Love jumps off pages of widow’s letters

By John Lewis

When all is said and done, when all the letters are written, the rings are given and the promises made — love comes down to the tokens we leave behind.

Shepparton’s Anne Wright is luckier than most when it comes to the memory of love.

She has a treasure trove of letters from her late husband Leonard, who died nearly 40 years ago, and a precious brooch he carved for her while he was away at war.

At 98 years of age, Anne’s memory is crystal clear when it comes to the first time they met.

In 1939 she was a teenager on her family’s sheep farm at Wal Wal near Horsham.

‘‘He was a shearer and it was my job to take the lunch up for morning tea,’’ Anne said.

‘‘He looked up at me and gave me such a beautiful wink.

‘‘Later on, we were walking back to the farm and he called out — ‘cooee’ and we walked back together.’’

Every evening Leonard and Anne would meet in the middle of a paddock at the ‘‘gabbling stump’’ — where townspeople and courting couples met for evening chats.

‘‘He came to meet my parents and that was it,’’ she said.

‘‘But my dad warned me — he told me to watch out because the shearers didn’t have a good reputation.’’

However, their love and faith proved to be an unbreakable bond.

‘‘He was a wonderful man. We were strong believers — so that helped us through life,’’ she said.

When the war came in late 1939 Leonard served as a gunner with the 2/8th Field Regiment in the Middle East.

The couple was not yet married, so Leonard’s letters helped keep their love alive.

‘‘His letters came regularly — every 10 days. He talked about all the little things — his mates, the weather and the lack of food,’’ Anne said.

‘‘I kept every one of them — they were a comfort. You knew he was still alive.’’

For four years, Leonard reminded Anne how much he loved and missed her, and in his clear, flowing handwriting he also painted word pictures of the scenery around Jerusalem and Bethlehem — and of the locals.

‘‘I have some great fun with the Arab kids and they are great fun to listen to, they speak broken English and they swear like troopers! They must have learned it from the boys that have been here before,’’ he wrote.

When Leonard came home the couple finally married on June 17, 1944 — a date which was eerily forecast by Leonard’s army serial number — 17644.

However, their time together was short before he was shipped to Borneo for the final Allied campaign against the Japanese.

‘‘I’ll never forget it,’’ she said.

‘‘I was nursing in a private hospital in Hamilton — and I remember waving him goodbye.

‘‘There were happy times and there were sad times, too.’’

Through it all, Leonard kept up his letter-writing, telling his beloved all the little details of his daily life and his travels.

But the horror he must have faced was never mentioned.

‘‘Never once to his dying day, did he ever mention war,’’ Anne said.

Anne rediscovered the letters during a move from Shepparton Villages’ Hakea Lodge to the new Maculata Place.

She now treasures them dearly and keeps them in a special black box — her husband’s Masonic case.

‘‘There are quite a few — there’s a pile that high,’’ she said, lifting her hand up to chin level.

‘‘I kept every one of them.’’

Anne also has a delicate brooch depicting the Australian army rising sun insignia and the words ‘‘Australian Commonwealth Military Forces’’, which Leonard carefully carved from mother of pearl while he was in the Middle East.

‘‘I treasure that, too. It’s very precious to me and the boys,’’ she said.

Leonard and Anne went on to have four boys, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Leonard suffered all his life from his war injuries and he died in 1979 — but his cherished letters remain as visible reminders of his devotion to Anne.

‘‘He signed off every one with the words ‘I am yours forever’ — and he was,’’ Anne said.