It was 1945 – 77 years ago, but Winn can remember the day she stood on the platform at Clapham Junction Railway Station like it was yesterday. Dressed immaculately in her best navy dress with matching navy and white hat, she was there to reunite with her fiancé, Rob, who was returning from the war in Britain.
“It was the happiest day of my life,” said Winn, who is now 101 years old.
This Anzac Day, when we pause to honour the bravery and sacrifice of our servicemen and women, we tell a beautiful love story that began with war and lasted a lifetime.
Brisbane-based Winn met Rob, from Imbil, through her involvement with Christian Endeavour. She was Secretary of the North Brisbane chapter and had organised the 1939 Easter Convention in Gympie. On Saturday afternoon the young women and men came together for recreation time. Rob was a tennis player and noticed a girl near the court struggling with her Box Brownie camera. He helped her change the film. Later, Rob took the opportunity to go to Brisbane and, to Winn’s surprise, turned up at her church. A courtship developed and the rest is history.
Winn and Rob were engaged in 1941. He was originally prevented from enlisting in the Second World War given his work in the timber industry – a reserved occupation. But the Battle of Britain, fought the previous year, left air defences depleted. There was a desperate need for pilots and Rob enlisted through the Empire Air Training Scheme.
By the end of the war Rob was a Warrant Officer serving as aircrew in 460 Squadron, RAAF at Binbrook, England. He flew in Wellington and Lancaster bombers as a navigator and bomb aimer. Fortunately, he never had to drop bombs in combat.
Winn and Rob made a conscious decision not to marry during the war so Winn could keep working. She worked as a paymaster for North Australian Rubber Mills at Kelvin Grove, packaging up weekly wages for up to 400 employees. This was a job that men usually did and Winn worked very hard.
In the four years that Rob was away, he sent Winn 398 love letters – all of them numbered. They are remarkable letters and Winn has every single one of them, tucked neatly into a folder and in order of date – her most treasured possession.
Winn and Rob married soon after Rob returned from the war. They went onto have four children. Winn has lived a full and beautiful life in Imbil. She is a woman of deep spirituality and Christian faith and has been of service to many people throughout her life, particularly women and children as leader of a youth group. She wrote a book, documenting the history of Imbil and is well-known for the award-winning flower arrangements she entered into the Mary Valley Show over a period of 50-60 years. She inspires people with her faith, generosity and intelligence.
These days Winn comes and goes between her marital home in Imbil and the house her son, Ian, built next door. She relies on her walker to get around and experiences disorientation at times but otherwise enjoys living as independently as possible with the support of her son, his wife Margaret and Centacare.
an said his mum likes to go next door and remember the way things were. She takes in the familiar smells, looks through her photo albums and plays a few notes on the piano. Sometimes she might decide the pots and pans need reorganising. The house is more than bricks and mortar. It’s a link to her younger self and to Rob, who died in 2005 at the age of 91.
Winn still goes to church every Sunday. One of the highlights of her 100th birthday celebration was to receive framed citations from RSL and also from the Catholic Archdiocese which was organised by her support workers at Centacare. In an accompanying personal letter from Archbishop Mark Coleridge, he said he would include her in his prayer at mass. “She was very gracious and deeply appreciative of this gesture,” said her son Ian. “I give glory to God for living so long,” said Winn.
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