Jeanette reflects on Letters to Bruce

By James Bennett

It's hard for us to imagine not knowing the status of a loved one during wartime, let alone more than 75 years ago when social media did not exist.

Shepparton woman Jeanette Thompson has complied a book of letters between her father Bruce Jeffery and his family during World War II — with the appropriate title Letters to Bruce.

A 36-year-old Mr Jeffery left his Pine Lodge farm in 1941 to work in Broadmeadows, building equipment that would be sent overseas to soldiers.

Although the communication between Shepparton and Melbourne was relatively slow by today's standards, the family was lucky there was a daily train to the state capital.

Mrs Thompson said the letters provided an insight into life during the war.

“I imagined once you were down there (Melbourne) you didn't have much contact with the outside world, but that's not exactly true,” she said.

“There's one letter he wrote to Mum where he says: ‘You seem very down about me being here but it's important and we're all in this together so we just have to get on with it'.

“I'm quite humbled, really, about what he was doing during the war.

“I know he would have been missed at home on the farm and some of the letters go through the struggles they had with him away from home.

“Some of the letters are bit hard to understand; (but) the writing is beautiful."

Although there was close communication between Mr Jeffery and his wife, Doreen, his siblings weren't afforded the same luxury.

“My Auntie Verna is sort of like the heroine in this book because she doesn't know where her husband Lyall Cooper is or if he's been taken as a prisoner of war,” Mrs Thompson said.

“She wrote to Geneva to try and find out. There's another letter about how Verna did receive a letter from Lyall but it had been posted six months previously."

Thankfully, Mr Cooper returned to Australia after spending time in a POW camp in Crete.

Mrs Thompson said her father wanted to be posted overseas but his health would not allow it.

Mrs Thompson said some of letters detailed how he wanted to improve himself, which included transferring to an experimental workshop in South Melbourne.

I'm desirous of submitting a petrol-saving device, which I have invented, to the military authority,” one letter extract read.

Mrs Thompson said there was no record of what became of his invention but the army did acknowledge it and promised to give it "full consideration".

The army eventually granted Mr Jeffery a transfer out of Broadmeadows and he was sent to Toowoomba in 1943.

“He writes how he was happy to be in Queensland and how the meals were a lot better,” Mrs Thompson said.

Mr Jeffery's work is often overlooked but he still played a vital role in protecting Australian troops.

However, Mrs Thompson said not everything went to plan.

“I have a photo of him working on a gun carrier,” she said.

“The story goes, after it was assembled and started up, the machine blew to bits,” she said with a laugh.

Mrs Thompson still has the original letters that were saved by her mother.