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Saturday, 7 March, 2015 12:08 PM
In 1942 Peggy Ashburn meets
an American soldier, First Lieutenant Tom Lockwood,
who is based at the Shoal Bay Country Club, Port Stephens. The
attraction between them is immediate and intense and
the couple enlist the help of Peggy's neighbour, Sarah
Linden, to act as go-between.
By 1972 when Peggy arrives
back home from the US for the funeral of her estranged
mother, her marriage is in tatters and she has a lot
of soul-searching ahead of her. When she begins to
go through her mother's house she discovers not only
a letter that has been lost for thirty years but that
her mother kept an incredible secret from her.
'Tomaree' is available
Port Stephens is one
of my favourite places in the world. With its endless
blue water and spectacular headlands, it must have
seemed an incredible place to the 20,000 GIs of the
32nd Division who trained there in 1943. Most came
from Wisconsin and Michigan and many had never seen
the sea. The division by the war's end had logged
a total of 654 combat days, more than any other US
Bay is now unrecognisable as the small fishing town
that my character Peggy grew up in but time has been
kinder to Shoal Bay. During 1942 and 1943 a small
contingent of American serviceman were based at the
Shoal Bay Country Club and from there, liaising with
Williamtown Air Base, HMAS Assault Base and the Gan
Gan Army Camp, the Joint Overseas Operational Training
School was run. Shoal Bay Resort and Spa has now replaced
the Country Club and you will find a link to the resort
on my links page.
From Page 145:
at the parcel in my hands. I could take it back
to the paisley print chair where I had sat these
last two weeks and thought about many things, but
the heights beckoned. It was too beautiful a day,
despite the glare, to be inside. Well, Tomaree was
out of the question so the small hill by the old
post office would have to do. I made my way up there
and sat down in the shade of the camphor laurels.
Taking a deep breath I undid the butcher's paper
to reveal an exquisitely carved wooden box.
Just as I thought. I recalled it now. It had stood
in Sarah's study on her writing desk, sometimes
with half opened letters on top of the lid. At that
moment I could see in my mind Sarah's beautiful
hands tucking a letter back into the envelope, slowly
putting it in the box and then turning her attention
Being seventeen and
wrapped up in my own world the thought never crossed
my mind to wonder who the letter was from. I was
aware though that she kept other letters in piles
on her desk. Only a few found their way into the
box. Now of course I'm guessing, or at least like
to think that they were from Nancy. Once I remember
the box was missing from her desk. Perhaps taken
to her bedroom to read the contents over again in
Tentatively I traced
the line of the engraving with my fingertips. Inside
a rectangle formed by an exotic flowering vine were
tiny stylised birds, fruit and more flowers: nature
in abundance. I traced the outline of a small bird.
Taking a deep breath I flicked the catch open and
lifted the lid. There was letter inside for me.
I opened the envelope.
I hope you like the box. I think you admired it
once and I
(wherever I am now) like to think that you will
put your most precious letters inside it, just as
I once did.
Nancy has her own, in case you are wondering why
give it to her.
With this letter comes my wish that you are happy
but by writing this letter I may put that happiness
You see, I have long had some information about
but have never found the right time to talk to you
Obviously, since you are reading this letter, I
have left it too
late to tell you personally so instead I am letting
that if you wish to find out, then Nancy will tell
She is expecting you to call, so please think about
it. If you decide
not to speak to her about the matter, then expect
no reproach or
censure from Nancy. She is the sweetest, most openhearted
creature I know and will respect your decision.
If you don't mind my saying we have just had the
enlightening evening discussing the provisions that
has necessitated. For instance, we both had to write
(and organise our wills of course). Nancy writing
one that I
would give to you if she died first and me writing
Both of us sitting in front of the fire debating
how the cards
will fall and therefore which letter you would read.
What a pair
of old goats! I hope you are still reading Tom's.
I would just
like to add that in all my life I have never seen
so much in love as Tom that day, you were together
in my house. God speed my darling Peggy.
From Page 190:
the morning of the 24th May 1943 First Lieutenant
Tom Lockwood took his coffee up to the small landing
inside the Country Club. He had earlier smoked a
cigarette outside and because of the cold had come
indoors to finish his coffee. Now he leant sideways
against the window and cradled his coffee for warmth.
What a miserable day.
It wasn't raining. Not yet but it was overcast and
a south easterly wind was churning up enormous waves
in the centre of the bay near the sand banks. This
side of the harbour it was calm but across the bay
a number of fishing boats were seeking shelter from
the wind. They'd be stuck there for a while, he
As Tom sipped his
coffee he noticed a Higgins boat powering into view.
It had left Little Beach and seemed to be heading
towards the other side of the bay. Another appeared
soon after from the direction of Mile River. Tom
glanced towards where they were heading. At that
moment he saw a PBY Catalina approaching the bay
from the northwest. What the hell was it doing out
there? Tom wondered, peering at the choppy waves
below the Catalina.
The aircraft's vast
wingspan dipped from side to side as it approached
the bay. It was an enormous seabird limping home,
the wind buffeting it as the craft headed for safe
harbour. Tom couldn't hear the drone of the engines,
the wind had blown the sound away. His heart was
pounding as he watched the Catalina dip lower towards
the waves. The pilot appeared to be attempting a
forced landing. 'Bring it in. You can do it! Bring
it in. Bring it in,' Tom chanted over and over but
the Catalina never made it. Just short of deep water
the cat suddenly dropped down and ploughed through
the waves. It emerged briefly, struggling for the
sky, only to crash back down with such force that
its tail snapped off.
Momentarily, it bobbed
in the waves and the sight of the stricken aircraft
gripped Tom with a terrible incomprehension. He
was unable to move, almost to breathe. It couldn't
have happened. Not here! Not so quickly. He shook
his head to free his vision of the partially submerged
Catalina. But no, it was still there, a little lower
in the water. He leaned against the window and bowed
his head. His feet felt rooted to the spot, his
whole body heavy. As he raised his head to look
again there was nothing but choppy waves, the familiar
bay transformed by white horses.
Had it really crashed?
Finally after a few more moments he forced himself
to move from the small landing and make his way
to the scurry of activity below. Slowly he walked
out the front of the club and stood gazing at the
© Debbie Robson,