When I was a child Ted Dorian's home was a bungalow at the back of 14 Heller Street, Brunswick, only a mile as the crow flies through Royal Park from where the murderous American GI Leonski had bedded down after a night of terror. When Parlon called around the reception he received from the woman of the house was anything but cordial.
'I don't want you here Peggy, I'm sick of the drinking,' Gladys would tell him. It had no affect, for once Teddy got wind that his mate was about, not even the little dynamo could confine him. The power of the dark stuff to settle the nerves and sweep away the hum of American bombers was enough to put a spring in the step of a Brunswick plonko.
Beyond Heller Street they'd set up camp in Phoenix Street, near the Brunswick Baths. The Straight Six, as the spot was called, was a sacred site in post-war Brunswick. The TPI pension, dished out to dissuade the 'anxiety state' men from breaking their silence on the war myth, ensured a steady supply of cheap plonk. At Carras Wine Shop on the corner of Barklay Street and Sydney Road, Ted and his mates knocked over a couple of glasses of Fourpenny Dark before staggering off down Union Street for their private place. Fourpenny Dark deadened the pain in a way the shock treatment never could. As black as bootpolish and no better on the palate, it and the 'metho' were worshipped by the plonkos of Brunswick.
Fractured by memories of the war, and without a commitment to work and family, life had acquired a different meaning. Here at the Straight Six they remade their world and, in a solitude only broken by the intermittent rattling of passing trains, drank. On 13 May 1964, as he sat at the kitchen table, Dorian went into palpitations then just collapsed. Gladys rushed home from Millers but it was to no avail, for the sad unfulfilled life of her 49-year-old husband was over. The doctor said he'd asphyxiated on his own vomit.
Six years after he'd been recovered from Stalag 18A, Ted Dorian's wife was seated in the Branch office of Veterans' Affairs telling an all too familiar story. "He's had a bad nervous state ever since he returned from overseas and is very aggressive towards me and the children," she told the officer. A month later during a medical examination Dorian admitted he was tremulous and shaky and unable to sleep due to nightmares in which German and American planes strafed his tortured world.
'I'd have starved had it not been for the Red Cross food parcels but otherwise I was treated reasonably well,' he told doctors. A ten percent disability pension for anxiety state was granted but the State was not about to admit liability. 'The incapacity had not resulted from an occurrence during war service,' an official had written. Over the next decade a stream of compliant doctors and psychiatrists tapped his chest, peered into those deadened eyes and scribbled 'personality disorder' on the report form. To have acknowledge that tough, hard bitten souls such as Parlon and Dorian had succumbed to the horrors of war and its alienating after-life would have destroyed the mythology on which imperial wars were built. That story would not be told until the boys came home from Vietnam 25 years later.
The bland, 'Impression of an alcoholic bordering on DTs, nightmares 2/3 a week of German POW days' was repeated on almost every page of his file The authorities refused to concede that this man had been in Dante's inferno. His wife and those who knew him had reason to wonder what the bureaucracy had to hide. 'I'm writing to you in regards, to my husband, Edward Patrick Dorian VX10897, former P.O.W. who receives a pension of 1.2.0. a fortnight for War Neurosis, he has not worked since 1952 and for a man who had a good job and did not lose a day’s work in his life before the war it seems as though there is something wrong somewhere. Do you think the board would give him a review as he is unable to get Social Service as I work, but I will not be able to work forever so hoping that you will help him as I have written this without telling him,' wrote Gladys Dorian on 30 October 1961. Two months later her husband's pension was increased to twenty percent. In 1963 it was increased to fifty percent. In 1964 he was dead.
We have to advise that Mr.E.Dorian was employed by us continuously for a period of over 10 years. He started with us as a lad in the store and finished up driving one of our trucks until he enlisted in the Army in 1940. It gives us great pleasure to state that Mr Dorian was a thoroughly honest and reliable employee, and one in whom we could repose trust and confidence, knowing that any duties given him would be conscientiously carried out. He was an efficient and trustworthy person.Mr Silk, of Silk's Fruit Market, Queen Victoria Market, had so written in a glowing reference dated the 8th of July 1947.
Ted and his mates didn't talk much about the war and no-one bothered to record their thoughts. As with the world of letters and the writing of history, it was the upper echelons of society who narrated and interpreted man's triumph in adversity. It was the likes of the anti-free speech, General Blamey, and Weary Dunlop, lionised in popular culture for having 'nursed the blokes' through the horrors of life on the Burma Railway, about whom the scribes wrote. The cannon fodder retreated to the anonymity of the RSL or, as with Ted and his mates, to a local private haunt.Please contact me if you know anything about STALAG 18A: email@example.com
John Peter O'Brien
Jackie O'Brien was born at Violet Town but enlisted at Royal Park on 27 May 1941. His posting was REINF 2/24 BTN. Although he'd been decorated with a Distinguished Service Medal, it wasn't enough to ward of despair and an addiction to the drink. When they found him down the lane in 1967 the local rats had already made a meal of him. Five years earlier, on 18 April 1964, under the heading War Hero Drunk Charge, The Sentinel newspaper told how he'd been sentenced to seven days imprisonment for being drunk and disorderly in a lane off Barkly Street.
O'Brien had enlisted on 27/5/41 at age eighteen, having been born at Violet Town in January 1923, but had altered his age in order to be accepted for service. From the moment he was discharged in 1944 he was before the courts. In fact, his first conviction was for 'Desertion H. M. Service- Escaping.' At Caulfield on 11/2/44 he was sentenced to 18 months gaol, but five months later was sentenced to seven days for offensive behaviour. By the time he died, in March 1967, he was a chronic alcoholic.
O'Brien was found face down in 'some grass off Phoenix Street' on 26 March 1967 by constable John Richard Ballard. Mr Humphries, of Prentice Street Brunswick had alerted the police. It was directly adjacent to the spot where Parlon had been hit by the train. Alongside his body, which had been there for a week, was an empty liquor bottle. He'd been released from gaol 17 March 1967 after a a drunk and disorderly conviction in January.
Roy Dorian and Billy Ottaway
Roy Dorian 2/7 Aust Inf Batt (Melbourne) and Billy Ottaway (Sth Melbourne) enlisted on the same day - 27 November 1939. Roy would have ended up with his brother Ted had he not made a miruclous escaoe from Greece and Crete. As irony would have it, after returing to Australia, he was sent to Papua New Guinea, where he was killed in action on 19 Aug 1943, probably during the battle for Bobdubi. He was listed as buried at Salamaua. He had sent home a letter on 2 August 1943, 17 days before he died.
Ottaway survived Stalag 18A and the emotional strife that haunted his mates, and despite a stroke lived a long life, dying in 2007. The decline of this mates , into alcoholism and hopelessness raises many questions about war and the male psyche.
The Story of Eric Black
THE SHOOTING OF ERIC BLACK
On 15 April 1944, 24-year-old Private Eric Black (NX 2593) was shot dead by a German guard at Stalag 18A. In July 1944, Mr F. M. Forde, Minister for the Army, wrote to Mr A. Richardson the MLA for Sydney, regarding a letter from Black's father, Mr Irvin T. Black of 12 Queen Street, Ashfield, about his son's welfare. In July, 1946, it was reported that a guard by the name of Leople (sic) Bruckner, was responsible for the killing and was listed as a prisoner of war in Croatia. Padre Ledgerwood was said in correspondence,' to have full particulars of the shooting'. As to whether Bruckner made it to trial, I'm not sure.