A chance meeting on the Trans Australian Line

'I was granted special home leave to Fremantle from the 2/10th Armoured Regiment AIF, Puckapunyal (near Seymour in Victoria) to be married to Roma Milbourne of South Fremantle on Saturday, 24 January 1942.

The only way for troops to travel across the Nullarbor Plain in wartime was by troop train. We boarded the train in Victoria. All troops were travelling in cattle trucks and old carriages and every stop, we all got out for exercise or to get a meal.

All went well until January 22 when the train stopped one day's travel out of Kalgoorlie because the line had been cut by floods further down the line. While we were stopped I walked down to the end of the train and found a very nice 'special' coach attached. As I walked down to have a look, a group of very well dressed civilians came towards me and a voice from the group said 'Young Syd Gray, I thought you were up north somewhere!'

I was staggered. It was John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia. He was an old friend and Labor colleague of my father for many years. He came over, shook my hand and introduced me to some of his cabinet.

I said, 'I'm going home on special leave to get married on Saturday … God willing'. He invited me into his coach, and we had a long talk, some nice sandwiches and a beer.

John said, 'Syd, you know the floods have taken out some of the track between here and Kalgoorlie and this train might not get through to Kalgoorlie'. I hadn't realised that things were that bad, so I was pretty concerned at that stage. He said, 'Don't start worrying yet, I have to be in Perth by Saturday morning and I will be getting a plane for myself, my friends and staff and you can be included'. He said, 'I've also rung Elsie, and we are coming to your wedding on Saturday afternoon'.

As it turned out the plane wasn't needed, as the train did get through the flooded stretch and the connecting train got us into Perth Station at 1pm on Saturday.

We had a wonderful wedding. My old army friends from Arthur's Head Battery came along and acted as the "guard-of-honour" outside the Wesley Church in Fremantle.

True to his word. John and Elsie Curtin came to the wedding and all our family and friends were there to wish us luck. (It was a time when luck was very important to every soldier and their families). We have a photograph, taken with John and Elsie, that was published in the Sunday Times.

The Curtins didn't have time to get us a present and they gave us 10 pounds, which was quite a lot of money then. Roma came back to Seymour with me and when we went to a bank to cash the Curtin cheque, it was quite a time before they checked out our credentials and gave us the money.'

JCPML. Records of Sydney G. Gray. PM John Curtin & Elsie Curtin attended the wedding of Syd Gray & Roma Milbourne, January 24 1942. By S Gray, 1999. JCPML00346/1


John and Elsie Curtin at the wedding of Syd and Roma Gray, 1942

Photograph: JCPML. Records of Frances Shea. John and Elsie Curtin attending wedding of Mrs Frances Shea's brother (Mr & Mrs Gray), 24 January 1942. JCPML00039.

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