the book:
“With remarkable perseverance, diligent research and a generous heart, David Wilson has marshalled a wealth of information to produce this deeply poignant family story.
“Centred on the lives of two brothers who endured youthful hardship and wartime danger, the book uses vivid descriptions and moving insights to build a powerful narrative.”
Rest in Peace RSM WO1 Frederick Alexander Wilson, ARA 5487
24 June 1924 to 27 March 1968