Written and Read by Ron Royes : Thursday 3 September 2009
Today is a very sad day…a day of reflection of the life of NATHANIEL (JIM) WEISS. The day also marks the 70th anniversary of the declaration of war when Prime Minister Mr. R. G. MENZIES told the nation that Great Britain had declared war on Germany. As a result, Australia was also at war. It was the start of the six year WORLD WAR II.
This announcement was to have a profound effect, not only on the nation, but also the future of a young 20 year old NATHANIEL WEISS, who lived in Mareeba with his widowed mother MARY and his younger siblings – IRENE, THELMA, and PATRICIA.
JIM, as he was better known, was born at Tinaroo on the Atherton Tablelands on Thursday 26 June 1919. Yet less than twelve months earlier, WORLD WAR I had ended on 11 November 1918.
When he was twelve years old, his father CHARLES FREDERICK , a butcher by trade, was killed in 1931. It was at a time when the world was in the throes of the Great Depression. At that young age, the responsibility of the ‘Man of the House’ was thrust upon him.
This epic stage of his life was to prove his ability to handle extreme situations which would evolve in his later life, but more importantly it unknowingly highlighted a character of responsibility and compassion.
By mid 1941, Australia was under threat from Germany and Japan. The country needed more armed personnel, so a young 22 year old Jim WEISS enlisted in the Australian Army on 22 November 1941. Eight days after his enlistment, a German ship KORMORAN torpedoed and sunk the H.M.A.S. SYDNEY off the Western Australian coast . 645 lives were lost.
In the early years before his enlistment, a very attractive young lady who was working at Weatherburn’s Royal Hotel in Mareeba had caught his attention. Agnes Mary ROYES had moved to Mareeba about 1939 from Normanton where she was born. A romance blossomed and on 26 January, 1942, Private Jim WEISS married Agnes ROYES in the Methodist Church, Cairns.
Just imagine on the momentous day…..A striking couple, but one of contrasts….He reserved….she ebullient….He reflective, she at times impulsive….He the soul of discretion….she the life of the party.
It proved to be a happy and equal alliance, that endured 67 years. And yet there was a period when it was mixed with grief and sorrow. Their marriage produced four children, Laurel, Kevin, Lesley and Glynis.
Jim was posted in the Catering Division with the 31st/ 51st Battalion which served in the Pacific Islands regions of Dutch New Guinea and Bougainville which were under serious threat from the Japanese invasion.
During his overseas posting, his wife took up residence with her parents Tom and Nell Royes, and her brother Victor at his home at 169 Aumuller Street, Cairns. At that time, I also lived with my grandparents. I remember the period quite plainly even to this day. Cairns was a focal point for the Coral Sea Battle and there was plenty of action going on. Security was exceedingly tight. Food, clothing and alcoholic beverages were rationed and were available by coupons only.
I remember Agnes used to wait daily for the Postman to arrive in anticipation of a letter from her beloved husband. The censorship of these letters was a great disappointment to her and many others, and conversely to Jim when he would receive such mail from his wife.
Then their first child Laurel was born. It was not until the end of World War II and Jim’s discharge in December 1945 that he was able to embrace his three year old baby and wife. They moved into their home at Edgar Street, nearby to her parents.
New family arrivals occurred with the births of Kevin James and Lesley Kay.
As a boy I always called him UNCLE JIM. He used to take me to the Sunday rugby league matches which had restarted at Parramatta Park following the war years. He liked rugby league and in those days there were two senior matches ( A grade for the want of a term) played between four teams BROTHERS, IVANHOES, UNITED and KANGAROOS. I got the impression he liked the KANGAROOS because he knew some of the players who worked with him at the P.M.G. ( Post Master General’s Department). He got me a job as a Ball Boy, which I remember paid the ‘princely ‘ sum of sixpence. In retrospect, Jim displayed a lot of guile and cunning in getting me the job of ball boy.
It meant it was easy for him to get a ‘Leave Pass’ for the afternoon.
Another major event in Cairns was the annual Show held in July at Parramatta Park. Jim arranged for me to lead one of the cattle in the Grand Parade. For doing this I was paid two shillings. I recall he stressed upon me to watch the other cattle in front of the parade, and if they stopped, there would be a mess. Unfortunately on one occasion I overlooked his advice, and you guessed it, I stepped in the mess.
Another fond memory of Jim was the table tennis table he built at Aumuller Street for me. Many a time he and Agnes would pop in for a game. In time I was to gain a place at the Australian Academy in Brisbane which was run by Phil Anderson, a former world champion. It and tennis was the start of a transfer to Brisbane in 1952.
There were no mobile telephones or internet then. Infrequent letter exchanges enabled us to maintain contact. Jim, Agnes and family of Kevin, Lesley and new arrival Glynis moved to Brisbane in the 1960’s in a job transfer with the P.M.G. Laurel had married and remained in Cairns.
Unfortunately tragedy beset the family in the 1980’s….the loss of Kevin and Lesley, the loss of Laurel’s husband, and then the loss of Laurel’s second daughter Helen.
It would be fair to say that even in a war zone the likelihood of one family losing four members would be pretty minimal. Yet it was a string of events that would have broken a lesser man or woman.
At his recent ‘surprise’ 90th birthday celebrations in June, he was in a reminiscent mood. He reflected on his admiration for his late father (a good provider for the family) and his love for cooking at home for his ‘ Angels’. To use a military expression, it was a time for REVELLIE. He spoke glowingly about a Family Re-union that he, Agnes, Laurel and granddaughter Robyn, had attended in Townsville the previous year and the acquaintances they had renewed. No one that night could anticipate this distinguished Returned Serviceman , loving father and grandfather, was soon to sound THE LAST POST.
To dear Agnes and immediate family, we offer our sincere condolences. Jim, we will not only miss you, but we shall cherish your contribution to life……..R.I.P. SERGEANT N. WEISS QX 57470.