Grace Gordon (nee Archibald) is the daughter of Frank Archibald, who is honoured through the Oorala Centre and UNE – where the annual Frank Archibald Memorial Lecture carries his name. In this story, she tells us about her brother, whose name is also Frank.
Your family is quite well known in this area?
Yes. They’ve been well known for years in Armidale. My mum and dad talked to everyone. They weren’t afraid to talk to anyone, and they made a lot of friends. It didn’t matter who they were or what colour – they talked to everyone in the street, in the shops, or in meetings. They got on well with old Mr Piddington and old Mr Hanna – we had to call him Uncle Joe.
Tell us about your brother…
Frank was born 21 years before me, but he died at a young age – only 25. I feel like I lost my chance to know him, because I was only four when he went away – and I don’t remember that. He became Private Frank Archibald after he enlisted in Kempsey in August 1940, trained in Greta and later joined the 2/2 Australian Infantry Battalion.
Where did Frank serve?
After he left Australia, he sailed to Palestine and on to Egypt and fought at the Battle of Bardia, in Tobruk, Benghazi, Greece and Crete.
Did you see him after that?
Yes – only for a short time. When I was 8 or 9, Mum received a telegram to say he was coming home to Kempsey. She said to me, “Come on Grace. Get ready; we’re going in to meet your brother”.
We went in with the manager, Mr Jaeger. We looked all over town for my brother, but we couldn’t find him. On the way back to Burnt Bridge mission, I saw a soldierman standing near the big water tanks. I pointed him out, and my mother said, “That’s your brother”.
Frank used to call my sister and I and the nieces and nephews “the little fellas”. He took us to the flat near the school and he’d play football and rounders with us and turned the rope for skipping. We used stones to play jacks with our mum and dad joining in. We walked the hills, went rabbiting. And we used to sit around the fire and sing and dance too – on Sundays we sang hymns, and during the week we sang songs my father taught us. Danny Boy was a favourite – my grandfather was Scottish.
Frank and my brother Ron were both home for about five or six weeks, before they went off to fight the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail. Malaria saved Ron. He was lucky. When he was in hospital, they bombed one half of it, and he was in the other half. So he was okay. But Frank was shot on November 24, 1942, trying to save a friend.
Did his friend live?
I’ve been told that man did survive. So, my brother died showing his compassion and courage. He received full military honours for his burial at the Bomana War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea. A lot of Australian servicemen are buried there. He’s lying with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal comrades who also died at that time.
We’ve been told you have the letters Frank and your brother Ronald wrote to your mother?
Yes. I treasure all my brothers’ letters. They talked about how they didn’t like the war, but they loved the countries. Frank escaped from one attack in a canoe, and he said it was lovely riding in that canoe.
A special letter sent by Snr Sergeant Ron Diamond said, “I can honestly say Frank was one of the most popular boys in the battalion, and his cheery disposition and ready smile, even in the darkest hours, made him an inspiration to us all”.
Frank was asked to be a sergeant too, but he said he didn’t want to tell his friends what to do; he’d rather they told him. So he passed it up.
You said you lost the chance to know Frank as a brother.
How do you feel now you are older?
Myself and my siblings and all Frank’s family and descendants have suffered knowing he’s buried away from his traditional home. In our culture, when people die, they are buried in the country of their ancestors. My dad really wanted to fetch him back to Armidale or Walcha. My mum said he was buried and laid to rest and that they were looking after the grave up there, so if my Dad was happy they should leave him there. I’d like to bring him back, but I must honour my parents’ decision.
Have you ever visited his grave?
No, but I hope to. My cousin Richard (Archibald), who lives in Wollongong, has been working hard to figure something out. Mr Colin Markham, a former MP there, has helped us a lot. They’ve raised private funds to help myself and Richard and some of the younger generations travel to Papua New Guinea next year for ANZAC day. If we can raise a bit more money, we’ll be able to go as a family.
Other Aboriginal people must have the same concerns about family who served in the armed forces being buried away from their country…
We know of other families whose men are buried at Bomana. There must be many more across Australia who lost loved ones in other battles and other places.
What does your family’s experience of war lead you to think now?
When I watch television and see what’s going on now, I reckon it shouldn’t happen. Australian boys going over and getting killed … I don’t think they should be going. That’s just my opinion.
If they go, they should be treated better when they come back than our fellas were. They were treated something terrible. They weren’t allowed to drink in the pub, because they didn’t have a dog tag, they weren’t allowed in some cafés, and they had to use the side entrance to get into the pictures. That was an awful way to treat them.
What is your vision for our country for the future?
I’d like to see everyone get together, no matter what colour they are or where they come from – as long as they talk to one another and make friends. You need to be so careful now – who you talk to and how you talk to them and what you talk about. Things need to change … I’d like to see the drink and drugs go away too.
And one thing I would like to see the kids do is get their education. It’s a big thing, education. You need that certificate to get a job and have a good life.