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Albert Hutter Perry (1908-2006)

Albert Perry, described as 'one of nature's gentlemen', of Brisbane, Australia, died of natural causes 5 February 2006, two months short of his 98th birthday. From what was known of him, he had a wry sense of humour and would have been the last person on earth to be described in his death notice as having passed on. Given the modest opinion he held of himself, he would have appreciated being reported as having 'popped his clogs' or 'fallen off the twig', but one may be sure that he would spin in his grave or have his scattered ashes disappear in a devilish whirlwind at the use of that maudlin euphemism 'passed on'.

Born in London, 28 March 1908, Albert was a mere six-year old at the outbreak of hostilities that became the Great War of 1914-1918. His father, Henry Perry, was a soldier in the Great Little Army as British Expeditionary Force (BEF) despatched to France to help stem the first assault of the Kaiser's Army. Within two weeks, days ahead of the ignominious retreat from Mons, Henry was dead, killed in action. Three years later, Albert entered the Duke of York's School. The date was 27 August 1917. Albert was nine and a half years of age and, in his own words, was 'now ready to take on the Boche, probably biting him on the knee!'. The school, at that time, had been evacuated from its Dover premises and was occupying temporary quarters in Hutton, Essex.

Company houses had no names at that time. They had alpha designations the same as companies in a regular battalion of the line. Companies were also under the command of sergeants, not sergeant majors. Assigned to A Company (re-named Marlborough House in the mid-1920s) where one Sergeant Magee welcomed him with the loudest bellow Albert had ever heard. In 1917, the war was still raging, which meant that training in soldierly skill and duties took precedence over education. Uniforms had to be kept spic and span, boots spit and polished. Kit inspection was a regular feature of school life and physical exercises conducted to build young healthy bodies. The bugle was the school's tannoy (loudspeaker) system. It blew for meals, parades, sports, school, and bed with Sgt. Magee adding his voice for emphasis to compete with the bugle.

Not having dived into water before, Albert's first experience left an indelible impression on him. He recorded elsewhere that he was of two minds: his and the sergeant-major instructor's, who decided for him. 'Gerrup Dare,' he said in the dulcet tones used by Sergeant-majors. Albert thanked him for that because swimming became his favourite pastime. Indeed, all the sports taught, swimming, boxing and football – would form a large interest in his life. In one boxing bout, he was matched with a boy named Nuttall. 'We fought,' he wrote 'and that's Nuttall. He broke my nose.'

The war to end all wars came to an end in 1918, but Albert Perry in a phrase, soldiered on when the school returned to its permanent Dover premises. They had happy days and sad days, none as bad as when the school was hit by the 1918-19 flu epidemic from which some boys died. One funeral from the school was to a burial ground at Deal. Albert records that the coffin was draped with a Union Jack and mounted on a gun carriage. Then, with the school band at its head and the drum and fife band bringing up the rear, the entire school marched the eight miles to Deal.

When Albert left the school in 1921, his medical discharge certificate recorded that he had no medical problems. It also carried the notation that he 'would make a good soldier', but it seemed with the war to end all wars over, a military establishment would never again be needed. As a result, his thoughts of a field marshal's baton disappeared with the morning dew, evaporated. He spent the next couple of years with the Christian Brothers before retiring home to a room next to the coal hole.

At that time, radio telecommunication was all the rage. It caught Albert's imagination, so he indulged himself building and operating wireless fretwork crystal sets, which might have helped him get his first job a British General Electric, Oxford Street, London. One day, reading a newspaper on the bus to work, he read a column headed Big Brother Movement, which fired his enthusiasm, so immediately work was over, he ran to Australia House to register. A short time later, with the ten pounds he had saved for the fare, he was booked on the SS Moreton Bay bound for Australia. His elder brother Jack in the Merchant Marine, working for the British-India Line, took him to Tilbury Docks where his ship was patiently waiting to take him to the other end of the world. It headed for Melbourne, Australia. The year was 1926 and Albert was 18 years of age.  

Arriving as the last horse tram system was closing down, Albert, one of a party of 29 boys, travelled to the centre of Melbourne where their respective Big Brothers had gathered to meet them. Albert's big brother was a Mr. Page, who took him to his house in Kew and told him that he'd be working Ryan Brothers at Alexandra in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. He travelled to Alexandra by rail, then horse and buggy to Thornton and the farm of the Ryan Brothers.

Albert had no complaints. His new home, a hut at the back of the farmhouse, had a bed made of a door balanced on kerosene tins. Still, after all the travel, sleep was no problem. Next morning was the milking hour. The herd of Jersey cows, knowing Albert was their new chum, thought kicking over the bucket was good fun. Brothers Peter and Mick Ryan were an odd couple. Mick was a farmer, but not a lover of animals. A bad temper was his norm whereas Albert got on well with Peter. He enjoyed the farm work until one day he was out with Peter erecting fencing. His job was to dig the holes with Peter there to check the depth and place in the poles. On this particular day, Peter stooped to check the depth, but never got up again. Albert walked for mile in search of help. He found someone who loaned him a horse to ride back to the homestead. After that incident, his future with smiling Mike was limited, so he got another job with a wheat growing operation at Charlton in the North Western area of Victoria. There, his employers, big Jim and his wife, worked him hard for one pound a week. He thrived well enough, but never got over Peter dying beside him in the bush. He was by that time 19 years old.

One pound pay a week didn’t make for exceeding happiness, so Albert returned to Melbourne where he met Charles Hart, one of four partners, Englishmen, working in the fledging wireless business. The firm was Langford Pickles Pty Ltd, which ran a number of retail shops. Albert began working for Langford Pickles 30 shillings a week and, in time,  was earning more in commissions than his weekly wage, so they made him a Director. It was a less expensive proposition for the firm. The year 1929 was the beginning of the great depression, but the company was not at a loss to survive. It found it could diversify into tobacco growing and so, to raise capital, they sold the retail premises and Albert bought his first shop. It was an astute move.

Albert retired in 1960 and moved to Queensland, where he began a garden-nursery business, which is still going and managed by his daughter Anna. On 5 February 2006, he died at the Ritz Centre on Hope Island - which would have appealed to him – south of Brisbane in the State of Queensland. He was cremated and his ashes scattered on Mount Tambourne, which overlooked the Pacific Ocean at Surfers Paradise.

Opening bars of 'Play Up Dukies!'; words written by Colonel George Nugent, Commandant (1913-1914), which Albert Hutter Perry would have been among the first to sing

Editorial note: With acknowledgement to Brian Marley, HGS of the Downunder OBA, for the article he published in a newsletter. This provided the biographical material on which this tribute to Albert Perry is based.

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