ERIC (ROCKY) ROTSEY A "Pom" in the R.A.A.F. - And An Old "Gunnie" Mate
"Rocky" was shipped to Australia as a young lad under the Dr Bernado's scheme, to avoid the "blitz" in the 40's. Separated from family, he never saw them again. As a teenager he left Dr Bernado's and secured employment on various country properties. His mode of transport was pushbike. With his worldly possessions strapped to the bike, he managed to cover a lot of country Australia.
It was during employment in the Dubbo area that he made the decision to head for the "big smoke" of Sydney, and eventually found his way to a R.A.A.F. recruiting office. In 1952 he was posted to 78(F) Wing at Williamtown, to join with the contingent bound for the Mediterranean area. His mustering was Armament, thus we came together at the commencement of a near 3 years close association.
In no time at all "Rocky" established himself as a popular member of the armament team. This affable, always smiling bloke, with the 'Tommie" accent, given to moments of little Glancing steps, which he called his "soft shoe shuffle" and which became his signature amongst the "troops".
The 78 Wing Tour of Duty on the island of Malta and various other localities on detachment, lasted 2 years 8 months. As young chaps in our early 20's it was quite an experience, and of course, many were the "experiences" we could relate. The one I single out for mention is the occasion when "Rocky", Pedro Maher and self left captain Caruana's for a "freshen up" stroll, only to run foul of a tattooist in "Straight Street'. We each had the same tattoo on the same arm (and never felt a thing).
Towards the end of our Tour of Duty "Rocky" applied for discharge to return to U.K. and try and find any family who may be there. His subsequent endeavours proved unsuccessful and he related later how he felt more alone then, than ever. Not since boarding ship in 1940 did he have such a 'lost" feeling. Whilst with Dr Bernado's he had a family of sorts and his years with 78 Wing in Malta were more "family" than ever he had known. He obtained employment, married, and set about creating his own family and always had intentions that they would come back to Australia one day. This "wish" was never realised as the family grew and their wishes had to be recognised also.
From the period 1955-19871 lost contact with "Rocky". As the "Wing" disbanded in 1955 we virtually all lost contact with each other when posted to the many areas throughout the Nation. It was not until 1987 when earnestly searching for members to convene a reunion in Newcastle that it evolved that Martin ('Possum") Parkes had Rocky's address, and so, he and self re-established correspondence from that time, 32 years had gone by.
His letters were always full of the wonderful days in Malta -the great "cobbers" he had there. He regarded his time with 78 Wing as the highlight of his life, he regretted ever leaving the R.A.A.F., and his failure to return to Australia. "The greatest cobbers a man could ever have", he wrote' "I was proud to be a 'Tom" in the R.A.A.F.".
Some of you may recall the telephone call from Rocky in UK, to the Workers Club in Newcastle, on the Saturday night of our reunion -he just wanted to wish us all -"a happy time".
He was retrenched by "British Rail" in 1991, after long years of service, he then decided to fly from U.K. to Canberra to participate in our 1992 Reunion "I just wanted to be with the "lads" one more time", he said. Following the reunion he accompanied me back to the Gold Coast where we proceeded to do all the "touristy things" and traverse the S.E. Qld area, culminating in another highlight for him when we visited "Pedro Maher" (who had been unable to make it to Canberra) in his retirement town of "Esk" in the Brisbane Valley. After 37 years we three sat in the bar of his local watering hole, met the patrons and mine host, and enjoyed our own little reunion over a few days. There was nothing to rush us, time we had plenty of and we enjoyed each moment.
Although - when leaving Pedro's Ranch one night to stroll back to our accommodation, "Rocky" stepped off the concrete slab of the carport, slid down a slight embankment into a barbed wire fence, becoming quite entangled in the process. Pedro and self stood laughing at this unfortunate occurrence, whilst Rocky was hollering "Will you get me out of this o.'xz-!o wire". As I leaned down to offer him my hand I too slipped down the embankment. There we were, side by side, hung up like two sheep in barbed wire, and Pedro's laughter, now increased in volume, ringing in our ears, (sober? -of course we were, Sir).
Next day we were covered in cuts and scratches and had to suffer the indignity of further "barbs" coming our way from the patrons in "the local", as the story became known, never the less Rocky thoroughly enjoyed his time in Queensland, and it was with regret that we said farewell when the time came for him to return "South" to the care of Bluey Hodges (cuts, scratches and all) where he assured me he spent a rather more sedate time, and enjoyed Blue's marvellous hospitality.
A few words of Rocky's love of Australia. Back home in U.K. he had, for a long time, driven his "local" drinking mates just about "nuts" with his tales of Australia and his days in the R.A.A.F. -he said they hardly believed him sometimes.
He flew the Australian flag and, in the middle of his front lawn he had built a large fish pond shaped to the map of Australia. In his study, the walls were adorned with photos, souvenirs, maps -of Australia. When he left to return to U.K. he carried more souvenirs and lots of photos for the doubting Thomas's in his 'local" and to show the family. He also took with him his "wonderful memories" (his words) of his time here, of his cobbers, and of his possible last look at this land he loved so much. Unbeknown to him, he also took back with him the emotional feelings of quite a few of us -as we realised it was probably -"last time" -his whole visit was another "highlight" -for him and a marvellous fillip for his mates.
Rocky had travelled back to Malta a few times over the yeas, always visiting the cemetery and Max Hennesy's grave, leaving flowers and signing the Visitors
Register on behalf of all members of 78 Wing R.A.A.F. -he stayed in 'Birzie' at the Sea Breeze and retraced steps over ground covered by he and his "cobbers " all those years ago. It was on such a trip that he met "Carmen", told his family he was going to live in the sunshine and marry Carmen in Malta.
Unfortunately, and most sadly, ill health befell them both, not all that long into the marriage -he with terminal cancer, she with major heart problems. Rocky returned to U.K. to avail himself of medical treatment there. Carmen was to follow when her health problems permitted travel.
Back in the U.K. his children rallied to him and were absolutely marvellous to him in their care, concern and attentiveness.
From the onset of the cancer our correspondence became more frequent and as the word circulated to you members, so his mail bag began to fill to a degree that he at times wondered how he would get around to answering you all. However he loved to receive your letters -he told me how a letter from Australia had often made a bad uncomfortable day into a much more bearable one.
Rocky's son "Maurice" also said that it was a great palliative benefit when the "postie " arrived with your mail. Rocky in fact became a bit overwhelmed at times. He wrote of the most enjoyable feelings Australian "cobbers" mail evoked in him. Not only the amount of mail, but from whom it came, and the content.
He wrote of the bonds existing in 78 Wing as evidenced during his visit in 1992, and the subsequent support accorded himself, of the spirit still persisting across all ranks today, all these years later.
In particular he pointed out in what other "outfit" in any service, anywhere, would you find Senior Ranking Officers corresponding on a personal basis with very Junior Ranks? In this he believed "78 Wing" members were unique. He wrote of his pride being the recipient of such considerations.
As his illness insidiously progressed and he wrote of weakness, weariness, pain, and yet hope. He wrote of the immense solace gained from correspondence received from "Padre Jim", who had kept up a mail contact with him, sustained over a long period.
On one of his better days, he wrote of "Padre Jim's" kindness and concern accorded him - "a good old Catholic boy" from our "Anglican" Padre - (Rocky had always displayed a dry sense of humour) and when he informed me of a gift of appreciation he was sending to "Padre Jim" -a book entitled: "John Paul II -The Man and The Century" - "a good old Catholic read" - well I did wonder somewhat. However, have since discovered it was his genuine intention to say thank you to someone who had "gone that extra mile" on his behalf, and maybe done the unexpected!
On the 23rd July as I came in the door laden with our shopping, the phone rang and my peaceful day was shattered, Les Reading with the news that Rocky has slipped away in his sleep on 20th July. His son Maurice had difficulty finding any phone numbers but thankfully found Les's on his letterhead. Padre Jim had also been informed and we were soon conversing as to what we could do, having phoned Maurice and ascertained the funeral was on 27th July.
The ongoing ministry of Jim Payne to 78 Wing Malta Members moved into gear, culminating in Jim's son, Jeff, and a S/LDR Garry Downes attending the funeral - Jeff representing 78 Wing and Garry representing the R.A.A.F. in full uniform -the Rotsey family were delighted and Maurice said his "Dad" would have been so proud. The only floral tribute, from very many, which was placed on Rocky's coffin throughout, was from the "Members of 78 Wing Royal Australian Airforce".
Look -I have said this before -and I reiterate -thank the decision, and the day that Jim Payne became our "Wing Padre" back in 1952.
It just didn't happen like that -for his son Jeff and S/LDR Downes to be present to pay last respects to our old mate -phone calls, faxes etc, re-arrangement of business commitments by Jeff, travel to be there by he, and Garry from "Cranwell" -hours on the road. Floral tribute, arrangement and delivery, liaison with R.A.A.F. authorities - both at home here and in U.K. Over 24-48 hours - the Payne family, over thousands of kilometres distance, conversed and organised.
We, who would wish to see all of our members suitability receive "our" last respects, owe "the Payne family" on this one -they did "Rocky" and "78 Wing Malta" proud! What can one say - "thank you - well done" seems so very inadequate. Perhaps Maurice Rotsey said it for all of us -"My Dad would have been so proud".
As well as "the Payne family's" efforts, there was one other "contributor" involved in obtaining the attendance by S/LDR Downes, thank you also, "Sir".
"Carmen" -Rocky and Carmen sent me a video tape of their wedding in Malta. He joked at his attire worn -full dress tails -all in white. "I looked like the Easter Bunny" he wrote. When he became ill and hospitalised Carmen, although unwell herself made the journey twice daily, involving three buses (and those same buses chaps -air conditioning au natural -holy pictures and a loud horn -backed by a prayer) and she never missed a visiting hour. When Rocky had to leave and return to UK, he was a very unhappy man. He wrote of Carmen's devotion and kindness and of his anxious wait for her to join him in U.K. Unfortunately and most sadly she didn't make it, not even to his funeral, due her own poor health.
Rocky Rotsey was a gentleman through and through. He did not have a normal family life as a young man. He was largely self-educated and made a "cheerful best" of his lot. He accumulated friends very easily with his affable and sincere nature. He became a dedicated sentimentalist in his latter years, particularly where you and I and "the Wing in Malta" were concerned. I am proud to say -"he was my friend".
Initially it was intended to write these words for just his "Armament mates" - because I probably knew him as well as anybody, and wanted to do it for him and us.
In a change of mind it will now be sent to all of you who corresponded with him, to those members who continually sought from me information of his ongoing condition. Perhaps there are matters herein of which you were unaware, but essentially I wanted you all to know of the esteem I held for this man -as a person and as a mate.
Rocky Rotsey was laid to rest on 27 April 2000. He is survived by his wife Carmen, son Maurice, daughters Maureen and Wendy, and grandchildren Joshua, Hayley and Rebekah.
Over a sustained period many of you kept up a supportive correspondence with him, you sent him little gifts and generally by your kindness conveyed to him your caring concern for-him. ---
Having reviewed his correspondence to me these past few months he made mention several times -his gratitude and sometimes embarrassment at his wealth of riches with so many great "cobbers" -your mail truly did mean so much to him, and to all of you I now express my gratitude too - for being so persistently genuine caring "family members" towards him -sometimes it's not easy to find the words, writing to a terminally ill friend, but you did so!
I would now like to relate to you a very happy occurrence for him during his last days:- Rocky wrote that his daughter Maureen was expecting her first child - his third grandchild and he dearly wished to be around when the day came - little "Rebekah" was born just days before he went to sleep. He was granted his wish -he saw the "little one".
When writing to his children last week, apart from expressing the condolences of all members, I informed them of my personal intention to forego any period of lugubrious mourning, for his and my relationship would shun that. Miss him -yes for sure, but also I intend to concentrate on the happy days and occurrences -on him as he was here with us in 1992, and quietly celebrate those aspects of our relationship and time together - it is what he would want from me. Rocky was a "character" I could never forget and lives on in my memories. May he rest in peace!
"Think where man's glory begins and ends and say my glory was, I had such a friend".