Lou and Zillah at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens on January 1, 1944.
Lou and Zillah at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens on January 1, 1944. Rob Williams

Ipswich woman's war letter discovered

ZILLAH Norrak barely reacted when she overheard peace had been announced in 1945.

The Ipswich woman had heard the rumours before.

But this time was different.

World War II was finally over.

Letters written in August 1945, describing Zillah's experience that day as she journeyed home from her workplace in the Brisbane CBD, were recently discovered by her daughter Llewella and shared with The Queensland Times.

Zillah wrote to her future husband Lou, telling him about the overcrowded vehicles carrying the celebrating crowds, the music and impromptu embraces between young men and women.

You can read about Zillah in the QT's 2009 tribute here

 

Zillah Norrak on her 92nd birthday in 2008.
Zillah Norrak on her 92nd birthday in 2008. Rob Williams

 

22nd August, 1945

 

MY DEAR Lou,

Well, I guess it is time I told you just how Peace came to Brisbane.

About 9am I was struggling with a Sales Tax Return - not a bit interested in it either, when someone burst in to Qantas and said something about Peace. Well, we had heard so many rumours that we just turned a deaf ear, and went on with a pretence at work.

The partition between us and Qantas is slightly inadequate, as you will have gathered...

Soon, I noticed that the people at the Bank across the way were out at the door looking at something.

I decided to look too, and lo! Such a lot of cut-up paper was pouring out of the windows of the navy, just nearby.

Then a boat whistle sounded and people began to to surge into Queen St.

Slowly it dawned on us - yes, Peace had come at last. Well, we just didn't know what to do to show our joy.

Some of us dashed up to the corner and beheld Queen St in the grip of people.

We then made for the Post Office, not that there was anything to see, but it seemed the thing to do.

4BK, situated near by, had a loud speaker going but no-one seemed to be paying much attention.

Traffic could hardly pierce the human cordon, and in no time, kerosene tins appeared, tied on bikes, cars and even in the hands.

The noise proclaimed far and wide that Brisbane was happy.

More paper commenced to come out of the windows, and lo! from the navy windows came some rare "sticky" paper, which was just ideal for mending music. It has already served just that purpose with me too.

String was thrown out; old records; streamers; old bill-heads; anything at all, which would add to the general "celebration".

Some of the torn-up paper ascended, at times, instead of descending, and the effort was very pretty indeed.

Above, was a blue sky, below were lots of people, and in between was this confetti was going up and down.

Cars, trucks, lorries, bikes and so on appeared by magic, and each vehicle was laden with human cargo.

In fact, one could see people only, and presumed that underneath then was a conveyance of some kind.

 

People celebrating the end of World War II in Queen Street, Brisbane in 1945. Photograph taken at the intersection of Queen and Edward Streets, looking south along Queen Street.Photo: State Library of Queensland
People celebrating the end of World War II in Queen St, Brisbane in 1945. Photograph taken at the intersection of Queen and Edward streets, looking south along Queen Street. Contributed

Bikes carried people everywhere, and carried more people than safety demanded.

Bugles, rattle things, trumpets all appeared, and did the people know how to use them.

Each truck which passed carried a human cargo of yelling, happy folk and some were armed with waste-paper baskets, and when hit, they produced a quota of noise.

Soon, however, Queen St had to be closed to traffic, and it was then everyone commenced to walk up and down the streets.

The street was covered with paper, and it was impossible to see the cement and stuff beneath it all.

Well the sirens joined in the fun, and no-one felt like work. At times, we ran back to the office, saw that nothing was doing, so we went off again.

About an hour or so later, Claudia called for me, and then we went to collect Greta.

As we were waiting for her downstairs, we saw two more of the girls just walking along in the parade, so we dragged them out and later together, we all walked up Queen St.

Someone tipped the hat of a policeman, and almost immediately, a boy said to him, "Never mind mate; have a lolly", which the policeman did.

We strolled up to City Hall, amid such scenes of humanity never before witnessed here.

Then, we ambled down Adelaide St, and called in at the office of one of the girls.

There, we cooled down, made ourselves pretty, boiled the jog, had a bit of lunch, watched the throng and then went downstairs.

While watching from the window, many thoughts surged through my mind.

Crowds of people walked by in the street below; some in pairs, some in groups and some in crowds.

One man led a parade, with bagpipes; others rode by in a lorry and each girl had flowers in her hair.

Another lot carried cauliflowers; another man walked by with a cooking basin upturned on his head, and PEACE written across it.

Sometimes, one little crowd would form a ring around another, and then kissing would commence.

Soldiers went up to girls and simply embraced them; the girls couldn't offer resistance, EVEN had they wanted to, and I don't think many of them wanted to.

We later found ourselves locked out of the building, where all our things were.

The cousin (RAAF) of one of the girls turned up and he tried to do the burglar act with the door.

We got around the back way, inserted the keys in locks, but all in vain.

Whilst waiting for the new caretaker to arrive, some of us went for a walk round town.

We went up Adelaide St, into Albert, down Queen as far as the PMG (and when I passed Kodak, I did what I have wanted to do for years - I SNEERED AT THE PLACE!) then we came back as far as George St, went down there turned into Adelaide St, and found that our belongings were safely with those who had remained behind.

That was a memorable one; I was on the end, but as the end people seemed to get attention (I DIDN'T as I refused to let anyone come up and kiss me) one girl changed places with me and I hung to her cousin for protection.

I have never thought much of the air force before but on Peace Day, I changed my mind.

As we went by (Eric in the middle, with two other girls either side of him) a voice called, "Bit greedy, aren't you mate?" And another, "I say Wings, how do you do it?" (The boy is a pilot officer or something.)

"As we passed "His Majesty's", one of the girls dashed over, and helped herself to one of the ballet photos on display, if you please. She got away with it too - but only because it was Peace.

Men went by, dressed as women; others with streamers round them, and we noticed that a tiny fire had been lit outside the "Telegraph".

 

Letters from Zillah to Lou in 1945.
Letters from Zillah to Lou in 1945. Rob Williams

Eric bought us all an ice-cream when we caught the train, and about 1400 hours we left going home, we sang all the songs we knew, and those we didn't. A soldier next door, an airman, called out numbers for us to sing and so they hopped the seat and joined our party. I was sewing and the soldier was most annoyed; he told me to put it away and sing. I said I could do both, and when he still demurred, I told him that the sewing was included in my post-war plan.

Four of us decided to go into Ipswich, just to see what was doing. The people were still in gay mood there; Church bells were ringing, an inebriated soldier was leading the band up and the Main St, and quite a crowd gathered to watch the events.

I walked home, a tired and weary girl, and looking like a picture no artist would paint.

Found that mother was at grandma's, so I fell in to the house and relaxed.

Decided after tea there to go in to town to see what was going on, and, Lou, Ipswich was really grand during Peace. Everything was just lovely - I mean we showed enthusiasm, behaved and in all had a grand time.

 

How The Queensland Times reported the end of World War II in their paper on August 16, 1945.
How The Queensland Times reported the end of World War II in their paper on August 16, 1945. Rob Williams

It meant walking two miles again, into town, and by this time, I was ready for bed. However, I went along and on top of the hill, we noticed some rockets lit the sky, and formed such a delighted picture.

In town, there was much gaiety. Crowds of people were about and right in the worst crowd, a group of people would form a crocodile, and then race through. It was amusing to watch this.

Four bands were in Ipswich that night. Some marched all round the streets just playing, another stayed outside the Post Office. The conductor of the community singing was dressed as a woman, and he used his "baton" a large stick of sugar cane.

The effect was so funny, and when he saw us, he waved his baton at us, mother knows him.

Crackers were likely to go off anywhere; rockets were sent up in the main street; rattle things were sounding; a group of men carried a live pig up the footpath and down the other one, and a little boy blazed the trail saying "Make way; here comes the pig". It was the funniest sight I have seen in ages.

I saw several people that I know, and spoke to them - all this took time.

Some of the PFA boys were in town, and I said to one: "You aren't making much noise." With that, another boy crept behind mother, put something on the concrete and produced a terrific hammer, hit the "something", and immediately there was an explosion - I thought all my birthdays had suddenly come!

One of our boys wore a long paper cap thing, had a moustache, black on his face, carried a rattle and a cow bell. You never saw anything so funny.

We simply fell into the 10 bus, and stood all the way home. You can guess how I felt.

Next morning, the sun was at his best, and mother and I went to church. Our bell rang, and outside the church were placed two flags. The service was really lovely, and Mr Gray's sermon was one of his best. The hymns were lovely.

In the afternoon, I went to Grandma's; she was in bed, as the excitement of peace had been too much. However, she had recovered, and wanted to be in on everything.

I went to sleep on the front lawn and enjoyed it too.

After tea, we again walked into town.

This time we wanted to go to the barbecue, which Ipswich turned on. I said it was in one place and mother said it was in another. Mother thought it was at North Ipswich, and she saw a bus coming; I dashed for it, a dog ran at me, a man called it off, and I dashed on again; fell into the bus, found I was right about the location after all, but went on and picked up my N. Ipswich aunt and brought her into town.

We went along to the barbecue, where loads of people had gathered.

It was held in the place where you and I had the merry-go-round ride.

The merry was in full swing too, and I yearned to have another ride with you.

I got very close to the bullock which provided the barbecue; there it was, turning on a stick (stationary when I saw it) and near a fire.

The butcher (a real one) cut off huge slices of meat, but I hadn't a chance. The poor animal had its ribs showing, but the whole form was there for all to see.

Ipswich staged two concerts in the street that night, and as one was near the other, we went to one, left it for the other and went back again. It was grand.

Local artists helped, and some visiting sailors got up and gave an item.

One British boy sourvenired (correct) a flag, got hold of an army girl, and together they tore up the main street brandishing this flag.

A soldier got up and gave an item about "I ain't going to soldier on no more"; very funny, and quite above board as far he went!

At the other concert, a wonderful RAAF boy played the piano on a lorry.

He must have played in a dance band, for his touch, and the music he drew forth... well! I was entranced.

At the end, Auld Lang Syne was sung and an airman appeared from no where and commanded me "to be it in".

We dived for a bus, fell in to it, and were off home by 10.20.

Everything was most exciting, and I was certainly very tired with all the walking. Still we had good clean fun, and Queensland was most orderly.

Brisbane and Ipswich did really behave and throughout it all in Brisbane I only saw one man inebriated.

In Ipswich, there were about six all told, so I was very happy that peace had not made people mad. We seemed thankful and happy that is was over, but we didn't want to break out and go crazy. I did like it all.

Work on Friday was very hard, but we had to come back and that was all there was about it.

Preparatory to this, Mr Hanlon gave us Monday off; the other states didn't get it but we did and in the afternoon, though peace had not then come, mother and I went to the park, where a little thanksgiving was held.

Ministers spoke; politicians spoke, and I must say that Dave Gledson gave the most wonderful speech.

We sang hymns, someone sang, Land of Hope and Glory , and some Trades Union man got up up and gave a very bad speech. His grammar was appalling, and I think he tried to be a bit too communistic too.

Anyway, the whole afternoon was very nice, and mother and I munched one of your chocolates during events...

Those peace day scenes will live long in my memory; peace came at a time when we were not prepared, so I was unable to have my cameras and thus record some scenes.

Must fly Puss; lots of love to you; amid peace, a certain sapper was ever in my mind - more so than the peace celebrations.

Zillah Norrak

Born on September 22, 1917

Died: April 16, 2009