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The Old 2/2 Commando Association's Children's Christmas Parties

Edward Willis

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  • Committee

With Christmas rapidly approaching those of us living in WA and old enough will fondly recall the Christmas Parties the old Association held for the children of members between 1952 and 1963.

Col Doig recounted the history of the Christmas Parties in Chapter 4 his book ‘A Great Fraternity: the story of the 2/2 Commando Association, 1946-1992’.  Col’s account is redolent of earlier, simpler times with free kegs of ginger beer sourced from the Swan Brewery and tubs of ice cream from Peters, while the bonds of friendship that impelled the men and their wives to organise and conduct these parties shines through.

Col Doig’s ‘President’s Christmas Message’ and an account of the ‘Christmas Party’ are shown in the attached images from the December 1954 ‘Courier’.




When the Association was formed only a few of our Members were married so we had to wait quite a few years for the 'Stork Stakes' to provide enough offspring to indulge in children’s’ parties but, of course, the inevitable had to happen sooner or later.

The huge task of collating the names, sex and ages of the children took up considerable space in many Couriers.  Having decided on a Christmas Party, the matter of appropriate presents had to be looked into, as well as catering, cool drinks, ice cream etc.  Also, it was necessary to have a good venue and adequate entertainment.  Many were the meetings until everything fell into some sort of order.

There were special working bees to packet lollies, wrap and label the parcels for the children.  What order out of chaos used to occur at Col Doig's office.  Sticky fingers from lollies, cut fingers from string and all the foibles that such preparations could bring.  In those days it was possible to get kegs of free ginger beer from the Swan Brewery.  Someone would scrounge cheap cool drinks and we would try Peters for at least one free churn of ice cream, and the hall had to be decorated.  We had some sort of priority with the 16th Battalion Drill Hall through Tom Nisbet who was the then C.O. of the 16th Bn. (Cameron Highlanders).

The first of these great days was held in December 1952 and what a day of bedlam!  We engaged Frank Fenn to act as clown and handle, proceedings.  We had Alvero the Magician pulling white rabbits, pigeons and guinea pigs out of the hat and allowing the kids to cuddle them.  He also ran a good Punch & Judy show.  Clem Booth, a mate of Jack Carey, showed some good cartoons.  Ken (Curly) Bowden made an enormous top hat which was strategically placed over a tunnel and the presents were pulled from this by our clown.  The sweat and tears of the poor buggers in the tunnel handing out the presents had to be endured to be understood.  It was a marvellous day, enjoyed by everyone except a few harassed mums.  There were over 100 children present and gifts were sent to the known children who did not attend, especially those in the country.  The usual small raffle was conducted to defray expenses.

As a result of this successful function a lot more names of children started to come forward so, by the time the second party was held in December 1953, numbers had increased quite considerably.  The same panic in the purchase of presents occurred and the working bees and the hassles were probably even greater.  In a moment of aberration Frank Freestone offered to make toffee apples and either Bernie Langridge or Bill Rowan-Robinson supplied the apples - that was the easy part!

Nobody was game to speak to Frank, going by the look on his face. According to 'Murphy's Law' everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  The toffee got all over their kitten and stuck to everything but the apples and had to be boiled again.

Frank had a big laugh about it all a few days later but didn't see anything funny on that Sunday.  We still had Frank Fenn and the magician to provide fun and the cartoons had the kids enthralled.  The number had grown to 120 in 1953 and we forwarded heaps of presents to the country.

This pattern continued until 1959.  As the children grew older the purchase of appropriate gifts became more difficult and eventually it was decided that books were a better proposition.

At one function a 'horse suit' was hired and George Strickland and Spriggy McDonald provided the front and rear portions of the steed.  The kids had great fun - afraid the same couldn't be said for the innards of the horse.

Curly Bowden manufactured a reasonable sleigh in which Father Christmas was pulled around the hall by some stalwart adults and heaps of kids.  As Fred Napier or Arthur Smith donned the suit it was quite a weight to handle.

A lot of people worked really hard for these functions.  In 1957 Gerry & Lal Green worked like tigers to get the show going and Spriggy McDonald, Curly Bowden, Bill Epps, Mick Calcutt to name but a few, gave of their time and abilities to make these shows a success.  We were lucky to have the services of Frank Fenn who was a minor genius at keeping children amused.

In 1959 an innovation was a fairy floss machine which was really appreciated by the children.  The blokes operating the machine didn't have it all that easy, as the sticky, sugary substance clung to their aprons.

Because the children were growing up it was decided that the Zoo would be the best venue for future shows.  This was commenced in 1960 and proved to be an immense success.  A good roll up, plenty of fun with rides on the train, thanks to Harold Brooker who controlled this function as well as looking after the elephants.  Races of all natures and the fairy floss managed to keep everyone happy and the wide open spaces of the Zoo gave plenty of scope for exuberance.  Frank Fenn was still Master of Ceremonies.  This venue was used until 1963, when functions ceased as the children were really growing up.

In the period 1952-1963, many children, and adults, had a good day out.  During this time there was no grog available as it was felt that, for one day of the year we should not indulge and get off centre with the ladies and children. [1]

[1] Col Doig. - A Great Fraternity: the story of the 2/2 Commando Association, 1946-1992. – Perth: C.D. Doig, 1993: 23-26.  The book is unfortunately out of print.

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1954-12 - Courier December 1954 p2 (1).jpeg

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