Each year the Lane Cove RSL Sub Branch invites a Lane Cove Resident to talk about a relative who has served in the military. This year Lindsay Cunningham the eldest son of Winifred and Archibald Cunningham always known as Archie gave the talk. He was representing his 4 siblings, Archie’s 13 grandchildren and their partners, and 18 great-grandchildren.
Born During the Spanish Flu Epidemic
Archie was born at Eastwood in Feb 1919 and his father died 3 months later in the great Flu Epidemic, leaving Archie to be raised by his determined and highly spirited mother and an older brother Ralph and sister Alison. The family moved from Beecroft to Neutral Bay and Archie was forced to leave school at 12 to contribute to the household.
When the war was declared in 1939, Archie, aged 20 was among the first to enlist as attested by his Regimental Number of NX3700. He sailed in the first convoy to the Middle East as a signaller in the 6th Division. Most of his time was spent with the 16th Brigade which comprised units from NSW.
After a short stint in Palestine, the 6th Div fought in the North African campaign before being deployed to Greece in March 1941 and then Crete. Archie was fortunate not to have become a prisoner of war however he lost his best mate Lindsay Buckingham killed beside him after whom I was named. Archie and Winifred returned many years later to Crete in a contingent of solders who had served there, warmly welcomed every day in every village for their steadfast courage against the larger German forces.
Archie’s letters back to his beloved mother have survived the years and they make very poignant reading; in one he reflects on the death of his dear mate Harry on 20/4/41
” This is when we experienced the longest bombing…continuous for over an hour, 97 planes diving into Brigade HQ all the time….. then the machine guns on the planes started….-I guess that day was my closest; I had my head well down,hat perched on the back of my head; mouth open practically eating the dirt, heart-thumping,- my thoughts of you and Alison- in fact my whole life flashed before me “
Archie saw action in Syria against the Vichy French and in Ceylon now Sri Lanka but with the Japanese entering the war in Dec 1941 the Australian Government withdrew the 6th Division back to Australia . The Division was quickly re-deployed to New Guinea in 1942 to fight on the Kokoda Track and subsequently at Buna and Gona. It was during this time that Archie suffered with malaria, as did most soldiers, and he was repatriated to Australia for treatment. The commanding officer of the Australian troops at that time was the illustrious Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner who was to become Archie’s future brother-in-law.
While on leave in Queensland recovering from malaria in 1944 Archie took the opportunity to finally meet and marry the love of his life Winifred whom he had wooed by correspondence during his service oversea: they were introduced by his WA mate Bert Wells.
In Jan 1945 Archie was discharged from the Army as he was required for essential occupation but in 1946 he was selected as part of a contingent of 250 servicemen and women to represent the three services, at the Victory March in London. The boat trip to London took three weeks and Archie was away from his young family for a long period.
Civilian Life in Landers Road
Archie and Winifred’s first child Nan was born in 1945, followed by myself Lindsay then Megan. The expanding family moved to Landers Road Lane Cove in 1951 where Barbara and Peter were born. Archie worked as a clerk/bookkeeper; he could manipulate figures faster than a calculator and wrote a very fine letter.
He continued his Service activities all his life as a member of the RSL for more than 28 years and Executive of the Lane Cove Sub Branch, 24 years as Secretary, and more than ten years as Vice President and President. He was awarded Life membership of the RSL and later in his life was instrumental in lobbying Lane Cove Council to place the Servicemen’s’ Honour Board next to the Cenotaph by the Library – to protect it from the weather it was subsequently re-located to the public space at Lane Cove Council.
Archie was also involved in welfare work in supporting ex-servicemen in hospitals, to provide emotional support and advice on pensions and repatriation benefits. This support later expanded to civic rehabilitation supporting recent parolees to find employment, accommodation and counselling.
Lane Cove Cricket Club
He had wasted no time joining the Lane Cove Cricket Club in 1951 and he went on to have a rich and rewarding association with the Lane Cove Cricket Club as Vice President for many years, writing their witty newsletters and generally being an inspiration to many;he became known as The Thin Man.
As the family grew and the five children attended Lane Cove Public School both Archie and Winifred were incredibly active in the Lane Cove Community. Winifred trained as a nurse during the war years on Rottnest Island WA , and she worked for many years with Lane Cove Community Aid, becoming heavily involved with fundraising once she retired.
Archie was a Director of Lane Cove Community Aid Service, Justice of the Peace, Vice President of Lane Cove Legacy, Controller of Lane Cove Civil Defence, founding member of Lane Cove Businessmen’s Club, and held committee positions on Lane Cove Rugby Union Club and Lane Cove Baseball Club.
Since 1951 our family has been gathering at the Lane Cove Anzac Day services each year to honour our Dad Archie and all his mates.
His time in the army, beginning as a naïve 20 year old, relying on his mates, homesick for his family, travelling out of Sydney for the first time to strange and distant shores, was what shaped him as a man. He was loyal, stubborn, old fashioned and sentimental and family was everything to him.
He died in 1996 leaving behind his wife of 52 years and a family so proud of his contribution to the nation and the local community.