Hear a war widow's journey through depression, war and coronavirus

AFTER THE WAR: Gwen McIntosh and Geoffrey O'Brien at Gwen's family home 'Claremont' near Laggan in 1949. Photo: supplied

AFTER THE WAR: Gwen McIntosh and Geoffrey O'Brien at Gwen's family home 'Claremont' near Laggan in 1949. Photo: supplied

IRIS Waters was in the paddock setting rabbit traps for dinner at the age of three while her young mother made clothing from cotton flour sacks for the siblings.

"Mum would bleach them but if the writing wouldn't come off saying which type of flour it was she would embroider all over with flowers and things," Mrs Waters said.

That's how it was through the Great Depression living out bush at Taylors Flat.

Gwen O'Brien, nee McIntosh, aged 16, waved goodbye to her 19-year-old brother as he stepped off the platform at Crookwell Railway Station with the 128 other local lads enlisted to stop Japan invading Australia in WWII.

HAPPILY MARRIED: Iris and Allan Waters on their wedding day. Photo: supplied

HAPPILY MARRIED: Iris and Allan Waters on their wedding day. Photo: supplied

Her husband Geoffrey, who she would meet several years later, had left four months before.

Daisy Arnall also said goodbye to the husband she knew as he would return a different man after losing his brother in New Guinea.

"He said to the others (soldiers), 'Where's my brother? I can't see him anywhere.' They told him to look down the gully and that's where he was," Mrs Arnall said.

RAY OF SUNSHINE: A young Daisy Arnall dressed in a floral flock. Photo: supplied

RAY OF SUNSHINE: A young Daisy Arnall dressed in a floral flock. Photo: supplied

Today, she is 93, Mrs O'Brien is 94 and Mrs Waters is 89.

These war widows have survived tough times and say we'll survive the current pandemic but only if we stick together.

"People really did look after each other back then and I think that's what we're going to have to come back to," Mrs O'Brien said.

Before the war, she remembered local families exchanging food and services without money ever changing hands.

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT: Iris with her great-grandson Harry at Christmas 2019. Photo: supplied

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT: Iris with her great-grandson Harry at Christmas 2019. Photo: supplied

"They reciprocated by going back when it was shearing or lambing time. That was how country people lived. I guess that was the depression years," she said.

Powdered egg and a limit on petrol, so you couldn't use your car, were part of the rations Mrs O'Brien also recalled from the depression.

"Things like that we tolerated because we knew it was necessary," she said.

After the war, Mrs Waters worked the land at Biala for 34 years with her husband Allan, and Bevendale before that.

She said it was important to stay occupied during difficult times.

"We have to make do with what we've got," she said.

OUT AND ABOUT: Daisy Arnall (right) with friend Marie Cosgrove at Crookwell Country Women's Association Day Branch. Photo: Susan Reynolds

OUT AND ABOUT: Daisy Arnall (right) with friend Marie Cosgrove at Crookwell Country Women's Association Day Branch. Photo: Susan Reynolds

"Like the war, you never knew what was coming and now you don't know who's got what or who's coming to see you, but I'm very lucky because I've got good neighbours. I've still got friends and my daughter is wonderful."

Mrs Waters said her husband was once quarantined with measles.

"Allan was at home but got out of bed and dressed to go to his grandma's funeral. His sister said, 'Where do you think you're going? We've got 6000 men out there!' She actually strapped him to the bed so he couldn't get out!" she said with a laugh.

All three women say they've been deeply disappointed by images of people panic-buying at the supermarket.

"We are a selfish generation, looking and grabbing for ourselves like that," Mrs O'Brien said.

Used to living on bread cooked twice a week, fruit from the family's orchard and homegrown vegetables, Mrs Arnall said even when you could go to the supermarket, you got only what you needed.

"The depression was much worse than what it is to me now because I'm getting looked after here in the home," she said. "I've got as much as I want to eat."

It was the camaraderie that remained between soldiers that lifted their husbands' spirits upon return.

"You couldn't penetrate it. They were so pleased to see each other," Mrs O'Brien said.

"He used to get calls well after the war from people he was in the army with from WA and VIC," Mrs Waters said.

One of Mrs Arnall's favourite memories was of when she and Raymond went on holiday with his war friends and their wives.

"We've got to stick together," she said.

"That's what'll see us through," Mrs O'Brien said.

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