Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Telegrams and letters…good news, then and now….

My father meets me for the first time at the wharf

The clean out of my cupboards to prepare my house for new carpet after 20 years has yielded some wonderful “finds”. A couple of days ago I found an envelope which my mother, who died in 1991, had kept and had obviously given to my father to keep for me. I found it when he died in 2006 but I had never opened it…until now.

In it I found the story of my birth. It was filled with telegrams, military cables and loving letters between my parents. You see, my mother was told she was pregnant with me on the 29 April 1955 a week after my father had left for 6 or more months at sea as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy. In one letter, after my birth, she writes to him: “It must be hard (for you to visualise) as you haven’t seen me pregnant and being away all the time”…

Dated 29 April 1955, a December birth is expected

As with so many women of the time, with husbands away at war or absent for other reasons, my mother managed her pregnancy  in Sydney on her own, away even from her family who were based in Western Australia...a world away in the 1950's.

My father learnt of my birth via military cable

My father arrived back in Sydney on the 19th December 1955, a little over 2 weeks after my birth.

And these cables, telegrams and letters, so beautifully written made me think about the immediacy of communication that we have in 2011. With military personnel from countries all around the world on peacekeeping and other missions their communication opportunities to “speak” with their loved ones are so different to those of 55 years ago.

My parents had to communicate via telegrams and letters. The telegrams at least gave a certain feeling of “immediacy” but the fuller, more detailed letters often took weeks between writing and reading. My mother would carefully calculate where she expected my father’s ship to be at a certain date and work back to know how long before she should post her daily letters.

When I was a little girl I remember my mother, sister and me recording our voices and our stories into reel-to-reel tapes which my father could play on his heavy recording device. And I also remember the absolute excitement when we received a tape from him, which we would play over and over again, so that we could remember his voice.

With electronic technology so rapidly changing and evolving our communication opportunities the sense of the spontaneous excitement of good news is now normal. And while the romantic notion and excitement of cables, telegrams and long awaited letters is from a by-gone era it is part of my inheritance and I bless my parents for it.

My mothers hospital wristband dated 3.12.1955



  1. Woaw. Very moving. I remember when the phone rang, waking up everybody in the house, from the dust to the mice. It was a very important moment. Now, we skype.

  2. Thanks for your comment Damo. I also remember the excitement when an "overseas telephone call"came through...we had to speak very loudly and slowly and put up with the "echo" of our voices. AS you said, and now we Skype...

  3. Lovely story Louise! How I admire those women who in the past - during the war or in peacetime - managed to cope on their own. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be separated for months and months on end from the one I love. Nowadays, the wives of the Belgian troops in Afghanistan talk almost daily to their husbands through webcam. That somehow gives a reassuring feeling, but it can't take away the constant fear of something happening to them.

  4. Martine, we do live in an "advanced technological age" and our Aussie troops in Afghanistan also have regular webcam contact I'm sure. To be separated for months from one's beloved I know is challenging...but we women are made of stern stuff!