A Beecroft family’s experiences in World War II
In 1940 Norman and Edna Goldberg and their two children, John, aged just 9, and Sari, aged 5, moved from Rose Bay to Beecroft. They rented ‘Highwick’ at 4 Copeland Street from long established Beecroft residents, Harold Holcombe and his wife. “Highwick” was the name of their former home in Devonshire, England. The Beecroft house was a substantial brick home with stone foundations, built in 1913. It had the advantage of closeness to Beecroft railway station and village. Beecroft Primary School was opposite. Norman travelled by train to the city where he was a partner in a legal practice.
As the war news became grimmer for Australians, Norman applied to join the Air Force, although at 39 he was too old for aircrew, which he preferred. In 1942 he was accepted for service with no.4 Army Co-operation Squadron and sent to Point Cook in Victoria for officer training. He became adjutant to the Commanding Officer. The squadron was moved to Bundaberg in Queensland after the Australians recaptured Milne Bay from the Japanese and then the squadron was posted to Port Moresby and other airfields in New Guinea for the remainder of the war. They flew Wirraways on reconnaissance duties, spotting Japanese emplacements and radioing information back to base. Flying Officer (equivalent to Lieutenant) Norman Goldberg was involved in cipher and intelligence operations.
Meanwhile, Edna, who was only 30 when she moved to Beecroft, coped with a difficult situation at home. John was seriously ill with chronic asthma and chest infections and needed her constant care. Her household expanded when her parents, Joseph (Joe) and Sarah (Sadie) Levy moved in to the family home together with all their possessions. The Beecroft house was now very crowded. Sari slept in a glassed-in “sleepout” and John on an open verandah at the side of the house. The fresh air was considered good for his health.
Joe Levy had had a successful career as a hotel manager at some of the city’s leading hotels but his last stint as manager at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel ended when he was knocked down and robbed in the street en route to the bank. This attack left him lame but he was sufficiently able-bodied to take work during the war as a warehouseman. There was a shortage of manpower.
Sadie Levy worked as a volunteer for two wartime enterprises which were an important part of Sydney life. Most days she took the train to the city. Three times a week she went to the Lord Mayor’s Kiosk, situated on the site now occupied in Martin Place by the Reserve Bank. There was also a mobile canteen parked on the roadway outside. It was a café serving light refreshments. The profits from this volunteer-run venture provided services for the troops. Sadie was the Treasurer and was responsible for checking and banking the takings.
On other days she worked at the Anzac Buffet in Hyde Park which served refreshments to all service personnel, including Americans on leave, at no cost to them. It operated in a pre-fabricated building in the park, not far from St James station. Here she assisted the Commandant, another energetic woman who oversaw the operation. John remembers visiting with his grandmother and recalls the enormous trays of sandwiches which the volunteers produced daily.
A considerable part of the large backyard in Beecroft was given over to a vegetable garden and a fowl yard. The produce supplemented purchases made with the household food coupons. The Black Orpingtons were good layers and Edna became expert at preserving eggs. Occasionally a fowl was killed and chicken soup and boiled “chook” made a welcome meal. Everyone helped with tending the vegetable patch where they grew spinach, carrots, corn, pumpkin, potatoes, peas, beans and tomatoes. There was a mandarin tree and a lemon tree. Feed for the poultry was supplied and delivered from Powell’s produce and grocery store on Beecroft Road. The poultry provided fertiliser for the vegetable patch.
Nevertheless, it was hard for Edna to “make ends meet” and running a household in the 1940s was labour intensive. All cooking was done on a fuel stove and bathwater was heated by a “chip” heater as was water in the laundry “copper” on washdays. Beecroft homes were still without sewerage connections, so the only toilet was on the back verandah and a septic tank was an essential presence in the backyard. Fortunately Edna was a skilled dressmaker. She made all the children’s clothes and her own, including even pyjamas. Her knitted garments won prizes at the Show and she was expert at “turning” sheets and mending socks. Fortunately she had a store of fabrics for making clothes.
Despite constant anxiety, she remained stalwart. John recalled that on clear nights when a full moon hung over Beecroft his mother seemed worried because it reminded her that these bright nights were occasions when Japanese aircraft bombed the New Guinea airfields. Norman encouraged American servicemen he encountered, who were going to Sydney on leave, to contact his wife. She invited them to a family dinner. This provided useful indirect communication because letters were censored. On his occasional leave, the children were startled by his yellow skin, a result of taking Atebrin (a dye derivative) that was issued to the troops as an anti-malarial precaution.
Eventually, when the war ended, Joe and Sadie Levy moved to a home they bought in Stanmore. With the aid of a war service loan, Norman and Edna purchased the Beecroft house, now numbered 129 Beecroft Road, from the Holcombe family.
They renamed it ‘’The Coppins’’. It remained their home for the rest of their lives. The property was sold to the Uniting Church in 1993 and the house demolished. The stone fence of Copeland Gardens apartments was built from the house’s foundations. In the front garden the jacaranda tree and the flame tree continue to flower every spring.
This account is based on recollections of John Goldberg)