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SPOTLIGHT: BOB AND MERLE

Their marriage was very happy, but each retained keepsakes of their former lives.

Signalwoman Merle Downie spotted her sweetheart, Private Robert ‘Bob’ James, when the ‘Glorious 9th’ Division—heroes of Tobruk and El Alamein—made their victory march through Melbourne on 31 March 1943. Merle ran alongside Bob for the length of Swanston Street and—at a rendezvous later that evening—determined they would one day marry.   

A year later Bob James was in New Guinea trudging through torrential rain towards a RAAF signals tower. In his hat, three eggs—a bribe for the signal’s telegraphist. At RAAF headquarters, Melbourne, Signalwoman Merle Downie received a telegram which read: ‘Yes or No?’ Merle replied: ‘Not on duty’. A few hours later, Bob repeated his question. Merle’s answer? ‘Wait.’ 

Bob and Merle married at Toorak Presbyterian Church on 6 January 1945. Their marriage lasted the rest of their lives and was very happy, but each retained keepsakes of their former lives. A prayer card addressed to Bob from ‘Minnie’ was a treasured keepsake from his time in the Middle East. Merle, meanwhile, kept a stack of letters from boyfriends along with a note explaining the tragic fate of each.  


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Reviewed 01 December 2021