Thursday, August 14, 2014

Memories of High School - Charters Towers, Queensland

My high school days were spent at Thornburgh College, Charters Towers. I'd travel to and from home at Peko Mine outside Tennant Creek (Northern Territory) and spend my school terms beavering away with eight subjects intended to make me marketable and useful to society.

Fortunately, despite my high school education, I managed to do okay in both areas ie, being marketable and useful. (Some would probably say otherwise, but don't listen to them).

Charters Towers was, as most Australians would know (or should know), a roaring city full of gold mines and the only stock exchange outside a capital city in Australia. By the time I went to school, mining had stopped and all that was left of it were dozens of mine shafts and piles of mullock. Mullock is the stuff miners dig out of the ground to get to the ore. It's left in piles here and there across the landscape and serves no useful purpose other than by its absence.

Charters Towers also had the distinction of being a huge repository for ammunition and bombs during World War II. Numerous magazines cut into the sides of the local Tower Hill retained supplies for use by our military. Magazines were hidden underground so that, if the Japanese attacked, they would not be able to identify any of the magazines as targets.

Apart from the education I received at Thornburgh, I also saw a memorial provided by past Thornburgh College students for other past students killed in World War II and Korea. One of two people killed in the Korean War whose name appeared on the memorial plaque was "LT Spence, DFC."

As a 12-14 year-old whose father had been in the RAAF (Australian Air Force), this memorial intrigued me and I wondered who LT Spence was, where he came from and how he had died. It seemed to my young mind then that if my father had died during his WWII service in England, I wouldn't have been reading about our fallen ... I would never have been the spermatazoon that won the conception race.

Having visited the memorial on many occasions, I remembered the name LT Spence.

Almost a lifetime later, In 2012 when I visited Busan in Korea, I visited the United Nations War Memorial in Korea and while strolling among the Australian graves, I came across the grave of "Wing Commander Louis Thomas Spence, DFC and Bar" who had died aged 33. Here was the final resting place of one of Australia's heroes, one of the hundreds of thousands of young Australians who gave their lives so that I and other Australians can live free in a decent country with democracy and all that entails.

Here was the grave of a man whose memorial I had visited on dozens of occasions and whose contribution had been tucked away in my mind for over 50 years. I determined then and there that I would find out more about Louis Spence and do everything to make sure he is remembered.
Wing Commander SPENCE has served his country with honour and distinction and has further enhanced the prestige of the Royal Australian Air Force and in particular No 77 Squadron
- Citation on Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Spence.
Wing Commander Louis Spence was born at Bundaberg, Queensland on 4 April 1917 and died in Korea on 9 September 1950 just 33 years later. More information is provided about him here in the RAAF database. Every year on 9 September, I will remember Louis Spence, lest we forget.

If you are an Australian, you could remember someone who has made the sacrifice also so that none of our people is every forgotten. I'm setting up a Facebook group called, "Remember Australia's Heroes" and encouraging people to remember one or more of our fallen servicemen and women.

From Charters Towers we headed to Townsville where we stayed several days.


PS: The above memorial has been updated to include two past-students killed in Vietnam. One, Malcolm McConachy was my friend, so I will also include him in my memorial site.


Graham Coffey said...

I shared a close friendship with Malcolm (McConachy), through the early 1960's - 63/65 - when we were both Students at the Townsville Grammar School. Shared many happy childhood memories with him and his sister Donna....who I understand has also passed on. I still think of him to this day.

Robin Henry said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment Graham. I have a vague memory of Malcolm's father, or other relative being significant in the Mount Isa Mine discovery, although I may be incorrect.

It's unfortunate that such a young life was ended and couldn't have had the experiences those of us who lived have. It's the price others pay for us and we should always be grateful.