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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Christmas Letter 2020

Well what a year that was! At the time of the last Christmas letter we had no idea what we were in for.

Happily, in Australia we have fared much better than many other parts of the world. The residents of our Retirement Village have been very careful, so no one in the Village caught the virus!

The virus did significantly effect our travel plans. Our granddaughter, Hayley, who lives in England had planned her wedding for November this year. The virus forced us to cancel our travel plans, and with the resurgence of the epidemic in the UK her wedding was called off. She is now hoping that the wedding will be in April 2021.

Our other grandchildren continue with their successful lives. Joshua and Cameron continue to work in their respective trades, and Cameron will soon be moving into the house he has built in Kilmore. Troy continues with his apprenticeship, and Jonathan has now completed his university education. Jeremy has started working with a medical suppyly company, in the UK. Amanda has completed her first year of university and Spencer has completed his secondary eduction.

We did manage to get to Tasmania for a few weeks in March, with our friends Les and Jenni. We saw the northern and eastern coasts, but the virus forced us to cut the trip short – the day before we were to travel to Hobart our accommodation there rang to tell us not to come.

Here are some videos of our Tassie trip.

Instead of spending money on traveling, many residents in our Village decided to install solar systems - currently 20 installed. We upgraded our existing system and are very happy with it. At the time Stephen is writing this our solar system is producing all of the electricity for our house and is still exporting more than 4,000 watts.

For Christmas Day we will host Michelle, David and Amanda for lunch and then go to Beth's house for Dinner.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas,

and all the best for 2021,

from  Margaret and Stephen

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Christmas Letter 2019


Another busy year for us and our families, involving travel and some important milestone events in the lives of our grandchildren.

The Grandchildren

Joshua, our oldest grandkid, continues to work as a diesel mechanic, and to work on his great golf game – currently with a handicap of 4.

Cameron and his girlfriend, Kaitlyn, have bought a block of land at Kilmore and are building a house on it. They are travelling to the US for Christmas and plan to be in Time Square for the ball drop.


Cameron and Kaitlyn

Hayley celebrated her 21st birthday, finished her degree, started a job and announced her engagement, to Richard, this year. Her wedding will be in November next year.

Troy continues on with his electrical apprenticeship. He works extra hours with his supervisor on private jobs.

Hayley and Richard


Jeremy, our English grandson, has been in Australia since July, staying with Michelle. He will avoid the English winter by returning to England in March.

Jonathan continues with his university work in Environmental Studies, where he met his girlfriend, Natalie. They have both been offered part-time work on the recommendation of their teachers.


Jonathan and Natalie

Amanda finished her secondary education and is planning to enter an Outdoor Leadership course at university. She has excelled with her training in circus activities. She won the Duke of Edinborough award at school.

Spencer has completed year 11 and continues with his passion for theatre appearing in multiple stage roles this year.




We travelled for 12 weeks this year - to Europe for 10 weeks and the pacific for 2 weeks.


The highlight of our longest trip was attending, our English granddaughter, Hayley’s, 21st birthday. On that ten-week trip we visited Hong Kong, Germany, England, Scotland, Spain, Greece, Montenegro, Sicily, Italy, and France.

For a full account of this trip follow this link.

There were many highlights of this trip, and four in particular: Scotland, Athens, Kotor and Amalfi


On our Scotland tour, Margaret’s favourite place was the Queen Mother’s house in Mey, on the far north coast. Stephen’s favourite was Eilean Donan Castle.
Queen Mother's House Eilean Donan Castle
On Loch Lomand The road to Fort William


Stephen particularly loved Athens and wants to return there. It is quite difficult to take photographs in Athens and not have the Acropolis in the frame.


We did not have any particular expectations of Kotor and so were pleasantly surprised and delighted at what we found there. It is an attractive location that we would like to return to some day.


The last time we were in Italy was in 2012. We were unable to get to the Amalfi coast because a landslide blocked the road. This time Stephen was determined to get to Amalfi. As usual the fares for trips off the ship were exorbitantly expensive, but we managed to travel to the gorgeous Amalfi by local ferry.

The Pacific

We cruised with our friends, Jenni and Les for two weeks starting in Melbourne and visiting Mare, Port Vila, Lautoka, Suva and Noumea.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas,

and all the best for 2020,

from  Margaret and Stephen

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Letter 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, we are starting to feel old, with five of our grand kids now having completed Secondary School.

Joshua is a qualified diesel mechanic; Cameron is completing an apprenticeship in glass showers and splash backs; Hayley is studying Theology and Religious Studies at University in York; Troy is in the first year of an Electrician’s Apprenticeship specializing in air conditioning; Jonathan is studying Environmental Studies at Victoria University. Jeremy is in the last year of his secondary education; Amanda will enter year 12 next year and Spencer will enter year 11 next year.

Margaret and I did a lot of travelling this year.

In April we cruised the Pacific. We enjoyed that so much that we have now booked two other cruises for next year. We went on the Pacific Cruise with Margaret’s brother and sister-in-law, James and Janice. The cruise took in Noumea, Mystery Island, Dravini Island, four ports in Fiji and Mare. For Stephen though the highlight was the ship - with lots of entertainment, and great restaurants included in the fare. The ship moored at Mystery Island

We escaped Melbourne’s winter with a trip to Europe via Russia. We spent a week in Moscow before cruising up the river system to St Petersburg. There were many highlights but two in particular stand out- the colourful churches and the Moscow underground.

One of the underground stations

St Basil's Cathedral at Red Square

We visited Philip, Bev, Hayley, Jeremy and Bronwyn in England. We toured the south east of England, but the highlight of our Europe tour was Amsterdam with its wonderful canals (see pic at right.)

We enjoyed Amsterdam so much that we will be returning there for four days next year.

After we arrived back from our overseas tour we were invited to two important events in Australia, Stephen's Uncle Bill and Aunty Joan's 60 Wedding Anniversary and our friend Jill Cooper's 60 birthday
Bill and Joan live in Adelaide so we used the Anniversary Party as a short holiday, taking three days to drive to Adelaide. It was great to catch up with some of Stepehn's cousins and his brother, as well as with Bill and Joan. We also shared our memories of the wedding that took place 60 years ago.
Jill Cooper lives in Yepoon, Queensland. When we stepped off the plane at Rockhampton airport the temperature was 43 degrees Celsius, and the air was smokey from a bushfire south of the town. Conditions on the coast in Yepoon were much more pleasant. It was great to visit Jill and her partner Edward, and to catch up with Jill's children Dannielle and Evan. The other highlight of the trip was a visit to Great Keppel Island. The photo shows Margaret and Jill at the party.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas,

and all the best for 2019,

from  Margaret and Stephen

Monday, April 30, 2018

A WWI Anniversary

Today, 30th April 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the wounding of my paternal grandfather, Samuel Charles Spencer, on the Western Front.

My grandfather was born 8th January, 1896, in Broadford, Victoria (Australia) where he grew up. He did not speak much about his youth. We can imagine him as a boy and young man living a peaceful life in a small country town in Victoria, Australia. The seminal experience for him and all people of his generation was the outbreak of War in 1914.

When Britain declared war on Germany the Labor Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, pledged that Australia would "stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to the last man and the last shilling." It was natural that grandfather was enthusiastic to enlist.

The photograph was taken before he left for Europe.

My grandfather served during the World War I which until 1939 was called the Great War. During 1915, along with many other young men, he attempted to enlist. The physical qualifications standards were very high. He was rejected because his chest expansion was not sufficient. To remedy this he used exercises with dumbbells and was successful in his second application and was inducted on 4th April 1916, when he was 20 Years old. His best friend and neighbour, Dave Newnham, was rejected because he had flat feet.

He initially joined the 12 training battalion at Broadmeadows military camp. He embarked in Sydney on the “Borda” on 5th June 1916 with the 3rd reinforcements of the 46th Battalion. He arrived in France on 16th September 1916 and joined the 46th Battalion in the field on 24 November 1916.

Conditions were horrific on the Western Front and along with many other soldiers he suffered from illness. The main illness was Dysentery. These periods of illness were so serious that he spent time in English military hospitals, in Birmingham, Aldershot and Barton-on-sea. These hospitalisations occurred in the early part of his service from 17th November 1916 to 25th April 1917. After this bout of illness he was granted furlough and returned to duty on 17th May 1917.

The 46th Battalion was rotated in and out of the line during the rest of 1917 and early 1918. Grandfather did not talk much about his war experiences but did mention an experience in March 1918, near Doullons. This was during the last great German offensive of the war. There was often a need to shore up the defences, and grandfather talked about being transported by train and a forced 20 mile route march at night to get to the front. This involved carrying a full pack of equipment. After his return in May 1917 grandfather was with his battalion for almost a year.
Another incident he described occurred when a German shell exploded on the parapet of his trench causing the trench wall to collapse. He was buried alive in the collapse but was saved by his fellow soldiers digging him out with their bayonets.

The following is a quotation from a book detailing the history of the 46th battalion called We Were the 46th. The passage describes the action in which he was wounded.

On the morning of 27th April 1918, news finally came through that the 46th was to take over the line in front of Villers-Brettoneux, and under cover of darkness relieved a unit of the 5th division. The fighting in this area had been particularly savage and after the 46th had made its move into the new positions it was noted … that the ground was still thickly littered with the dead from both sides of the recent battle.

It was also in this area that the 46th employed its version of “Peaceful Penetration”, this practice being of great importance at the moment as the allies only had a small foothold in front of Villers-Brettoneux. In order to gain themselves more ground the men would push their advance posts closer to the German lines during the night; as per usual, the enemy would send down his “Artillery Hate” first thing in the morning, but as the positions kept moving, his shots were mostly ineffective. Patrolling was also undertaken to find out the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses and on one such occasion on April 30, Lieutenants Muriel and Colson of A and D companies respectively, took a platoon each of approximately 25 men to reconnoitre a farm house that the higher powers wanted taken. It was known that the farm itself was not strongly garrisoned, but behind it lay a strong line of enemy trenches. The patrol set out well enough, but after some distance were lit up by a couple of airplane hangers that had been set ablaze earlier in the day. Despite this difficulty they went on towards their objective but were evidently seen in the glow of the fires. A withering barrage of machine gun fire came from the enemy positions and was startling to inflict casualties on the Australians, forcing them to retire to their lines with Lieutenant Murial being severely wounded in the process. Sometimes, “Peaceful Penetration” didn’t work too well, and when that happened the attacking force usually paid dearly.”

Photo from Official History of Australia in the War 1914 – 1918, C.E.W. Bean , Volume V page 508

Caption Reads:
One of the hangers on the Aerodrome east of Villers-Bretonneux

This photograph was taken on 23rd June 1918. In April the hangars were still covered with fabric, until they were burned.

Grandfather was one of the soldiers in the raid of 30th April described above. He said that some of the defending Germans were hidden in a line of haystacks leading up to the farmhouse, and he was shot by one of the German soldiers in one of the haystacks. Although he was severely wounded, he said that he walked back to the lines which were not far distant.

Map from Bean Volume 5 p 645.

This is a map of the position on April 27th a few days before grandfather was wounded. The aerodrome is clearly marked and note a haystack is also indicated. The position of the 46 battalion is also on the outskirts of the town.

This photo is reproduced from Bean Volume VI, p 57.

This is a view of the Villers-Bretonneux village.
The caption reads:
This view from the rear lines North West of the village indicates the nature of the country around it. (One man has just been wounded by a shell. Two of his comrades wear civilian hats from the village. A third is sleeping under a salvaged parasol.)

A photograph taken from We Were the 46th .

Although this was taken in September 1918 after grandfather was wounded it illustrates the conditions of trench warfare. The soldiers shown in the photograph were from the 46th Battalion. We are all familiar with the horrors of WWI, but to me this picture is important as it contains members of grandfather's battalion.

The day after he was wounded, 1st May, grandfather was admitted to the Australian Field Ambulance with a gunshot wound.

Then he was moved to six different hospitals.

  • 2nd May he was transferred to the 4th General Hospital in France

  • 12th May he was transferred to England

  • 14th May he was admitted to Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot

  • 25th June transferred to 3rd Australian Military Hospital Dartford

  • 28th June transferred to No. 3 Command depot Hurdcott

  • 7th September transferred to No 1 Command Depot Sutton Veny

One month after the end of the war, on 11th December, he left England for the return journey to Australia via hospital transport Saxon, and arrived in Melbourne on 30th January 1919. He was discharged as medically unfit on 12 April 1919.

Soon after, grandfather returned to Broadford where he was met at the station by a deputation of Victorian residents and marched with them to the Mechanics Institute where a welcome back ceremony was conducted.

Although the war was over its effects continued for many years. Sergeants were very important during the war as supporters and confidants to the lower ranks, and Sergeant “Lem” fulfilled this role with grandfather. My grandfather was forever grateful for his support in the harrowing conditions of the war. The war experience obviously took a great toll on “Lem”. He took up a soldier settlement farm after the war. The land was unsuitable for farming and he struggled unsuccessfully to make a living. The strain was too much and he had a severe nervous breakdown. He was admitted to Mont Park Mental Asylum. He was engaged to Sue, grandfather’s sister. My father remembers her taking him to visit Lem in Mont Park. Lem was sitting on the veranda at the front and my father doesn't remember him saying a word. He was obviously very ill.

The photograph below was taken in 1920. It is the occasion of the wedding of grandfather's fiancee's brother. Grandfather is the man standing on the right of the photo. Compare this photo with the one at the beginning of the post. They were taken only four years apart and starkly display the war's legacy of ill health that plagued grandfather for the rest of his life.

The Australian "diggers" of WWI are famous for their physical strength and vigour. It is something of an irony that I am alive to write this post in part because my grandfather did not have a strong constitution. This meant that he did not arrive in France until 18 months after the war started and then was ill for almost a year. I can also thank some anonymous German soldier for his poor shooting! Nine and a half years after his close brush with death grandfather and his wife produced a son who 22 years later fathered me.

Margaret and I visited France in 2013. Our main objective was to see Villers-Bretonneux, in remembrance of my Grandfather. It was quite an eerie feeling to be in the area that he fought in and was wounded in 95 years earlier.

The main Australian war memorial in France is located at Villers-Bretonneux. The photograph below shows the two major features of the memorial, the cross and the tower.

The photo below is taken from the War Memorial and shows Villers-Bretonneux across the valley.

The school in the village houses a museum and the school yard has a sign "Do not forget Australia" as can be seen in the photo below. Click on the photo to see a larger version, click on the "X" in the top right of the enlarged picture to return to this post.

We visited many more locations on the battlefields tour, including some where trenches had been preserved.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Letter 2017

When Margaret starts putting up the Christmas Decorations I know that I have to begin planning the Christmas Letter. Margaret's latest craft work is a certain reminder of the fast approaching season:

There is plenty to report on the activities of members of our family.

The Grand Kids

Three of our grandchildren have completed secondary education this year. Jeremy, in England, has started College studying Law, accounting and 3D graphics. Troy, has enrolled in an Certificate III as a pre-apprenticeship course, with the aim of taking up an electrician’s apprenticeship later. He is a keen basketball player, and also is a referee. Jonathan is waiting for his VCE results, before making decisions on his future and has recently returned from traveling in Tasmania with his girlfriend, Nikki. He is also active in St Johns Ambulance.   Jeremy all dressed up
Jonathan with St John's awards Troy at his 18th birthday party

Hayley is in her second year of the theology degree at the University of York. Amanda has completed year 10 at Bacchus Marsh Grammar and Spencer year 9 at Thornbury Secondary College. The photo shows Hayley with her boyfriend Richard, in snowy England.

Most of the grand kids have active sporting lives. Cameron and Troy play competitive basketball, with Troy also a referee. Josh is an excellent golfer with a handicap of 4! Amanda plays Softball and Spencer Cricket. Amanda also attends CircusFit where she is learning skills of circus activities, and works at a Roller Skating rink. Joshua continues to work as a Diesel mechanic, and Spencer regularly appears in plays with his drama group.   Cameron with Nanna at one of his basketball games

Spencer in costume at one of his plays
Joshua Teeing off

  Amanda on a ring at Circus Fit

The Kids

Catherine completed her Masters in Theology this year, and she will be taking up an appointment as Salvation Army officer in charge of Richmond corps in the New Year. She will be living within walking distance of Lygon St Melbourne, with its restaurants, bookshops, clothing shops and one of Melbourne’s best Cinemas, the Nova. She also continues to enjoy live theatre. The photo shows Cath and Spence at the Pop Up Globe
Michelle continues to excel at her wood turning. Many of our friends in the Village with a woodworking background are amazed at how quickly she has mastered working with wood. She attends the Werribee Community shed, which includes passing on her skills to a regular class of women. The photo shows one of her recent projects - a bowl
Beth continues to work in an important role in the Victorian Civil Service. She is delighted with the renovation of her kitchen and family room. Cameron, used the skills he is learning in his apprenticeship to install the flash backs. Beth and Mark celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary in November. That makes us feel old! The photo is of them at Crown for their anniversary celebration.
Philip continues to live in Preston, England, with Bev who he married last year. He has left his work with Airbus, but is still working in the aviation industry, leading a team that designs galleys for planes. Bev continues to work in the challenging field of social work. Living in England means that they can travel regularly to Europe. Lucky Ducks! The photo is at a lunch stop near the Alps
David is working on the computer systems of Australia Post, and Mark is a chaplain at Heidelberg court. They both recently updated their transport, David with a Harley and Mark with a Commodore SS, which you can see in the photo.

Margaret and Stephen

We did not go overseas this year, instead spent six weeks travelling Queensland. We travelled as far west as Winton and as far north as Cook Town. Between Charlieville and Barcaldine, driving on a long straight road, with little traffic, Margaret was chased, and fined by a policemen for driving 7 kms over the limit. She was not happy!
At Longreach we visited the Qantas Founders Museum, where many planes are displayed, see photo above.
In Barcaldine we visited the Tree of Knowledge, which has strong connections to the Trade Union movement and the Australian Labor Party (photo at left).
The bones of many large dinosaurs have been found near Winton. The Age of Dinosaurs museum, near Winton, houses, displays and prepares many of the skeletons. The photo shows bones from one of the largest dinosaurs found.
One of our overnight stops was at Paronella Park.

A photographer's paradise!

We stayed a week in Port Douglas exploring the local area.

This included a visit to an off shore island, where we saw the coral in a flat bottomed boat. Stephen also snorkelled on the reef.

We naturally visited the Daintree Forest, which included a cruise on the Daintree River, (photo below left) where we saw three crocodiles, though our best views of crocs were at Hartley's Crocodile Adventure (photo below right) near Cairns.

We did some visiting while in Queensland. Michelle, the daughter of our friends Les and Jenni, lives in Airlie Beach. We spent a very pleasant afternoon with her. As well friends from the Village, Pam and Don were staying in Maroochydore, and we had dinner with them in their swish apartment. Our longstanding friend, Jill has moved from Minyip in Victoria to a lovely house in beautiful Yeppoon. We spent three days with her and met her new partner, Edward. The photo shows Margaret and Jill's greeting on our arrival

On the way back to Victoria we visited Lightening ridge which included exploring a former opal mine as you can see in the picture.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas,  
                                and all the best for 2018,  
                                                                from Margaret and Stephen