Archive number: 2501
Date interviewed: 10 June, 2000
You are listening to the interview audio
NB. This transcript is of an interview filmed for the television series, Australians at War in 1999-2000. It was incorporated into the Archive in 2008.
So Clarice, just to start with, can you tell me your name, where and when you were born?
I was born at Jerrys Plains, out from Singleton, July 1st, 1899.
So you were born out in Jerrys Plains, so did you live in the country then?
When I was a few months old we moved to Sydney and we moved to Leichhardt.
We spent a lot of our years in Leichhardt.
Do you remember much about Leichhardt in the early days, what was it like out there?
It was like… everything’s changed a terrible lot now to what it was. It was a quiet suburb. We lived in a little quiet street. There was a lot of us. There was eleven in the family. I was the
fifth eldest, I had four brothers older than me. And there was always a baby in our house. Went to school, I started school when I was seven and left when I was fourteen. I didn’t go to work; I stayed home to help Mum.
Were you at home during the war years?
Do you need to stay at home?
Well, there was so much to be
done, to help Mum. There was eleven, eleven children. So I happened to be the eldest girl, so it fell to my lot, yeah. They were good old days, really, when you look back on it, and I didn’t go to work until the war years, and then I, we did camouflage nets
and I worked on them for a while and then I went into shop work. When I was forty-five, you couldn’t work in the shop in those days until you were forty-five. So when I was forty-five I went into Woollies [department store], and then I went into a cake shop, I was there for a few years.
That was probably the Second War I reckon? During the Second War?
I’m just wondering when you were back in Leichhardt in those early days, do you remember going to school and Empire? Did you have flag raising?
I suppose we did really. I went to school at Annandale, St Brendan’s in Annandale, but I don’t, nothing very startling went on in those days,
well, it doesn’t seem as if it was, you know.
Do you recall whether they taught you anything about the King and Empire when you were at school?
Not really I don’t think. I mean we weren’t very interested in things in those days, you know, when we were young like that, it’s only later years that you
become interested really.
That’s right, when you were a young teenager; you’re not thinking about the bigger issues, you were probably more interested in having a good time?
I suppose that was right, as it went on.
It’s still the same today for most people. You said you had to stay at home and work during the war. I’m just wondering whether,
because of all your brothers going off to war, it made it hard on the family. Was it difficult in those years, do you remember, having everybody away?
Well, I think, Ray, no Frank, my eldest brother went first and then the third brother, he went in, he was a prisoner of war for a year and eight months in Germany.
I mean he was missing for a long time. There was a, I think it was the 11th April, there was a, he was in the 13th Battalion and I think they had heavy casualties at that time, but he was a prisoner but there was a lot killed. They had a hard time, yeah. I think, did you get the history – he wrote a book about his experiences while he was
Yeah, I’ve read some of that, when he went missing, did you think he was dead?
No, there was a lot killed so we thought, you know, it was a few weeks before we found out he was a prisoner, and then they couldn’t write very often. I don’t know what become of all the letters. I mean with moving about,
with Mum passing away and that, and Dad passed away, he died in 1922 I think it was.
So you had four brothers that …. ?
Eldest one, he lost eight toes with trench feet, they called it. Frostbite.
And then the third brother, he didn’t join the army, and the next one did. So, another brother was younger than me, he was too, he wanted to go but he was only a kid going to school. And then all the others, there were five girls then, five girls below me.
So you had three brothers that went
into the army, is that correct?
Two, and one was too young of course, and then there was the other one that didn’t. Do you know why he chose not to go?
I mean, I don’t think he thought it was going to be a picnic. I think a lot of them went in just for adventure. They thought it was adventure they were going into, yeah, but I think he was about a year and eight months a prisoner of
war when he went. And the other one he came out well, after he lost his toes, he couldn’t, he got out of the army.
Do you remember when the war first began, hearing about the beginning of war or remembering anything about
the days when the war was just begun, the declaration of war.
Nothing seems to be very clear really. I can’t think of anything really clear. There was a war and that was it. Didn’t think it was going to last long but it did.
Did your brothers join up early on?
No, I think about, the beginning of 1916 I think. Well, one went in and then the other one joined up, you know, soon after that.
Was there much pressure on them to go?
Oh, good, they used to give them a white feather [sign of cowardice], you know, yes, those that didn’t go, they’d, some of them would give them a white feather or something. Oh, yes, there was a lot of pressure put on to them. They were sad days really, when they went to
Sad days, in what way were they sad?
Oh, I mean, you’re hearing bad news, you know, always bad news from the war and that sort of thing, because I think for quite a while they thought they’d lose it, you know.
What did you think of your brothers being away? How did it affect you?
Oh, well, I mean, they were sad times really, because the death toll was pretty high really and
when me eldest brother, I can’t think much about that. I don’t know how long he was in before he got trench feet. Trenches used to be full of water and his toes got frozen, and he was in hospital for quite a while before he came, he was invalided home then. And then he died,
I think he was, just before the Second War, he was in, in Randwick, before Randwick Hospital was built, they had a lot of huts out there, and he was there, he had TB [tuberculosis]. So that was the cause of that. But he got a small pension and he used to get what you call boots special, boots made. He had difficultly in walking,
no spring with his toes.
As far as he was concerned, the war carried on into his life afterwards?
Yes. Oh well, he died at thirty-nine. So I mean he, I think the effects, you know, it was the
effects of the war really.
It affected a lot of people after the war.
Did your brothers ever talk about the war very much to you?
No, not really, no,
not really. They might when they all get together, the conversation as it come up.
Did you go down and see them off when they went to war, do you remember when they went away and left Australia?
Some of them, some of them, a couple of them who went down to the wharf, yeah. They used to be very early in the morning, as a rule.
You were at home during the war?
A lot of women were involved in doing work for the war, were you involved in anything like that?
No, not really, we didn’t do, didn’t do – there was lots of things went on, you know. You partook of those sorts of things, but nothing really special I don’t think we did, no. Just be groups, there’d be things
run, you know, and that sort of thing.
What did your mum think about her sons going off to war; did she ever talk about that or express any …?
We weren’t very happy really, but still that was their choice, yeah.
What other things were you doing at home? Do you remember anything from the days at home? Do you remember any instances like there was a debate over
conscription? Do you remember any of that?
I wasn’t in favour of that.
Can you tell me about that again?
No, we weren’t in favour of conscription, they volunteered and that was that. I don’t know how come that my other brother wasn’t conscripted.
They didn’t get conscription in, they had a vote for it and it didn’t pass. Was there any clash between the brothers because one didn’t go?
Oh, no, no.
… butter and meat, a lot of the things were coupons.
Short supply, somethings …
I think there were a few strikes on too during the war.
Oh, yes, there’s always been strikes, not as bad as today though.
Did you ever go to the conscription rallies? They used to have rallies about conscription in the city.
No, no I don’t think so.
Do you remember when the war finished; do you remember the end of the war?
Oh yes, I remember that. People just went mad.
Everybody went to town and they played up, you know, they all laughed and, that was a great, God, I can remember that. The town was packed. Trams were packed. Yes.
The city was full of people. What did you get up to?
I just joined in with them. You know, I went with my, well, he wasn’t my husband then, I went into town with them, they all went to town, they danced and they
sang, it was very good.
Everyone was glad that it was all over, I imagine?
Yes, I think they celebrated for days.
Bigger than the grand final by the sound of it?
You said you went with your,
you went that day with the man who you married?
With his people, I went with.
Was your husband anything to do with the war? Did your husband go to the war?
What did he do?
Well, him and his stepbrother, he was in the infantry and the stepbrother was in the artillery, I think.
Yeah. Yeah, I was their sister’s schoolmate, you know, we were all friends, we were friends for years, since going to school.
Did he ever talk to you about his experiences of the war?
Not a great deal. When some of them would get together you’d hear them talking, but
of course, I suppose we didn’t understand much about what went on.
They kept it to themselves a bit?
Yeah. Oh we used to get, used to go to the RSL [Returned & Services League], you know, get togethers there, there used to be, a lot of talk goes on then.
Did your husband ever
go to the Anzac Day celebrations?
He always went, he always went to the march. Yeah. I always went, I always went too. We had a friend who had an office in Martin Place and we used to go to his office and see the procession from there. Yes, he always marched.
What do you think of it, Anzac Day, what does it mean to you?
Well, I don’t know, I’ve got mixed feelings about it.
In what way are they mixed?
Well, the ones, the friends and that you lost and that sort of thing.
It’s two things at once isn’t it, ones about … it’s hard to sort of make a big fuss about a lot of people being killed.
On the other hand you want to remember them for what they did so there’s two things operating together there.
Well, I know my brother, the one that was a prisoner of war, he had a hard time. He was,
I think he was about a year and eight months prisoner of war. And they could only write, only write a letter every so often and that sort of thing. But he was only nineteen when he went.
Did your mum ever think they were going to come back?
No, you didn’t
expect them to come back. The way things were, things weren’t too good. They were bad times, those. And then when they were missing, of course, you’d think the worst. You wonder why they want wars, don’t you? It’s all for a matter of greed,
I think, and power.
Interviewee: Clarice Menton Archive ID 2501 Tape 343
After the war was over, there was much trouble for them fitting back into the normal?
The one that was a prisoner of war he was a long time settling down. He couldn’t seem to settle to anything. But the other one seemed to be all right, but he just,
he couldn’t, he didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do. And he did clerical work before he went to the war but he couldn’t stop indoors afterwards, and I think he did labouring most of the rest of his life. I think he was closed in, and I think
he just couldn’t take the pressure of being indoors.
Probably reminded him of being in the prison?
He was quite smart, he was quite a smart boy, I mean, when he was young.
He would have liked to have been a teacher I think but it wasn’t possible, there was no money. Everything wasn’t free in those days.
So with a big family too, you had a big family.
Yes, and Dad, he didn’t have a constant job and
he was a stonemason and they couldn’t work in wet weather and in the winter time there wasn’t much money coming in. It was a struggle really in those days for them.
Do you think some people paid more in terms of what they gave to the war than others? Was it hard on the
people for that were …? Was there a difference between the working class people, the workers and the other …. was there a class thing?
Yes, I think there was a lot went on, there were a lot that were out to make money out of it. But there’s always that type of person, isn’t there? Yeah.
A lot of people say Australia was a much more equal place in the early part of last century. Did you have any sense that there was there a class difference?
Oh, yes, there was a class distinction. Yes, I think there was. There was always the
poorer class and the higher class, yeah. Of course we were in the lower grade. There was never much money in our house but still we got there, yeah.
Some say that the
working class families paid more during the war because they had to send their sons, the breadwinners, off to the war, making it harder for the family to cope.
Yes, that’s right, I think was right too. There’s always those out to make the money, no matter how they get it, they get it.
But you had so many relatives and that, that, you know, that went and friends and that, and there was so many of them killed. Our brothers had mates that got killed. Only young, only young lads. Lasted a long time, didn’t it?
Yeah, and what was gained out of it, I wonder, in the end?
What do you
reckon the war was all about?
I don’t know, I’ve never thought of that, and I don’t know, just because it was war, what it was all about I wouldn’t know.
It just seemed to come along and everybody went off. I suppose people started to think about it afterwards.
Probably. And when you’re young you don’t think of,
you know, of things like you do, you live in a different way, don’t you? One joined up, I think, because his mates joined up and that was how it would go on.
I think it was the effects of war that my eldest brother, he passed on, he wasn’t, he wasn’t very strong after he come back.
Was that a friend of yours, sorry?
Whose brother, was that your eldest brother you talked about?
Did the church have much influence during the war in any way?
There was one thing. The minister or the priest would, there would be a fatality, they used to come and break the news to the people. You’d hate to see
them come. Yeah, they had that job.
Was there much debate in the church about the conscription issue?
No, I don’t remember much of that. See I wasn’t that, I wasn’t that old really.
Did they ever mention war in church?
Oh yes, they’d have prayers and that, you know, for the end of the war and that sort of thing, yeah.
How did you think about the British Empire? Did you believe in the Empire, and the King and Queen and country?
Oh, well, I mean you’ve got to have some head haven’t you? I never thought really much about it, but you’ve got to have a leader I suppose. I wouldn’t like their job.
Did it concern you?
No, I’ve never thought a lot about it
really. It’s just something that’s got to be there, that’s all.
Do you think that Australia was more a part of the British Empire then? How did you see Australia?
Well, I think they did really. I think they looked more to the King and Queen and to the head of the state.
It’s something you have to have and that was that. Either that or a president, don’t they? You can’t suit everybody.
Do you remember [Prime Minister] Billy Hughes? What did you think of him?
I don’t know really. I think Billy Hughes was fairly popular but I mean I wasn’t up in that sort of thing, I suppose.
Politics wasn’t high on your agenda?
You only voted because you had to.
So during the war, what sort of job did you have to do around the house? You were doing work around the house, what did you have to do?
Well, I worked for a while doing camouflage nets. They used to have big nets that they used to put strips, coloured strips through them, you know, to make them look like foliage, I suppose. Did that for a while.
And then my husband he broke his, he broke his leg, I didn’t go to work, I only did that for a while, and then he broke his leg and it wasn’t knitting, so when I was forty-five I went into shop work. That was the first time I went to work. I always stayed home before that.
But when you were minding the rest of your young sisters, this is way back in the First War,
when your brothers were away, you had to look after the house. What did you have to do?
Well, I used to knit socks and balaclavas and do that sort of thing, beside doing ordinary work. There was always plenty of work to be done. We did that kind of work. Everybody knitted.
Were you a knitter?
Yes, I did my share of knitting in those days. Everybody knitted. Even some of the socks that weren’t so comfortable, I believe, you did your best, yeah.
They’d be glad to get any socks those boys.
INTERVIEW ENDS. Tape continues with memorabilia.