Prime Minister

One of the tasks undertaken by the staff travelling with the Prime Minister was to collect cables at the various stopping places, decode them and type them for Curtin.

Cable from PM Curtin, 1943

Cables, telegrams and teleprinter messages were vital means of communication for organisational as well as more serious matters in the war years. This teleprinter message from PM Curtin concerns his train journey to Melbourne for Advisory War Council and War Cabinet meetings in May 1943.

National Archives of Australia. A5954/69 1945/22


Mrs Gladys Joyce, who travelled with Curtin as his secretary on several occasions, remembers the Prime Minister saying: [11]

'That's the only time I get away from the telephone, and it's a peaceful trip for me to get over and travel by train.'

She also recalled that

'people always met him at every stop, but as they had a special carriage he could be quite private from the public while travelling on the train.'

John Curtin in the Prince of Wales carriage

John Curtin seated at the dining table in the saloon of the 'Prince of Wales' carriage.

Photograph: JCPML. Records of Gladys Joyce. John Curtin and Mary McGuire on a train, n.d. JCPML00216/2.


Find out about the Restoration of the 'Prince of Wales' carriage and view images of this Special Service Car 1 as it is today.

Others visited him as he travelled. (Dame) Rachel Cleland was travelling on the same train as Curtin when crossing the Nullarbor in October 1944. After requesting to see him, she was invited to his carriage the following day for afternoon tea and recalled: [12]

'In 1944, during the war, returning from Melbourne by train I found that the Prime Minister's carriage was taking him back to Perth. Since I frequently argued with hyper anti-labour friends, I had always wanted to meet John Curtin and discuss issues with him, I saw a wonderful opportunity in that he had just returned from London where he had seen my Aunt, Bessie Rischbieth. Having been at a Conference in Denmark when war broke out, she had been unable to return to Australia and was stuck in London for the duration. So I sent a note to his secretary saying who I was, and that I would love to hear news of Aunt. The result was an invitation to afternoon tea the next day.

It was a fascinating few hours. I arrived at four and left at some time after six. He seemed to want to talk and discuss things but I was surprised at how free he was, especially about the row he had with Churchill re bringing our troops back to Australia. He seemed to worry about whether he had done the right thing. Naturally I assured him that the Australian public were very proud that he had stood up to Churchill, which certainly took courage.'

By this stage of the war Curtin was becoming very tired and his health was suffering. This was his last Trans Australian Railway train trip. The Hon Frank Wise, WA Government Minister, who accompanied Curtin and the WA Premier, on this trip noted that the strain of war on Curtin was becoming obvious.[13]

After his death in July 1945, Curtin lay in state in Canberra from where his coffin was flown to Perth on a Dakota airplane. The coffin was drawn by a gun carriage from his Cottesloe home to Karrakatta Cemetery where a huge state funeral was held. His final journey was complete - not by train - but he is buried near the railway line along which he travelled so often from his Cottesloe home.

John Curtin's funeral, Karakatta, 1945

Photograph: John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of West Australian News Ltd. Gun-carriage bearing John Curtin's coffin arrives at Karrakatta Cemetery, 1945. JCPML00347/38

Courtesy West Australian News Ltd.


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