Hilda is the Ipswich War Widows vide-president.
Hilda is the Ipswich War Widows vide-president. Contributed

The captivating life of war widow Hilda

PAUSING in conversation as a RAAF jet rumbles over her home, Hilda Fixter's eyes light up with pride.

She's an 'airforce girl though-and-through', having raised her family in some of the most war-torn parts of the world in the wake of World War 2 alongside her late husband, aeronautical engineer Stan.

That was close to 60 years ago but Hilda, the Ipswich War Widows vice-president of ten years, still holds the RAAF close to heart.

Hilda was 16 when she met Stan Fixter, an 19-year-old aeronautical engineer in the RAAF.

They were married two years later.

"I went with him for two years while I worked at the bank. We got married because I didn't want to be without him," she said.

"I loved him to the day he died."

 

She was 18 and newly married when she and Stan packed up their lives in Newcastle, NSW and moved to Penang.

It would ultimately mark the beginning of a life filled with adventure, the RAAF, the harsh reality of war, life lessons learned the hard way and plenty of love for Hilda, Stan and their four children.

"I got married at 18 and we got posted to Penang. I had never been away from home. I fell pregnant straight away, because in those days nobody was ever game to do anything because you'd get pregnant so I was a good girl," she said.

"I had to write him a letter and say I think we're pregnant."

Hilda and Stan were in Penang for two years, a time when Communist terrorists were still the norm.

"They were dropping leaflets all around Penang Island asking them to surrender and we had curfews and bars on the windows. The police would come round and shine torches in the window," Hilda said.

"It was a bit scary because I was so innocent, I didn't even know where babies came from. I found out pretty quick.

"Then the little boy, David, came along."

After two years, Stan's role was posted back to NSW in 1961, but Hilda would never get to go home to Newcastle.

"We got posted back to Richmond in Sydney. I came back with one baby and expecting the second. We bought a house in Rooty Hill and had to write mum a letter because I didn't know how to iron his uniforms," Hilda said.

"I had one baby in Penang, one in Penrith and the last two in Ipswich. David was Penang, Michael was Penrith and Greg and Wendy were Ipswich."

The family settled in Ipswich in 1966, where their attention would turn away from the airforce.

Stan left the RAAF in 1974 and worked as a milkman.

"I lived in married quarters and everyone got the German Measles when we were pregnant," Hilda said.

"There was three of us. The babies were all born deaf and when those children became teenagers, they were all mentally ill.

"It affects the brain, hearing and eyes.

"It was that or the Agent Orange in Penang.

"That's what they sprayed in Vietnam.

"It was very cruel, killing the people, but I really don't know."

Stan died of cancer in 1998, when he was 61.

"It was three months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

"I was worried about him because he wasn't very well.

"I made him got to the doctor in the April and he said he had cancer of the lungs. Our world fell apart," she said.

"He always wanted to go to England, Ireland and Scotland so I took him.

"We were back two weeks when he died.

"That's what he wanted and that's what he did.

"We took him in the May of 1998 and he was gone by July 7 the same year.

"It was hard to live without him but I had to get on, I had to look after Greg.

"I looked after Greg for 50 years but it's only now that I have got a break with NDIS.

"They come to his house and give him his breakfast and medication.

"I was doing all this on my own.

"He's a good looking young man.

"He was really tidy boy until he had mental illness, he got that when he was 17.

"He was born deaf but it surprised me when he got mentally ill.

"The NDIS is wonderful, it's the best thing the government has done."

Hilda Fixter and Stephen Harris at Ipswich Cup in 2017.
Hilda Fixter and Stephen Harris at Ipswich Cup in 2017. David Nielsen

How war baby Hilda fell in love

HILDA was the apple of her dad's eye.

The youngest of eight children, Hilda Fixter was oblivious to the war she was born in the middle of, preoccupied by the northern NSW seaside.

Hilda had 22-year-old twin sisters and brothers, 20, 18, 16, 14 and 12 to dote on her.

"My mum was so straight-laced and she wouldn't tell me but my aunty did. One of my 22-year-old twin sisters got married and my mum had a shandy and got amorous with dad and instead of my sister having a baby nine months later, mum had me, she was 42," Hilda said.

"I had a 20-year-old brother away in the war and another brother, he was 18, away in the air force in the Second World War and they came home and found mum had another child."

Despite a family dedicated to the war happening overseas, Hilda has fond memories of growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

"For my 10th birthday I got a Box Brownie camera and for my 12th I got a watch to go to high school. Dad was so proud of me. I was the apple of his eye and I have a lot of his personality, he was a larrikin," she said.

"Dad was in the railway and we got posted to Newcastle. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I had never seen the ocean, I thought it was absolutely beautiful.

"It was very wonderful in the 50s, you could walk to the dances and you were never afraid of getting attacked.

"It was really a good era, with Elvis and the Rock and Roll."

It was in Newcastle where Hilda met, and fell in love with Stan.

"I went to the dances in Newcastle and he asked my girlfriend to dance and she said 'No' because she could smell beer on his breath," she said.

"Then he asked me and when I danced with him I knew, 'I thought this is the man I'm going to marry' and I did.

"I thought he was drop-dead gorgeous. I always had trouble with the women, all his life they were flirting with him.

"He was very, very nice, kind hearted and he wouldn't say a bad word about anybody. He'd do anybody a favour."

Nanna Hilda: 'The world needs more love'

WITH a rich and exciting life story to tell, there is little stopping Hilda Fixter.

The 78-year-old gets around Ipswich in her pink car, appropriately named 'Pinky', with people to meet, things to do and lessons to pass onto the next generation.

Hilda has been the Ipswich War Widows vice-president for 10 years but she also sings in a choir, is a member of the ALP since 1980s, a member of the Leichhardt Community Centre and has travelled much of the world; England, Hawaii, Thailand, Europe, New Zealand and she and Greg travelled to New York.

"This is my life and I love my life," she said.

"I'm proud to be getting old.

"I joined in War Widows in 2000, two years after Stan died. You feel like you're all family because you have the same background. All our men were in the services.

"Airforce people and service people have a bond.

"My husband kept the F1-11s flying so when I see them fly over I am so proud of the young men. It's part of my life.

"I'll be in the War Widows until I fall off my perch."

Every Monday, Hilda becomes 'Nanna Hilda' and teaches Bible studies to primary school children.

"Those little kids just love me," she said. "They call me Nanna Hilda, They put their little arms around me. They're gorgeous.

"The world needs love."

War Widows

  • Australian War Widows Queensland empowers, supports, inspires and celebrates war widows, carers and families affected by defence services.

 

  • The organisation was established in 1947 to protect the interests of war widows and to provide friendship, comfort and support to its members throughout Queensland.

 

  • AWWQ is a not-for-profit public benevolent institution with deductible gift recipient status.

 

  • AWWQ has 26 sub branches and social groups throughout Queensland.
  • For more information see warwidowsqld.org.au.


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