The words of Clive James’ moving poem to his father—My Father Before Me—woke me this morning. As the radio tribute’s final words were spoken, “My life is yours; my curse to be so blessed”, I thought of my own father on this Anzac Day.
#88 Pay Tribute to a Special ANZAC
My dad— Jack— fought in the 2nd AIF 31/51 Battalion, from 1942 to 1945, serving in Australia, on Bougainville Island and Papua New Guinea, and in the Solomon Islands.
He was stationed in Darwin on February 19th, 1942, the day it was bombed, managing to take a photo or two:
and, to compound his bad luck, was on duty in Cowra on 5 August 1944 when over 1100 Japanese prisoners-of-war attempted to escape.
That day is described as ‘the largest prison escape of World War II as well as one of the bloodiest’. It was only when he was dying that my sister and I learned it was an event that had stayed with him forever.
Jack lived till he was 89 years old, but he never celebrated Anzac Day. In fact, he positively disliked it, so my sister and I have a rather different view of it to the rest of Australia.
Certainly, in the ’50s and ’60s it wasn’t an event on the scale it is now. We realised early on that there are some old soldiers who don’t want to be reminded of what they endured.
He wrote to my mother from Cowra, the month before the outbreak, speaking of movements in the camp: “Most of my friends are gone, or else going within the next few days. Gosh … you have no idea how attached we can become to each other, it hurts saying goodbye knowing that we will probably never meet again. That is the only redeeming feature of the army – its remarkable, firm comradeship among men who have been in it for a fair while. They will do anything for each other.”
In a letter he sent to his father-in-law dated 6 September 1945, which we found after he died, he wrote: “Much has happened in the past few weeks, the war is over and we have been told we are the victors. Perhaps we are, I don’t know. Personally, when millions of men are killed, cities of culture razed to the ground and nations ruined economically, I don’t consider anyone to be the victors. Still, if peace can be maintained for the next century or so, this war will have achieved something.”
Unlike Clive James’ father, Dad was fortunate enough to return home safely, where he settled down and worked hard for his family in his own small business all his life.
A good man, a fun uncle and the best dad. I like to think he may have appreciated today’s understated Anzac Day.
They say, Lest We Forget.
Thank you Carolyn. My dad, another Jack, spent his youth and war in the navy. Like yours, he had little time for the kerfuffle of Anzac parades – the sight of families in the dark at the end of their driveways somehow says more about the sacrifices of war.
That makes me feel much better, Marian
Sometimes I wonder if I’m un-Australian for not wholeheartedly embracing Anzac Day. Good to know there are others who think the same way.
My father could also be standing in those photos. He didn’t wear his medal, he didn’t march on ANZAC day but my family still honour and respect the tradition, always sad, yet hopeful for the future.
I’ve just finished researching my father and his story in WW2 in Malaya and then Changi. I appreciate Anzac Day for how it reminds us about the bravery and endurance that people can summon…not only the men, but the women who bore the same hardship. I think of them with such gratitude. I do remember a time when it was not appreciated, when people thought that we were celebrating war, but I never understood that sentiment. Like most families I’ve ever spoken to, the war was never discussed by those who were there. We only find their memories in letters and on their faces when they are together on Anzac Day. I found the “end of the driveway” experience very moving.