Sunday, April 27, 2008
ANZAC DAY 2008
Waking up at 3 am on ANZAC DAY watching him get ready for the ANZAC Day March had been a tradition going back as far as one could remember. The once a year suit, the searching for the impossibly large array of medals to be pinned onto the left breast pocket, the Pacific Star, the Africa Star and all the others representing battles, trials and tribulations long forgotten and in many cases never even heard of by most of us.
By 5am, we would be looking on, as he would be standing in the cold pre-dawn light exchanging muted greetings of other like dressed, once a year comrades. Occasionally a blustering laugh would be heard as some nearly forgotten story of the past was regaled in all its absurd glory. Just before dawn a solemn silence seem to overtake the clusters of people standing in barley visible groups who had formed as if by some secret order that only those who had served understood. As the night fell away and invariably in light rain, the prayers for the fallen would begin at the site of the places of remembrance at thousands of places across the Australia and the world.
Later that day, they would march in memory of their friends and people who often were only forgotten names but vividly remembered faces and places. By mid morning, rum and coffee was being shared and stories expounded amid great gales of laughter, which was our indication that it was time for some of us to head home a leave the old warriors to their tales. Sometime that evening he would return usually more than a little drunk, but we were already asleep.
As we got older we noticed the laughter was not as forthcoming as it was in the past. One night when I was older, I heard him arrive but it was a quiet homecoming. I got up and walked outside, turning on the lights.
I saw something then that had never been seen before in this rock of man. He had been sitting in the dark with tears rolling down his face, quietly I asked him what was wrong, for a long time he just sat there with his hand tousling my hair. Finally he shook and said in a wavering voice I had never heard before:
“There was a man whose name I cannot even remember. We were in the Alexandria Army Hospital in the Middle East, he was a soldier who had suffered horrific combat injuries but by far the worst was the shrapnel had ripped the lower part of his face and jaw clean from his body. He could not talk, and could not eat and must have known he was going to die far from his home. In constant pain, all we could do was try and keep him calm as we waited for him to die.
For over a week, expect for those miracles times he would lapse into unconsciousness, this poor bugger would thrash and moan. Every day I would be forced to restrain him by holding his arms to his sides. He would try and force my arms to the ground at the sides of the stretcher and I would hold him down day after day. I shouldn’t have but I did swear at him and curse him as we struggled.
The one day, during one of our struggles, he just stopped trying and passed away.
Later that day, the nurses came and cleaned the stretcher and sheets, as they moved the stretcher. We noticed a cardboard box. We opened it and it contained over a dozen unopened letters from his wife and family.
Apparently these letters had been following him around the battle field for many months and finally caught up with him in the hospital. Some over worked orderly must have placed them under his stretcher at some time before he had time to read them to the soldier.
All this time, I had fought, restrained and cursed this poor bugger, all he was ever was trying to do was reach the letters under his bed. To hear from his loved ones before he died.
We did open one of the letters you know; his wife had enclosed pictures of his baby son..
Jesus..boy..All the poor bastard wanted was to see his son and I stopped him!”
Disclosure..The above is a true story..The man carrying that burden for 60 years was my father.