The Hooper Legacy in Darra: From Wartime Correspondence to Community Cornerstone

Alan and Nancy Hooper, then a young couple during World War II, transformed their wartime correspondence into a thriving business, Hooper’s Supermarket, located in the heart of Darra. This family store served the community and celebrated the couple’s journey from the turmoil of war to peace and prosperity.

Love and Letters During War

Alan’s wartime saga began in the dense jungles of New Guinea, where he served with the 1st Papuan Infantry Battalion (1PIB). Under the command of Major William Watson, a New Zealander, the battalion was composed of Papuan privates, non-commissioned officers, and Australian officers like Alan. 

Allan Hooper in the war
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

During the advance of the Japanese forces, the Papuan soldiers and their allies played a crucial role in conducting scouting and surveillance missions. Their exceptional natural bushcraft skills proved to be a significant advantage in these operations.

Allan Hooper in the War
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Alan’s letters home provided a vivid description of the challenging conditions and the camaraderie amongst the troops.

Nancy’s Homefront Challenges

Back in Brisbane, Nancy O’Neill, then Alan’s fiancée, faced her own set of challenges. Only 19 when she bid Alan goodbye, Nancy quickly adapted to wartime life by joining the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). 

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Her role took her to various locations, including the RAAF Sandgate Base and the No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Evans Head, New South Wales. Through her service, Nancy developed a robust independence and a deep sense of duty, traits that shone through in her letters filled with news of home and encouragement.

The Power of Correspondence

Alan and Nancy were married in June 1943, two months after Nancy was discharged from WAAAF. They tied the knot while Alan was on leave from his duties in New Guinea during World War II.

Throughout the war, the couple exchanged letters to stay connected despite being on different continents. These letters were more than just affectionate gestures; they were lifelines that connected their hearts. They shared over 500 letters, detailing their wartime experiences, from deepest longings to daily hardships.

Alan’s correspondences were notable for his insightful observations during critical military operations and his candid reflections on the camaraderie and loss amongst his comrades.

One poignant anecdote shared in a letter dated August 1942 recounts Alan foraging for food with a U.S. aircrew whose plane had crashed nearby. This showcases his resourcefulness and the unexpected friendships forged in the face of adversity. 

Similarly, Nancy’s letters often contained light-hearted yet vivid descriptions of her life in the military, from losing her wedding rings in the surf to her joy at receiving replacements sent by Alan.

Allan and Nancy Hooper letters
Photo Credit: Nancy’s letter to Allan
State Library of Queensland

Allan's letter to Nancy
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Legacy of Love and Service

Returning from the war, Alan and Nancy wasted no time starting a new chapter. They pooled their resources and opened Hoopers Supermarket in Darra. This business was more than just a means to an economic end; it fulfilled their dream to create something lasting and beneficial for their community. The supermarket quickly became a local hub, where stories and support were as plentiful as the goods on the shelves.

Nancy’s untimely death in 1975 from breast cancer was a profound loss for Alan and the Darra community she had come to cherish. However, the legacy of the Hoopers’ love and joint venture persisted.  

The correspondence between Alan and Nancy Hooper is now preserved at the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Published 15-April-2024