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Celebrating 100 years, Abel Seaman John is thankful for sunshine, singing and sharing stories from his long life

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10 September, 2020

John Parkinson, one of our residents at BaptistCare Kularoo Centre, has had a very interesting life and recently celebrated his 100 Birthday on August 30, 2020.

He was born in England in 1920, one of nine children. His father was offered a posting in Kurri Kurri Australia, moving the family there when John was three-years-old. John has fond memories of growing up with his brothers and sisters on their farm raising pigs.

John said his mother was an amazing cook, and remembers, “All the good food that stopped when she died. I miss her cooking and remember it well.”

In 1948, John married Patricia Porter and together they had six children, John, Ann, Mary, Joe, Richard and Robert. They bought a house in Earlwood and lived there for over sixty years. John has 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. He’s lived in BaptistCare Kularoo Centre for four years, since August 2016.

John was an Abel Seaman in the Royal Australian Navy for twelve years including during the Second World War, but he also worked managing a wine bar in North Sydney, was a handyman for a film studio and worked as a Government cleaning inspector before buying his own cleaning business which he ran after the Second World War.

Of his time at sea, John says, “I have many stories from that time and love to share them. Ask me about the whale and the night we found out the war was over.”

We asked John to share that story with us, and he has, in his own words:

“It was a quiet night, you could feel the rhythm of the blackened ocean, rising and falling under you. For a time, the only sound was the cycle of waves and foam that crashed against the ship, keeping safe the souls who dutifully guarded their piece of sky. The men on duty were rarely alone on deck, most often holding company with an added mate or two – the war was like that.

The calm was broken as an aircraft thrust through the night sky above us, and, to the relief of the men, it was one of ours. A message was sent to the ship’s radio officer that a small sonar contact that was detected ahead of us. This prompted the men into action, as it meant a possible submarine. The adrenalin raced through our veins, the sound of the ocean’s breathing was replaced by the scrambling of bodies as we quickly readied for duty, and then silence before engagement.

The gunners were almost exclusively responsible for the naval artillery, as well as instructing and commanding their crew in their firing. The decision was swift, we had a target and it was on. The deafening raw of the guns sounded, followed by blinding flashes, the air around us was now thick with the stench of gunpowder. We knew we had hit our target by the water displacement. As we edged closer to survey the damage, we observed the ocean turned red with blood and it was then that we saw the carnage. We had hit a whale, not only hit but blown it apart. It was terrible, I felt terrible and we all sensed the reprimanding that would follow.

It was some two hours later, with the sun scarcely at the horizon, we heard the whistle to scramble to attention. We had not only killed this whale but blown it apart, the men and I were expecting an Alpha Charlie when the Captain, in all his whites, appeared on deck. There was a short pause, then he addressed the men.

“I wish to inform you, that we have official notice, that in the early hours of this morning, the German High Command, and German heads of State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe, the War is therefore at an end.”

There was a deadly silence, no one moved or even breathed, it seemed, for as many minutes. Then suddenly, I watched one man run to the corner of the deck where he had kept his sack, he rummaged desperately for pencil and paper to write to his mother, to tell her he was coming home. Another man, not ashamed, crumbled to his knees and began to sob. As the tears flowed down his cheeks, he looked at me and I witnessed the beginnings of a smile that evolved into the most generous grin. Some of the men were laughing, some hugging and dancing. I only stood for a short time in reflection before I joined them”, John shares.

John has always loved singing and poetry and used to love crosswords and reading, before losing his sight. Music has been a lifelong enjoyment for John and he continues to love and enjoy music and singing. On Anzac day every year at Kularoo, John recites the Ode at the Anzac Day services.

Coming up to this milestone birthday, we asked John a few questions.

Happy Birthday for the 30th of August. What are you most looking forward to about turning 100?

To be alive.

Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself to try and behave.

You served in the Australian Navy in World War II – what was your job and what can you tell us about that time?

My main job was climbing up the mast – it was called the “Crow’s Nest”. I had binoculars and if I saw anything suspicious – like enemy ships – I would relay that back to the captain.

What advice can you give to others about living a long life?

To always behave, be happy, always laugh and sing.

What are you looking forward to, for the coming year?

To stay alive.

What is your favourite part of your day living at Kularoo?

To be cared for, take in all the good things that happen, music and singing. To be put in the sunshine and loving the happiness on a weekend with the staff.

What would you like for this special birthday?

I’m looking forward to ice-cream cake and to look back on my life.

Thank you, John, for your service to our country and for sharing some vignettes of your amazing life with us. We wish you a wonderful 100th birthday! Happy Birthday from your BaptistCare family.