Tuesday, January 20, 2009

27. Lisa and Mary-Em

The family reunited and growing, circa early 1947
Clockwise: Frank, Lisa, baby Frances, Mary-Em

Photo Source: Frank Samethini Collection

On December 9, 1945 our ship arrives at Balikpapan, East Borneo. The place looks simply devastated with only a few brick buildings standing, with here and there a group of galvanised iron Quonset huts and army tents. The result of MacArthur's incessant air-bombing. After disembarkation we are put up in transit camps to await further developments. Whatever they are going to be is the least of my problems. I am possessed by one overruling thought: to return to her as quickly as possible. This, I soon discover, won't be easy, as all means of transportation by air or by sea are fully booked. Only the officers, of course, among us and those with strings to pull have their families returned to them. All the others are left wandering aimlessly about, peering for the hundredth time at the list of new arrivals or looking with green envy at the radiating happiness of newly reunited couples.

One day, almost in a casual manner, Roel finds his wife among a boatload of passengers from Java. He disappears with her, quickly telling me to mind my own business and to leave him alone for at least a week or two.

Then, one morning, I run into an old school friend, George Cooke, who is in command of a B-25 bomber squadron maintaining a high priority courier service with Batavia. When I tell him about Lisa and the little girl in Adek camp he offers to smuggle me on board the next flight, but I must get a leave pass first. This I get and soon find myself airborne and full of nerves, with my best uniform on. During the three hour flight I think of nothing but our meeting again. How would she react, would she still love me as much as before? The mere thought of seeing her again makes me feel hot and cold all at the same time.

We land and I take a cab. After paying the driver I alight and walk towards the gate of Adek camp.

There, just outside the entrance I notice a familiar figure in a cotton dress, a blonde and - Yes! It's her! There, the centre of all my longing, my dreams, she is not flying into my arms with billowing hair streaming after her like in a Warner Brothers movie, but just there stooping down to inspect a bunch of bananas or something. "Oh, hello, there you are." No outburst of joy, no squeak of delight, just a simple "Oh, hello." Like that night a century ago, when she said, "What took you so long?"

After we kiss, only briefly, she says, "Come, I'll show her to you."

In the dormitory, full of talking women and men and screaming children, she leads me to a little girl with a pretty face and lots of curls, who says, "Hi, Daddy!" Oh my God, I never knew a man could be that bursting with joy and still survive! Every night she had shown my picture to little Mary-Em to say goodnight to.

We are married these fifty years now, with four married daughters and nine grandchildren. But sometimes when I see her walking in the garden or sitting next to me with some knitting work - as old as I am now, I feel that little pang and know that I love her as much as when I was young and saw her standing in that wading pool, so long, long ago.

Frank and Lisa, circa 1990
Photo Source: Han Samethini Collection

The journey of Frank Samethini: A list of the POW camps with dates of arrival.
Recorded by Frank on the inside cover of his wartime Bible
Image Source: Frank Samethini Collection


At the end of a long and eventful life, Frank Samethini died in Narrabeen, New South Wales on 3 June, 2000.  His beloved Lisa followed him on 27 October, 2010.  They left behind a family grown to four daughters, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.  On 4 June, 2011, a windy Saturday that would have been Frank and Lisa's 70th wedding anniversary, their ashes were taken to Bondi by their daughters, Mary-emma, Francesca, Christine and Sandra, and scattered into the sea.  It was in Bondi, long ago under the pine trees, that Frank began to write his book.  His story had come full circle. 

Click here to go to the Appendix

Return to Home Page