WW2 stories are many but this one is extra special.
Red roses have always had a special significance for Daphne Dunne. The flowers her husband, Lieutenant Albert Chowne VC, had arranged to have sent to her for her birthday on March 29, 1945, arrived just before the news he had been killed fighting the Japanese in New Guinea.
‘I was a corporal in the district finance office of the Australian Women’s Army Service in Sydney,’ she said. ‘Albert and I had married on March 15, 1944, and my birthday was on March 29.
‘Just after the flowers he had arranged to have sent arrived my lieutenant came over and told me I was “wanted at home”. My heart sank, you were rarely sent home and it was never good news.’
When she arrived her mother and sister were there and a telegram was waiting. It informed her Albert, a ”Rat of Tobruk” who had previously been awarded the Military Medal for his service in Europe, had been killed on March 25.
Her world was shattered; on being told later that year Albert had been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for leading the charge that opened the way for the Allies to drive the Japanese out of Wewak her grief was still palpable.
‘I am proud for him but it doesn’t make up for everything,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald in September 1945. ‘I would rather he had remained just ordinary and was alive. He was a wonderful man and a grand husband. I have no plans for the future. It is all dead to me now.’
Fast forward nearly 70 years and the love and the grief remain. But, and it is a big but, Mrs Dunne has gone on to enjoy a fulfilling life as a wife, a mother and a grandmother. ‘You survive; you’ve got no choice,’ she told Fairfax Media during a rare visit to the Australian War Memorial with her daughter, Michelle Haywood, from her Turramurra home. ‘You have got to pick yourself up and start over again. I wanted Albert to be as proud of me as I am of him. I still love him.’
It was over a decade before Mrs Dunne remarried. Her second husband, Corporal John Dunne, also possessed uncommon reserves of courage and endurance. A member of the 2/29 Australian Infantry Battalion, he was captured in Malaya in 1942 and endured the horrors of Changi.
As with Albert, Mrs Dunne met John through her work at David Jones. ‘That store has been good to me,’ she said.
Mrs Dunne and Albert had worked together at the Sydney store until he enlisted on May 27, 1940. They had not been romantically involved but agreed to write to each other when he went to Europe. ‘It was through our letters that we fell in love,’ she said. ‘He was very romantic, very sincere and very loving. He was just a very good person.’
Spotted laying a wreath at a Last Post ceremony by war memorial director Brendan Nelson, she was engaged in conversation by her former local member. ‘When Daphne said she wanted to view Albert’s VC in the Hall of Valour, I asked if I could come too,’ Dr Nelson said. ‘It is an honour to meet her.’
Mrs Dunne visited Canberra for the opening of the Hall of Valour. ‘Mum likes to come as often as she can,’ Michelle Haywood said. ‘She doesn’t always look at the Victoria Cross; it makes her so sad. Mum is remarkable; she is so positive and always has faith in you. What I love about her is that she never sees the bad, only the good. She is a beautiful soul.’
Medals awarded to Lieutenant Albert Chowne.
A love that has never been forgotten.