A clearer view of wartime history in Dennington

THE old photograph was taken more than 70 years ago, but its appearance in The Standard on April 26 immediately reignited wartime memories for Dennington’s Lindsay Miller.

Dennington residents Irene Fogarty and Lindsay Miller have helped identify the location of a wartime air observers’ post recently featured in The Standard (on the hill behind them) but also one of the women in it — Mrs Fogarty’s late mother, Isobel.

Dennington residents Irene Fogarty and Lindsay Miller have helped identify the location of a wartime air observers’ post recently featured in The Standard (on the hill behind them) but also one of the women in it — Mrs Fogarty’s late mother, Isobel.

It showed two young female members of the Volunteer Air Observer Corps (VAOC) being instructed in their duties by an RAAF officer outside their hilltop post somewhere in Dennington, probably about 1942.

The photograph, held by the Australian War Memorial, appeared in newspapers at the time but did not identify the two young volunteers, so The Camera Remembers Saturday feature in The Standard threw out a hopeful request to readers for more information.

Mr Miller, a lifelong Dennington resident, was quick to respond.

He pinpointed the location of the VAOC post because both he — then a teenage schoolboy at Warrnambool High School — and his father served there as volunteers.

“That big hill on the left over the bridge as you head out of Dennington — there’s a house on top now — that’s where it was,” Mr Miller said.

“We used to call it Whiting’s Hill. I can’t be sure but I think the hut was donated by Nestles. I think it used to be the back off one of their trucks.

“Inside on the walls there were photographs and silhouettes of the various types of aircraft, and outside there was a compass on a sort of pedestal, like a sundial, and there was a telephone that you used to call through whatever aircraft you saw.

“There was no electricity, so it only operated during daylight hours.”

The 86-year-old recalled an incident one grey, drizzly day that is a reminder of just how real the threat was of a Japanese invasion of Australia in those early years of the war.

“My father was in the hut scanning through binoculars when he heard a sort of huffing and puffing outside,” Mr Miller said.

“He first thought it was just the cows that used to gather around, but then a bloke appeared and blurted out ‘They’re here, the Japs have landed!’.

“Apparently someone had seen dozens of people swarming over the dunes down at the beach.”

It was no coincidence that on that same day the young Lindsay, then about 15, and his high school colleagues had been despatched from the Friendly Societies’ Park on a cross-country run — to the dunes at Levys Point.

“Someone must have got in to strife over that because we weren’t supposed to be there. It was a no-go zone with barbed wire. I think there was probably only one police car and two officers in Warrnambool in those days. They went down there and one lad was actually taken back to the station.”

As for the young ladies in the photograph, two more calls appear to have clarified their identities.

Helen Dunn, of Warrnambool, said the woman on the right, holding the binoculars, was her later mother-in-law Clare Dunn (nee Dalton).

Mrs Dunn has a cropped version of the photo cut from a newspaper at the time and said her mother-in-law often spoke of being a “plane-spotter” during the war.

As for her offsider, being attended to by the RAAF officer, Dennington’s Irene Fogarty is 99 per cent sure it is her late mother Isobel Haberfield (later Pow).

“I’d really like to think it is her because I don’t have any photos of mum as a young woman.”

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop