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Madelyn’s Special Bond with the Anzacs Fastest Hog

Bert Wight’s time in the RAAF in WW2 was absolutely energised by his association with Americans.  In his first week at Bachelor Airbase, Leading Aircraftsman Wight struck up a great relationship with his Yankee boss by rendering him a great service.

Bert Wight with his Yankee Boss after getting his car going for him.

The Adjutant was certainly impressed by Bert taming the killer Hog, but Bert made him a real friend by rendering a service by being the brilliant mechanic that he was.  Bert discovered from a discussion that a number of jeeps had been delivered to the base and they just wouldn’t start.

“Let me have a look.  I worked as a mechanic before the war.” he enthused.  Bert was an A grade mechanic.  It was with good reason that he never lacked confidence and relished solving tough problems.

“If you can get this one going,’ his boss stated, ‘it’s mine.’

It didn’t take long for Bert to diagnose that the problem was electrical, as there was no spark at the business end of the spark plug leads.

‘Strange’, Bert thought, ‘these are new vehicles with new batteries.’  ‘And the batteries have plenty of charge,’ he reasoned, ‘it must be further back.’    Bert worked out that the problem was as simple as grease in the ignition points.  Grease put there by design to prevent corrosion on the sea voyage from the US to Australia.

Madelyn in front of the American left hand drive WW2 Jeep like the one Bert got going for his Yankee Boss.

Bert now really had a friend in his boss.  And well…. life just got better between Bert and the Americans.

Bert had a killer bike, he had the run of the place and could’t be stopped because of the black armbands.   And he had friends in high places.

Madelyn standing on the running board of an American WW2 truck.

Bert admired Americans throughout his life and even took on aspects of their accent in his speech, which he retained for the rest of his life.  He always pronounced the word ‘new’ as ‘noo’ rather than the Strine pronunciation of ‘nee-u’, much to the amusement of the ‘Children of the Road.’

This all happened in 1943 at Bachelor Air Base in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Far away, in time and place, a baby girl came into the world exactly half a century later and half a world away.  Madelyn became Bert’s Yankee great great granddaughter.  She was born in Chico, California and so Bert had a Yankee Granddaughter.  He would have loved it.

When Madelyn discovered that not only had her great great grandpa done something for the Anzacs but in so doing, had worked for Americans, rode an American Hog and loved Americans, she was mightily impressed.  As an Australian, she loves to identify as an American.

What a bonus that at the Madelyn’s first Anzac dawn service, there were 2 American WW2 vehicles on display.  One of them happened  to be a Jeep just like Bert had managed to get running for his Yankee boss almost 60 years before.

It was absolutely necessary for Madelyn to have a good look at the Jeep with the steering on the left hand side.

By contrast to Bert supercharged Hog, there was a WW2 BSA motorcycle on display.  This was what the Australian Intel riders rode to carry out their duties.  Not as fast by half as Bert’s Hog, but definitely worth a look and a picture.

Madelyn beside a WW2 BSA motorcycle NOT like Bert used to ride.

So, half a world and half a century apart, Bert and his Yankee granddaughter share a special American bond.

Madelyn Honours the ANZAC’s fastest HOG

The day before Anzac Day, 8 year old Madelyn asked a really good question. “What did our family do for the Anzacs?”
My answer, “Your great great grandfather, Bert Wight, rode the Anzac’s fastest Indian.”
“You mean like Cowboys and Indians?” she asked.
“No, like a really big Indian motorcycle ridden really fast.” I replied. As it turns out it was actually Harley Davidson 10/12 rather than an Indian. Luckily Jim Wight picked us up on when he checked the blog before we published it. Madelyn was delighted that our family had done something for the Anzacs and decided that she would like to attend the dawn service this Anzac Day. We were up at 4.45am and made our way to Cleveland RSL. Big attendance!

Madelyn at her first Anzac Dawn Service

There were 1000’s of people and cars were lined up from 1 kilometre away. We made our way through the crowd, couldn’t see much, but we heard the messages, heard the prayers and heard the bugler at dawn. Our decision to stand on the roundabout turned out to be a good one, because we had a great view of the marchers at the end of the service.  Madelyn took the flowers she had bought to honour the great great grandfather she never knew about until the day before Anzac day. She placed it at the memorial in his honour.

Bert Wight in his RAAF uniform at Bachelor NT in 1943

How did Bert become the Anzac’s fastest HOG? First thing was that he joined Australia’s military thereby becoming part of the Anzac tradition and secondly he rode the fastest Harley Davidson.
Bert became an Anzac when he joined the RAAF in 1943. He had spent the earlier part of the war in essential services. He was posted to Bachelor in the Northern Territory. Bachelor was one of the airfields that supported the defence of Northern Australia which was of vital strategic importance to stop the Japanese offensive. It was defended by Australian, British, Dutch and American forces. That turned out to be a real bonus for Bert.

Bert Wight on his killer HOG from side-on in Bachelor NT in 1943

On arrival in Bachelor, Bert reported to the Adjutant and was informed that he was to be an Intell Despatch Rider. “Can you ride a ‘real’ motorcycle?” the Adjutant asked.
“Yes Sir,” Bert said confidently. “I raced a Douglas 500cc Sports motorcycle in speedway before the war.”
“We have a Harley here that nobody will ride because it has killed its last 3 riders.” It was a Harley Davidson 10/12 and was supercharged.

Bert astride his killer HOG after he had gotten the better of it in 1943

The Harley sat very low to the ground which is why it was so deadly, especially when ridden on unsealed roads.   Unsealed roads was all there was in the Outback.  You had to ride it correctly or it would get you.

Never the shrinking violet Bert stated boldly that he was up for it. The Douglas 500cc he rode in speedway ran on motor spirit, so Bert had plenty of experience with powerful motorcycles and dirt surfaces.

Douglas 500cc sports racing bike like that Bert Wight learned to ride on dirt with before the war.

He couldn’t see why the Harley couldn’t be tamed and looked forward to the challenge.

Bert had the killer machine and now was given a licence to speed and a licence to kill. As an Intell Dispatch rider he was not to be stopped or impeded in any way and was instructed to shoot to kill if anyone tried to stop him.

He wore 2 black armbands to indicate his role. The armbands would signal to those who manned checkpoints that he was not to be stopped.

Bert Wight posing with his Yankee boss on the HOG

Bert regularly carried Intell from Bachelor to Darwin, a distance of some 60 miles. He tamed the Harley and travelled at high speed. He could really make that HOG fly.
Bert in his inimitable way had managed to work his way right into the thick of things. He was assigned to American Command but mainly worked with the Dutch Squadrons which were under the direction of the Americans. He was his own man, he had a licence to ride anywhere unchallenged, a Colt 45 on his hip and a superbike to ride as fast as he liked.

Bert astride his HOG in Bachelor in 1943

And that’s how Madelyn’s great great grandpa came to be the Anzac’s fastest HOG.

Madelyn laying flowers of the Cenataph for Bert Wight

A Glimpse at Grangegorman Female Depot

In October, 2011, Val, Bill and Lynette travelled around the globe as detectives seeking clues to give us a better picture of where the people who became our forebears came from.  First, there was a whistlestop tour of Fredericton in Canada where William Johnston (WJ) deserted the British army.  Then there was Crosscanonby in Cumbria to the church where WJ was baptised.  Crossing the Irish Sea we discovered Ballymena, the home of Irish-Scottish McClintocks and Fivemiletown where James Carey stole a cow and then Roscommon on the trail of Ann Carey who stole to be with her husband in Tasmania.

We found little in Roscommon to connect with Ann Carey, but we knew that she spent time in the Grangegorman Female Depot in Dublin and that the buildings were still in existence. We were fortunate enough to have a copy of her record page at the prison thanks to some good investigation by Thelma McKay in Hobart.

From Rosscomon to Dublin

So instead of having our customary drink and toast in Roscommon, we made straight for Dublin because we needed to visit Ireland oldest pub and then find Grangegorman Female Depot before darkness overtook us. With a flight already booked, we had to fly back to London the next day and we hadn’t seen enough of Ballymena to get a feel of where the McClintocks came from.

Ann Carey spent 3 months in that dreary prison in 1847, after being convicted of larceny in Omagh in County Tyrone. She was awaiting the SV Waverley, which was to transport her to Van Diemen’s Land on its third voyage to Hobart Town.

Our first stop in Dublin was the Brazen Head which claims to Ireland oldest and pub and that was the appropriate place to drink the health of our little Irish grandmother who was all of 4 foot 11 inches, feisty and quite prepared to tell you to ‘feck off’. In fact, she was charged with doing just that in Hobart Town on 20th January, 1852.   That information comes from her Convict Conduct Record.  Some of the family stories are even more interesting.   One is that she smoked a pipe stoked with the tobacco from cigarette butts off railway workers.  That’s right – my fifth great grandmother smoked a pipe! But as far as I am aware, she did not wear army boots.

The Brazen Head - Ireland Oldest Pub

The Brazen Head was the favourite drinking place for novelist James Joyce and I still remember his depressing descriptions of grey Dublin days. A year before this visit, our son  Andrew and wife Megan had taken us to this pub for the Sunday Singing Session. It was grand!! We listened and joined in with singing sad ballads about life and trouble with a room crowded with morbid melody.  A fitting place to toast Ann Carey. We did so with Guinness, because we knew that it is good for your health and enhances your intelligence.  The ads told us so.

Lack of preparation plagued us in the execution of the quest to find Grangegorman Female Depot. Doesn’t even sound like a prison does it? Well, nobody knew anything about it because it wasn’t a prison any longer. Fortunately, Lynette had brought backup of our home server and I had copied an article on the prison. We pulled up the copy on my PC and found that it was in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. What did our Irish GPS think about that?

Well that was quite OK for the GPS, we got to Stoneybatter just fine but right on peak hour traffic. But that just wasn’t close to anything that looked for a former prison. If only I had looked at the article more closely, as it had one piece of vital information we needed to find our prison. We didn’t have the name of the street, did we? A suburb name just wasn’t near enough.

Grangegorman Entrance in 1996

We drove up some torturous narrow little streets using the random drive approach and asked some construction workers.  Their directions got us to the current men’s prison. Nope – that’s not it. So we went into a road that led to bus depot with a security gate. An inquiry there got us directions to the Grangegorman Hospital. All this at peak hour!!

While I was summoning up the courage to break back into the traffic to go to the Grangegorman Hospital which was nearly but not quite there, I thought I would have one more look at the internet article item that I had copied. Great day in the morning!  It had the street name further down in the article. Rathdowney Road. That was what we needed. We tapped this into our trusty little GPS and off we went.

After 3 wrong turns we were in the right street. Now all we had to do was drive the street and hope that the prison was going to a big complex that we just couldn’t miss. Well it almost was. We took pictures of a depressing front entrance and didn’t know we had found IT for sure until we arrived back in Oz and found an article on the prison.

Entrance to Grangegorman in 2011

Just like some depressing description out of James Joyce before imbibing at the Brazen Head, it was grey, it was dreary and my heart ached for poor Ann having to endure this sad place with harsh grey stone walls. She so deserved the payoff of eventually finding true love for enduring this place.

I like to think she did find true love with WJ, but that wasn’t until 1854 after a couple of false starts. She had to tell a few to ‘feck off’ and then one, John Hambrook, saw her off and she was sentenced to 6 months hard labour for her trouble and a pregnant with a little girl by the name of Mary Ann Carey.

But for all that, there was a happy ending with WJ and some absolutely grand descendants. She possibly reached a point in her life of thanking Judge Torrens for giving her the transportation sentence that she wanted on the 8th March 1847 in the County Tyrone Quarter Sessions.

The best perspective we could get was the rear of Grangegorman Female Depot from Fitzgerald St. It was high multistorey walls with missing windows that had incarceration written all over it.

Derelict remains of Grangegorman Womans Prison

Traversing the cavernous doors at the front entrance on Rathdowny Rd would make you feel like you had passed out of life into darkness. The steel doors present in a 1969 photo where not there in 2011. But it still looked daunting.

The stone walls of the outer the perimeter from Rathdowny Road looks like they hide another world.

It was easier for Ann than the long term residents.  She was there for 3 months to give her some fundamental training before going to Van Diemen’s Land. The Convict Department in Tasmania were trying to get better outcomes from female convicts who were not hired by settlers because they had no skills. She was actually fortunate to be here, as dreary as it looked.

We managed to see as much as we could of a former prison from the outside and then headed north for the Holiday Inn Express in Antrim for our last night in Ireland.

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