William Keith (Eddie) EDMONDS

EDMONDS, William Keith

Service Number: 27733
Enlisted: 17 September 1940, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: No. 1 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Jamestown, South Australia, 2 October 1919
Home Town: Peterborough (Formerly Petersburg), South Australia
Schooling: Morgan East Public School
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Natural causes (heart), Adelaide, South Australia, 30 August 2015, aged 95 years
Cemetery: Centennial Park - South Australian Garden of Remembrance
Memorials: Jamestown Canowie Belt Honour Roll
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World War 2 Service

17 Sep 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2, SN 27733, Adelaide, South Australia
18 Sep 1940: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2, SN 27733
30 Nov 1941: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, No. 1 Squadron (RAAF)
4 May 1943: Imprisoned
1 Sep 1945: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Corporal
20 Feb 1946: Discharged Royal Australian Air Force, Corporal, SN 27733
Date unknown: Involvement

Dorothy's Story - I Waited at Home

I wrote a special poem each 12 months (with many others in between) and I now deeply regret not having composed one especially on Keith's return to Australia from the POW Camp in Japan. I guess we were all so happy and deliriously excited when we finally got word of him, firstly from the Philippines then from Darwin and Alice Springs that he was actually on his way home that poetry was the furthermost thing from my mind.

It was four years of sadness, worry, heartache and loneliness but we got through it by trying to keep our spirits up and it was like a miracle to have him back in our midst again albeit thin, gaunt, with a distinct American accent and dressed in a Yankee uniform which was 3 sizes too large.

During 1945 I was stationed at Laura, SA with the Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) and I'll always remember where I was when Peace was declared. We Land Army 'girls' were working out in the paddocks spreading flax stacks when I heard a lot of yelling and clanging and it was one of the male flax-workers coming into the fields on a tractor tooting and shouting to everyone ...'The War Is Over', 'The War Is Over'! I was so excited I rushed out of the 'loo' with my bib-and-brace overalls only half up and tripped over the dangling straps but I didn't care ... the War was over!

Another poignant memory I have was when, nearly 7 weeks later I received a telegram from Keith in Alice Springs to say he would be landing in Adelaide at about 6:00pm. I requested leave of absence, which was granted immediately, then rustled up all the money I had, borrowed some more from my sister who was also there in Laura with the AWLA and I went to the local garage and hired the proprietor to drive me over to Merriton to catch the train back to Adelaide. I was shaking with excitement and while sitting alone at the Merriton Siding waiting for the train, this big Air-Force plane flew low over me and I just knew Keith was 'up there'. I waved and yelled and kept jumping in the air to try to reach him, to know that he was so close after 4 years of separation was just too much and I couldn't hold back the tears. I don't know what the other passengers thought, when a tear-stained Land Army girl boarded the train and sat quietly alone, trying desperately to keep her feelings under control.

However a tearful and wonderful reunion took place an hour or so later, we were back together again and after such a long time apart we had so much to talk about and so much time to make up that here we are seventy years later and sixty nine and a half years of happy marriage behind us, still reminiscing.

Dorothy Edmonds (nee Blackham)


Poems by Dorothy Blackham
(lamenting the absence of Keith Edmonds)

1941: AFTER YOU HAVE GONE (in part)
Now that you have gone away
How I miss you dear,
My sad heart is yearning ever
How I wish that you were here.

I'm ever waiting news of you
Each day for you I pray,
My thoughts are all with you my dear
Throughout the whole long day.

I'll pray your life will be maintained
Free from sorrow and from pain,
And I'll be waiting dear for you
When you come home again.


1942: THOUGHTS OF YOU (complete)
Wherever you may be my dear
Though it be miles away,
I'll have this thought to cheer me
That you'll be back some day.

It may not be for weeks or months
Perhaps a year or two,
But I'll keep you in my mem'ry,
What ever else I do.

Things may change in days to come
We know they often do,
But, what more could anyone hold dear
Than a fond heart always true.


1943: TWO YEARS OF ABSENCE (complete)
Many moons have shed their light
Since you were by my side,
I love you still with all my heart
My thoughts with you abide.

Just two years ago today
You left me all alone,
Someday we'll be together dear
In a world all of our own.

You left me with a cheerful smile
Undaunted, unafraid,
I still can see your happy face
These memories never fade.

We used to read your letters dear
We knew it was your aim,
To make us feel rejoiced and glad
But then the silence came.

We waited many weary months
To hear some word from you,
It's come at last, life holds for me
More interest, hope anew.

Oh! Dearest one, it can't be long
The war will soon be won,
Keep smiling dear and do your best
To keep on keeping on.


1944 REMINISCING (complete)
I often sit in silent thought
Dreaming my loved one, of you,
How I am longing for the day
When my dreams will all come true.

I wonder darling how you are
You must be lonely too,
And you must miss us all dear
Just as we all miss you.

At home we have each other
We share our anxious cares,
Dearest one, though you’re alone
You are always in our prayers.

We can’t do much to help you
Except to wear a smile,
And while awaiting your return
Keep cheerful all the while.

God Bless you dear and keep you safe
This is my earnest cry,
I’m sure that in the days to come
There’s joy for you and I.




1945: FUTURE JOYS (complete)
With silent prayers upon my lips
Sweet thoughts upon my mind,
I wander with an aching heart
Mid'st memories true and kind.

My dear the years have rolled away
We've seen some changes too,
But one thing dear will never change
The love I have for you.

This war has caused so many tears
It's robbed us of our youth,
But when 'tis won, we'll wear a smile
And live in peace and truth.

Oh! Darling, while we're far apart
I'll dream with tenderness,
Of days to come, when you and I
Will find our happiness.

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Biography

EARLY YEARS

In the year 1919, on the 2nd of October, in a private home in Jamestown, in the mid-north of South Australia a baby was born to William and Rita Edmonds, humble farming parents of Morgan East, about 7km north of Peterborough and he was named William Keith. He was never to be called by his first name, so Keith it was, to family and friends and right through life excepting the four years during the World War II, when he was just ‘Eddie’ to his friends.

Amongst his earliest memories were the carefree days on the farm running around the hills with his devoted companion dogs ‘Nipper’ and ‘Tarzan’, cattle dogs that never left his side.

When Keith was about 5 years old, he already had a younger sister and brother, so when his Mother came home after a few days in Peterborough with another new baby, Keith began to wonder where it came from. He asked his Father ‘Where did Mummy get that baby from?’ His Dad muttered something about finding babies under cabbages and for Keith this brought about a distinct dislike for eating cabbages for a long time to come!

 

SCHOOL DAYS

The nearest local school (Morgan East), a one-teacher school was several miles from the farm so Keith was 7 years old before he began his formal education. He was not keen at all at the thought of having to go to school, mainly because he would have to wear boots and socks and this he had never done before, having always run around the farm barefooted.

However he was told that it was compulsory for children to attend school so he was taught how to saddle a horse and learnt how to ride so he could, much against his will, go off to school each day. He had to carry a feedbag with him for the horse and during school his horse was tied up to a nearby pine tree and was to be fed at lunchtime then ridden home in the afternoon. Occasionally Keith would forget to feed ‘Pincher’ at lunchtime so he would stop on the way home and empty the chaff out onto the ground near a creek and while the horse fed on the side of a track, Keith would hunt out rabbits from their burrows in the banks of a creek. Then he would hop aboard ‘Pincher’ again and arrive back home just a little late.

A few years later Keith ‘graduated’ to using an old push bike donkeying his sister Lorna who balanced on the bar between Keith’s seat and the handlebars. He was never rapt with school and the very day that he turned 14 years old he was happy to leave for good so he could help out on the farm, which he did for the following 5 years. He enjoyed the company of his grandfather Tom, and constructed a cart so they could carry water to the house from a dam. Keith was very interested in machinery and was to make and repair ploughs, cultivators and combines when necessary and to attend to harness problems with the horse.

 

THE WAR YEARS

In 1939 World War II broke out and this brought many changes. Keith then aged 20, decided to go to Adelaide to enrol as a reserve trainee in the RAAF to be called up for duty later, should it be necessary. Then came a big change for the family when they were given the chance to move to a farm in a much better area near Canowie Belt. Keith and his father went ahead getting the farmhouse and sheds in order then preparing the land for sowing with wheat later. The rest of the family, with cattle and horses followed a couple of months afterwards.

They had all got nicely settled in when unexpectedly Keith got his call up from the RAAF to report to headquarters in Adelaide in preparation for leaving to go to Laverton Air Base in Victoria, near Melbourne. So, despite his Dad’s objections, he pleaded with his mother to sign the necessary papers giving permission for him to enlist (as he was not 21 years – the legal age for enlistment) and so in September 1940 he departed for his first taste of defence training. The emphasis at Laverton was mostly physical work and never-ending drill exercises and after a few weeks when it was considered they were proficient in their marching, Keith’s group were moved back to Adelaide and known as Group 272.

They were billeted in the Old Exhibition Building in the north-west corner of Frome Road and North Terrace and this became known as the 4STT (Fourth School of Technical Training). From here the trainees were marched each day through the streets to their training classrooms in a building on the corner of Grenfell Street and East Terrace (now known as Tandanya) where they worked diligently with theory and technical tasks on what would be expected of them if they were engaged in combat. During this time in the 4STT there was an outbreak of mumps in the barracks and quite a lot of trainees (Keith included) ended up in the Northfield infectious diseases hospital for a couple of weeks.

It was also at this time in Adelaide at 4STT that Keith was introduced to the girl who would in 5 years’ time become his wife for almost 70 years.

After being stationed in Adelaide for 6 months there came another move, once again back to Melbourne, this time to Ascot Vale where he was able to put into practice what he had learned at 4STT as there were many engines and stationary planes there to work on. There were exams which Keith passed with flying colours becoming now a fully qualified aircraft fitter. He was soon transferred back to the Laverton Air Base again where there were planes arriving and departing continuously so he had constant work repairing and overhauling engines to keep the planes airworthy and flying.

 

OVERSEAS POSTING 1941

Then came the day that Keith had been looking forward to. He received an overseas posting at last and was delighted. This was quickly followed up by Embarkation Leave and a frenzied round of visiting friends and final farewells to his own family. Although Keith was very excited, the same could not be said of his loved ones who were very apprehensive to say the least.

After a long train journey across the Nullarbor into Western Australia the squad reached Perth and they were housed in huts along the bank of the Swan River until the ship arrived to take them abroad. This ship the ‘Charon’ sailed off eventually reaching Singapore where the squad disembarked then completed their journey by train through Malaya until they arrived at Kota Bharu which was to be their base with No. 1 Squadron RAAF.

After each day’s work on the base was finished, Keith and his mates enjoyed lots of fun and relaxation canoeing and exploring the jungle taking photos and generally taking things easy as Japan had not yet entered the war. However after 7 weeks of being at Kota Bharu this all came to sudden halt when the Japanese began strafing and bombing their airfield just hours before the Pearl Harbour attack on December 7, 1941. The few aeroplanes that the Australian’s had were swiftly put into the air and there was confusion as the ground crew struggled to keep up the repairs as disabled planes returned damaged and in need of refuelling.

It soon became evident that the enemy heavily outnumbered the Australian Defence Forces and orders were given to abandon personal possessions and abandon the airfield. Then came the terror of trying to keep ahead of the enemy and for the next couple of months Keith and his mates were on the run through Malaya, Singapore and Sumatra. Their brave efforts to stay together and evade capture were all in vain when the Japanese in Java finally captured them. They were separated and taken to different Prisoner of War (POW) camps and Keith spent time in the infamous Changi POW Camp, Singapore, the Bicycle Camp in Batavia and finally after a long sea journey in a rusty old ship and in appalling conditions to the Ohasi POW Camp in Japan. The sea journey was horrific, they were herded in like animals, surviving rough seas, typhoons, bombings and much sickness particularly dysentery because of the general lack of hygiene aboard and their living conditions. Keith had to bury at sea one of his best mates who got ill and died on the voyage.

The next three and half years in captivity were very gruesome Keith suffering ill health, near starvation and brutal treatment from the Japanese guards. Keith had to walk 8km up steep mountains each day, sometimes in deep snow and was forced to work in Japanese iron ore mines or in factories owned by the Mitsubishi Company. And then of course back to the POW camp again at night, weary, lonely and hungry. His diet was watery rice or fish-head stew and was quite insufficient in quantity. His bedding was infested by fleas which often kept him awake at night but come daylight it was off to work again. There was no news from Australia or from his family for more than two years during which time he suffered from malaria, beriberi, dysentery and bad leg ulcers. There were times when Keith had to tie bunches of leaves to each leg so that as he walked to work the movement of the leaves would keep the flies away from the open sores.

 

RELIEF AT LAST 1945

Finally when all hope was almost all gone, came relief when in August 1945 after heavy bombardment of Kamaishi, the Allies dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This caused great chaos and destruction – there was no transport, no food and fires burning everywhere and eventually led to the surrender of the Japanese and for Keith, the war was over. The POW’s were ecstatic that they were free at last but they left with sad and bitter memories of their mates who unfortunately did not survive those years of dreadful hardship. There were airdrops of food for the POW’s and eventually they were rescued and taken to the Philippines to get medical attention and rest. When they were deemed to be well enough they were put on a Liberator aircraft bound for Australia. What a wonderful reunion for Keith with his loved ones after 4 long years away.

 

POST WAR

Keith and Dorothy married in April 1946 and in the next 10 years Keith worked as a welder with the South Australian Railways in Peterborough. Unfortunately, during this time Keith lost his father, who sadly passed away in 1949 at just 56 years of age and was missed greatly by all. During his spare time Keith built a 3-berth caravan for future holidays. Keith and Dot’s son, Roger was born on Christmas Day 1952 and life was good.

Deciding that he would like a business of his own, Keith left Peterborough and bought a garage and petrol service station in the Adelaide Hills at Chain of Ponds in 1956. There was plenty of mechanical work and by working hard the venture was very successful over a number of years. Keith and Dot decided to build a new home at Tea Tree Gully and then commuted to Chain of Ponds until 1970 when the business had to close because of the Government’s acquisition of the whole township.

Keith then worked for the Department of Agriculture as an Experimental Officer until his retirement in 1979. He had with Roger’s help built a 4.5m cabin cruiser boat which was named ‘Arcadee’ and spent many hours water skiing and fishing in it. Later Keith and Dot bought a beach shack at ‘Chinaman’s Well on Yorke Peninsula which was very popular as a holiday spot as the family grew.

Keith played golf regularly and received several awards for the work he did as a member of the Highercombe Golf Club and later received Life membership in the honour of the thousands of trees that he raised from seed and planted out around the golf course.

Keith and Dot moved to a retirement village at Modbury in 2005. He was very proud of Dot, his wife for almost 70 years, their son Roger and his wife Ros and their three daughters, Belinda, Laura and Kate. Keith had 6 great grandchildren and lived there quietly until his death of natural causes on August 30, 2015 at age 95 years.

Centennial Park - South Australian Garden of Remembrance (Official Memorial - Wall 33, Row B)

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