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Band of Brothers
  Eric         Fred         Alan        David        Ivan           Bill          Mike
But the music stopped for the Hutchins family in 1941, when war came near Australian shores. Four of the boys - Alan, Eric, David and Fred never came home. War left the young children in the Hutchins clan parentless, it broke marriages and it broke hearts. For the rest of their lives surviving brothers Malcolm (known as Mike), Bill and Ivan carried physical and psychological scars from their dead brothers' horrific fates. But they soldiered on.  There are tragic stories of families who suffered terribly during World War I, but four fallen brothers on a World War II memorial is rare. The four Hutchins boys all perished under barbaric Japanese imprisonment, or trying to escape it. They were members of the ill equipped, and undermanned Australian forces, kept as token displays of resistance against huge Japanese armies that invaded the Dutch - held Island of Ambon, and our territory of New Britain in early 1942. Of the 1150 Gull Force troops captured on Ambon, 74 per cent of them died. Only about 400 of Lark Force escaped from New Britain - the other 960 were either massacred, killed trying to flee the Island or died as PoW's when the Monte Video Maru slave ship was torpedoed.
 Brother Mike was lucky to avoid becoming a prisoner of the Japanese when his troop ship, the Strathaven was diverted away from Java, just as she was about to dock on the way back from the fighting in Syria. The Hutchins family were, and are, old style Australian farming stock from the state's harsh North West, toughened by years of fire, drought and depression. They took life's knocks with stoicism, not wasting words to whinge or wonder why. Their mother gave birth to 14 children between 1908 - 1924. But it was mother Mary, not Henry, who never spoke about the wartime loss of their sons. Words are still tough for sisters Myrtle and Mary (named after her mother) to utter. Mary recently celebrated her 86th birthday in her Numurkah retirement lodge. Although her memory is unreliable, she was joined by her sister Myrtle Salau, 88, who was driven over from her Swan Hill home for the day. "We were a big family, a happy family, until the war came," Myrtle says. By then she was married. Brother Alan, 22, was also married with two children to wife Edna. David 28, had two children with his wife Anne expecting. Both men worked at nearby fruit properties or processors. "Mary was still at home, all the boys grew up helping dad around the property, the pruning, picking the grapes," Myrtle says. “We all used to meet at mums on Sunday night for tea. We'd play games, like hide the thimble, then we'd have a sing along. The boys had beautiful voices. "I idolized my brothers, they were very close, never a bad word between them." Mike, in a life story he wrote in the 1980s, said: “sometimes there would be a fight at a dance, but pick on one of the Hutchins family and you picked on the lot." Tears fall as Mary recalls her mother not wanting the boys to join up and having “hell’s own trouble" with pestering from teenager Eric after four of his big brothers had enlisted at Swan Hill. “They all said to her, mum we have to go," I saw them when they came home in their uniforms, Fred and Eric, they were very handsome." Myrtle said: " They didn't want to be conscripted, I know that much. They were glad to fight for their country, all their mates were." Ivan, 24, Bill, 28, Mike, 30, and Alan, 22, all enlisted in June 1940, with the first three eventually sent to the Middle East. Eric 17, bumped up his age to 19 to join on the 26th of July 1941, and Fred also put his age up from 18 to 20. Big brother David, 28 joined to look after them. I remember their numbers VX61201, VX61202, and VX61203," Myrtle says. "After they went to war, David's son Trevor was born, he never saw him." Within five months Japan would be in the war and the three would be posted as replacements with C Company 2/21st Battalion (Gull Force) to Ambon. A force of 1159 Australians, without artillery or armour, joined 2500 poorly trained Dutch colonial troops to defend Laha airfield and the colony. They were pawns, sacrificed by generals and politicians in crisis mode, trying to please allies. Gull Force's commander, Lt Col Roach, was sacked and recalled to Australia over his disgusted protests to headquarters about the appalling lack of equipment, numbers and preparation to meet any invasion. His men would become "victims of murder due to sheer slackness and maladministration". On January 30 1942, the RAAF flew out, leaving the diggers to face an estimated 20,000 Japanese expected within hours. “I have a letter Fred wrote to me saying they had no arms or ammunition," Mike wrote in the 1980s. "They were doing guard duty with wooden guns.” My officer told me that I could claim them and have them sent to the Middle East and he would arrange it...but the Islands fell before they could be shipped out and they were taken prisoners." The meagre Gull Force defended Laha airfield, the diggers surrendering after three days of fierce fighting. The Dutch had folded on the first day, February 1st. Eric who a year earlier had driven his parents mad to enlist, was among 300 troops murdered by their captors at Laha in a series of massacres between February 6th and 20th. Most were beheaded. “The whole thing was wrong," says Myrtle. "They should have had more training; they more or less joined up and were pushed off. They had no hope, no hope at all." Nothing was known of Fred and David except they were prisoners. The Hutchins family - parents, wives and sisters - joined thousands of other families, left waiting in an emotional fog between hope and despair for their men. "You never knew from one day to another what would happen, what sort of news you might get. You just hoped for the best," recalls Myrtle. She and Mary labored for their parents to keep the Woorinen North fruit property going until Ivan was discharged in June 1943 so he could take over. Their parents had moved to Campbell’s Creek near Castlemaine. Somehow, David and Fred kept each other going until just a few weeks before war's end. They had survived more than three and a half years of forced labor, malnutrition, disease and savage beatings from depraved guards. Survivors at Ambon's Tan Tui prison camp were used as slave labour on projects including ammunition tunnels. Prisoner of war Courtney Harrison, in his book 'Ambon - Island of Mist', described how Mary's twin brother Fred was ordered to join a work party building a kitchen on July 6th 1945, despite suffering from severe malaria. "From the early morning Ike Asor (Guard) began to punish him because of his inability to do much work. He received several beatings, the last being with a three star iron fence picket. "He was knocked to the ground where he was given further punishment. Ike Asor left him unconscious on the ground, from where one of his mates later carried him to the truck. He remained unconscious, and died in the camp the following morning.” No one knows what impact that had on David, but he also perished, officially of Beri Beri, just three weeks after Fred - as the war was about to end. Not only did he never see his baby son, but he died not knowing that his three young children would be orphaned. David's wife, Anne, had died of illness at home in Swan Hill in 1944. Wesley, Lorraine and Trevor Hutchins were raised by Anne's brother and his wife. By war's end, Henry and Mary Hutchins knew that they had probably lost one of their seven soldier sons. Alan's wife Edna had received a telegram in December 1942 - informing her the army believed he had died of illness after the capture of New Britain. Alan had been among the 1500 men of Lark Force, which like Gull Force, had been bombarded, and then overrun by a huge Japanese invasion of 12,000 marines in January 1942. The few survivors, who lived rough in the bush, then escaped on small boats. They were besieged for information by desperate relatives when they arrived back in Australia. One later told Mike Hutchins what happened to Alan. Alan was suffering from dysentery, but had lasted in New Britain's jungles until March 31st, 1942, when he was shot and killed by a Japanese patrol. But no one can be certain because his body was never found. On February 24th 1946, his wife Edna finally received a telegram confirming his death. Myrtle went with her husband Claude, and brothers Ivan and Mike to break the news to the parents at their Campbell’s Creek home. "That was shocking. Malcolm (Mike) did it; he broke the news to mum. It was terrible. I felt so sorry for mum. But when we got back to Woorinen that evening, there was word there to say about the three other boys, all on that one day, so we had to turn around and drive straight back to Campbell’s Creek." Myrtle can remember the local minister at the parents' house after the three telegrams about David, Eric and Fred had been delivered. Mary says the news almost killed her mother. I can tell you, I cried and cried for months," she says. Myrtle adds: "Dad definitely changed. He sort of went quiet. The war wasn't discussed. I think there were changes in every one of us, during and after the war." Her lost boys were never mentioned, but mother Mary Hutchins wore, an official brooch with two bars, a chain and seven gold stars until she died on the 20th of November 1956. Ivan had taken over the Woorinen North family property, and later moved to a soldier settlement block at Robinvale, but died in 1969 after years of ill health. Mike felt bitterness towards the Japanese for what happened to his brothers, according to sister Myrtle. He married, and developed a fruit property in Katunga, but war service from New Guinea left the old artilleryman stricken by pain from an excruciating peptic ulcer, and severe nose bleeds. He had to wait until 1983 for a full TPI pension. "After the war they took to the drink a bit, until they all righted themselves," Myrtle says. "Bill used to drink a lot. He'd lay down in the yard between the implements. His first wife Grace had shot through with a yank while he was away. “But then he took on Alan's children, he reared them up. Bill married Edna, who had been Alan's wife. “He really looked after those kids and they brought them up well.”After Edna, he gave up the drink and only had an occasional one. They were a good couple, good for one another." The Hutchins survivors put war behind them, thriving on successes such as the youngest brother, Ray (who was too short for military service), going on to become a fine jockey and trainer of Melbourne Cup winner Gala Supreme in 1973. Of the 14 Hutchins children, only Myrtle and Mary have survived to see this Anzac Day, but there are many descendants - great grandchildren who will know their family story. That's thanks to Paul Liversidge, who collated the story out of dedication to his grandfather Malcolm Hutchins, and also to his great uncle - Fred Wallace, a loving cousin to the missing Hutchins boys. Fred was a sapper, dispatched to Ambon with the Royal Australian Engineers in October 1945. Like many Hutchins, Cousin Fred dreamed of the brothers later in life. "He was on the recovery team there, who uncovered the mass graves at Laha airfield and the graves at the Tan Tui camp, then transferred the remains," Paul says. "He had to identify his cousins.”I don’t think he ever got over it. He was a drinker after the war. He never talked about it, but he would wake up screaming at night - with nightmares about bodies," Paul says.

Myrtle says she tries to put the past traumas to the back of her mind, but knows she'll never forget, and doesn't want to. "It happened. They're gone. There's nothing we can do. A lot of other families lost boys too, and you've got to stop and think about that. It's war." 
Says Mary: "I still see Fred. I dream of him and what the Japanese did to him. I would just like to see him and the boys walk through that door."          

Brothers Remembered: Anzac Day

This page:  is dedicated to the memory of those Australian Soldiers who have paid the supreme sacrifice for their country in Afghanistan:  Afghanistan - Australia's Lost Sons

Brothers' tragedy: only 3 returned
Mytle Salau: The last surviving member of the Hutchins family sadly passed away on the 4th of August 2011. She was a wonderful lady and a good friend. She is sadly missed.
Myrtle was Aged 92.

The two surviving sisters of seven brothers who went to war, still grieve for the boys who never came home.
Neil Wilson reports.

Every birthday as ageing friends and family gather, Mary Coburn - nee Hutchins - shares the ocassion with a young man in uniform who disappeared from her life but not her dreams more than 60 years ago. As Mary can't help dream at night of her twin brother Fred, so her sister Myrtle thinks of their other brothers who went off to war - all seven of them - with only the two girls left to ache over the devastation to their family.
 Birthdays before World War II on the Hutchins' fruit block, at Woorinen North, near Swan Hill were full of merriment and music. The brothers got out their mouth organs to join dad Henry on accordion for a singalong of favourites the men used to practice in their family band at the old soldiers hall.
Seven went to war - only three came home
21.3.1921 ~ 9.7.2008
In memory of Mary Coburn who passed away on Wednesday the 9th of July.
She is sadly missed. Mary was Aged 87.
Story from the Herald Sun April 21st 2007