Marriage

Captain Bobbie Roberts, as she was then, had been sent from the 2/2 AGH to the Heidelberg Military Hospital in Melbourne for the period 8 September to 8 December, 1944, to give classes on blood transfusion. This overlapped with my spell at the Hall Institute. Almost immediately after I arrived in Melbourne, I proposed to her in a little room at the Heidelberg Hospital. Since she was a Roman Catholic and I was an atheist, I was given a lecture by a Catholic priest . Three days later, we were married in a side chapel of the Catholic Cathedral, with a former laboratory assistant of mine, Lieutenant Mavis Freeman, and Bobbie’s closest friend, Nurse Reuben Warner, as witnesses. Major Kevin Brennan, an officer in Keogh's section at Victoria Barracks, kindly let us live for three weeks in his house, which was vacant at the time. Reflecting the religious intolerance then common in Adelaide, my mother was initially very upset that I should marry a Catholic but, after they became acquainted, they became very close friends. My father, on the other hand, wrote her a warm letter, saying that ‘Life is too short, and too full of pitfalls, to waste any opportunity of happiness’. I returned to Atherton on 24 November, Bobbie went to the LHQ Medical Research Unit in Cairns on 8 December.

This Unit had been set up by Brigadier Fairley to test antimalarial drugs on human volunteers and Bobbie had already worked there, as had several physicians at 2/2 AGH. She was the only person locally available who could carry out direct blood transfusions from artificially infected volunteers to other, uninfected volunteers. She did this by using a device invented and given to her by Dr Julian Smith, who was father of the senior surgeon of the 2/2 AGH. She also assisted Major Josephine Mackerras with entomological work. I used to drive from the Tablelands to Cairns every weekend and stay with her in one of the local hotels. We studied Ideal Marriage by van de Velde (one of the few sources of such information at the time) to learn more about sexual pleasures. Colonel Talbot, the Commanding Officer of 2/2 AGH, very kindly offered us use of his holiday home at Yeppoon, then a beautiful and almost uninhabited settlement on the coast, for a honeymoon. We spent a blissful few days there, and then I received a message that I had to be in Townsville by 6 April to embark

Figure 3.3. Photograph of Bobbie Roberts in 1942, by Julian Smith

Photograph of Bobbie Roberts in 1942, by Julian Smith

on the General Butner to go to Morotai, in the Halmaheras. Just before I embarked I met with Bill Keogh and he told me that Burnet intended to offer me a job when I got out of the Army.

In June 1945, Bobbie received the award of Associate of the Royal Red Cross. Her citation reads:

WFX1536 Captain Ellen Margaret Fenner

Sister Fenner commenced duty with 2/2 Aust Gen Hosp and embarked for overseas service on 30 Apr 40…At El Kantara she did outstanding work as Sister-in-charge of acute surgical wards and blood bank centre. She assisted the medical staff in carrying out research work and her work at all times has been brilliant and untiring.

On return to Australia she carried on with the work in the blood bank when the hospital was established in Queensland. In early 1944 she was detached for duty with a Malaria Control Unit. She showed exceptional ability for this kind of work and her work was outstandingly good. Because of her work with this unit it was requested that she should be posted to the LHQ Medical Research Unit where she is at present serving.