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How war love letters brought these two teenagers together

Their love was just blossoming when he was sent to fight in the Vietnam War but letters written from the trenches kept them together. Here's the story of Penny and Peter Upton.

 

Peter Upton, 73, Taigum

We lived in the same area in Toowoomba and were in the same church group so I knew who Penny was. I was chuffed when Penny asked me to accompany her to the Debutante Ball. I was 17 and she was 16. Those events were a big deal so I bought my first ever suit for the occasion. We've been together ever since.

 

Penny and Peter Upton at The Village Taigum. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Penny and Peter Upton at The Village Taigum. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

I was about 20 when I got the call up for National Service. I was based in Australia the first year, mainly between Singleton, Sydney and Melbourne. I'd come back home to see Penny occasionally but didn't get much leave. In 1967, I was sent to Vietnam.

It was pretty rough out there. You're on edge all of the time because you don't know what is going to happen. A few people I know got killed and a lot of people were wounded. Conditions were pretty horrific. It was 35C everyday and so wet. If you got wet on a Monday, you were still wet on the Friday. We had Armed Forces Radio which was American and we'd play it through the transistor, we'd get bits of information about what was happening in the outside world but not much.

I used to write letters to Penny as often as I could and she would write to me. I just kept telling her I loved her but never wanted to say much else. I didn't want to worry her. I just kept things light like; 'we went to a village today and the kids were nice' or 'it was wet today but we're fine.' We had to do things that weren't very nice, that's war and the world we were living in but I never wanted to let her know the danger we were in.

 

 

Penny and Peter Upton at The Village Taigum. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Penny and Peter Upton at The Village Taigum. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

I loved it when I got mail from Penny. I remember the day she sent me a brandy cake. It took over a month to arrive and when it did, it was like pudding with fluid in it. We poured out the brandy and drank it, then sat around the tin with spoons and ate the cake. While I was away, I didn't want to get engaged or make any plans in case I didn't come home at all. I had some injuries but came out relatively unscathed, I was pretty lucky. As soon as I'd finished my two years' service, the first opportunity we had, we got married. We've been married now for 51 years and had four beautiful children together. Penny is a great woman. We get along famously. The secret is to never stay mad at each other for very long. I'm a very lucky man.

 

Penny Upton, 73, Taigum

It was 1962 and all the girls were making their debut. I knew Pete through the church youth group so I asked him to be my partner. Over five decades later, we're still together.

Early into our relationship, Pete got called up for National Service.

It was a really difficult time. Everyone was waiting to see if their numbers came up, it was like a raffle you were hoping you didn't win.

When Pete left, I was a hairdresser so I just kept myself busy and tried to stay positive. The first 12 months he was in Australia and he came home a few times. But on February 1, 1967 they sent him to Vietnam.

 

 

Penny and Peter Upton at The Village Taigum. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Penny and Peter Upton at The Village Taigum. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

I wrote to him a lot but mail took so long and he could never say much because it was censored. For some reason, I always had this feeling he would be alright. But sometimes, it really hit home where he was. I remember getting a black and white photo from Pete in the mail and he'd written, 'some of the guys out on patrol.' I could barely see their faces, they were hiding in thick jungle. It was a reminder of the conditions they were in and what they had to trek through to hide from the enemy.


Living in Toowoomba, we didn't have a lot of news coming in so I never knew what was happening. It was awful. I decided to make Pete a fruit cake to send in a tin for his birthday. I put lots of rum in it but just before I posted it, I'd read the cakes being sent over were going mouldy. So, I poked holes in the cake and poured in brandy to save it going off. When it finally made it to Pete, he loved it but said they drank it there was so much brandy. As a couple, we thought a war was tough enough to experience together but over three years ago, Pete had a stroke and that was just as scary. He was totally paralysed on one side, we thought he might be paralysed forever. It was a time for all of us but thankfully, he's OK. After the stroke, we wanted to move somewhere convenient and closer to family. Two years ago, we moved to The Village at Taigum and we love it here. Pete and I have been through a lot together but we've had a great life. He is such a wonderful man. He's so easy to get along with and I couldn't imagine life without him.



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