THE little town of Nundle must have had quite an impact on British World War II veteran Gerald Purnell.
Because 67 years after his first visit, he’s returned – from halfway around the world and at the age of 87.
A resident of Penarth, in Wales, he arrived at Tamworth Airport yesterday and was met by former Nundle, and now Tamworth, man Tony Fogarty, whose aunt is the reasonMr Purnell has travelled so far.
Their story is one of the power of friendship – the impression a young Australian nurse made on a young British naval officer in Sydney in 1945.
His ship, the HMS Indefatigable, had been attacked by a Japanese kamikaze bomber in the northern Pacific and made its way to Sydney for repairs.
The personnel were given leave and Mr Purnell met Betty Fogarty, a nurse at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
He and his mate were keen to see the Australia that existed outside the city and she suggested they spend a few days with her family in Nundle.
The boys didn’t have to be asked twice and caught the train to Tamworth and were picked up at the station by Tony’s father, Lance.
They spent a memorable few days, before returning to the city and their ship.
Mr Purnell returned to Sydney after the war to visit Betty before going back to Britain where he
married and started a family.
In 1995 he led a contingent of former personnel from the British Pacific Fleet to Sydney for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
He made an address at the official proceedings which was televised and seen by Betty.
When he returned home there was a letter waiting, from Betty, and they have kept in touch ever since.
Betty had hoped to make the trip back to Nundle with Mr Purnell but at the age of 95, recent ill-health prevented it.
For Mr Purnell, the next few days will be full of memories, at the centre of which will be the Peel Inn, where he is being hosted by the Schofield family for this visit and where he enjoyed a beer or two – or maybe three – all those years ago.
He said his other enduring memory of Nundle was being picked up from the pub one night by Lance Fogarty and being driven around the paddocks of his parents’ property in search of kangaroos, which neither British lad had ever seen.
“Do you know we didn’t see one,” Mr Purnell laughed yesterday.
During his chat with The Leader, he also happened to mention a rather famous acquaintance, Prince Philip, who also served with the British Pacific Fleet and who Mr Purnell has got to know in his role as chairman of the association devoted to these veterans.
But that’s another story ... and we’re fairly sure there’s many more where they came from.