As a war time navigator, Dad certainly ended up in places that were not on the map of his growing up. Back then, he and brother Steve would play on Aunty Moriah’s property at Warrill Creek and he’d dream of becoming a farmer, saving his pocket money so he and his Dad could buy a few acres.
Life, of course, had other plans.
Dad’s father Martin died when Berny was 17. Next year World War 2 came, and brother Steve died in the AIF defending Singapore when it fell. Dad signed up on Pearl Harbor day…the army, then the RAAF and was commissioned as an officer, sent to fly with RAF Bomber Command. The trajectory of his life changed so dramatically. Even in his later years, this humble Christian Brothers Ipswich boy could not believe his luck.
As the boat steamed up the Brisbane River, on his way to war, Dad remembered looking back at the last landmark on the distant shore-Nazareth House. What lay ahead was a whole other world- San Francisco, New York, London, officer training, navigation school, Squadron 115, 30 combat missions over Europe. In those dangerous days, you were lucky to survive 5 missions. In the RAF he was a leader and as navigator – getting the crew home safely was the difference between life or death. On a Bribie beach 50 years later, when one of his crew Alan Gibbs recognized Berny, he greeted him as “the man who saved my life.”
In that crucible of war, he excelled and he met the love of his life, a stunningly beautiful Air Force nurse, Muriel Thompson, who was not Catholic, not Australian, and who was not exactly what the family had in mind. Dad dared all for love. He brought his new bride home to 36 Alma Street, Clayfield and returned to work with the Commonwealth Bank and went to University to get a Commerce degree.
This aspiring Ipswich farmer boy had taken on Hitler and won, had a beautiful sophisticated wife, and he was a decorated officer. The world was his. Thus had he built the platform to create one amazing life.
68 years of marriage, Bank Manager and CBO Association Vice President, 4 kids, 14 grand kids, 14 great grand kids, his service to the church- the 2 local parishes, the devoted baby sitter, his work with the Oblates, Iona, Rosies, the Passion Play, lay catechist, NCC. Dad always invested his ambitions and inspirations in others. Do your best was never enough- He wanted the best of the best. If Steve or I brought home a 97% mark from Iona Dad would grill us, what happened to the other 3%?
The kids- the grand kids-the great grand kids -they are his legacy. Now Grandpa could be a curmudgeonly old critter but you knew that when times got tough, he would be there for you, with his boots on.
His deep Catholic faith defined him. A few hours before he died, Sister Faustina came over to us after mass and said,”Berny, you are the greatest example of faith we sisters know.”
The lowest points of his long life was losing his first born, our sister Suzy and then Mum, three years ago. But this year, a final high point….funnily enough- back at Aunty Moriahs’ farm- only this time, it is what has become Amberley Air Force base-to receive the Legion of Honor for his role on D Day and the liberation of France. For Dad it was final recognition of his life of service. Aunty Moriah must have smiled.
Last Tuesday morning, I took him to mass, and left him to rest. After lunch, as if he knew, he said his goodbyes to the amazing staff and two hours later he was gone. For this navigator, just as in 1944, Nazareth House was the last sight Berny had of this earthly shore.
Like a good navigator, he left us a map- of how to live, how to serve, and how to die. Weeks before I arrived, Dad had told Jenny and Steve- “I am waiting for Paul to take me home.” I will be forever grateful that he waited, and that he saw in me what we always saw in him- the joy of coming home. May God give him that joy at last.