Saturday, April 25, 2015

ANZAC Day and My Dad

It's ANZAC Day in Melbourne. It's wet and cold.  I know I'm not the only one who has been a bit overwhelmed by all the focus on ANZAC Day this year.  The media hype has been unrelenting.  And you know what, I don't like it.  I don't like war.  I particularly don't like that I'm made to feel unpatriotic because I don't get teary when we talk about Gallipoli.

I am saddened by the lives that were lost at Gallipoli, all those young men heading off into a horror that they did not understand, fighting in a country that we had no quarrel with.  Killing tens of thousands of Turks for no good reason and losing thousands of young Australian lives.  Causing untold misery to the people left at home, the mothers, the fathers, brothers, sisters and lovers.  Causing long term trauma to the villages and local Turks who were witnesses to the carnage.

And for what?  Because some hare brained politician thought it was okay to send soldiers off on some wild goose chase to forge a path through the Dardanelles.

From Dad's photos from the Middle East

However, ANZAC Day is an important day in memory.  My Dad always marched whether it was in Melbourne, Albury or wherever he happened to be at the time.  As a kid I would go and stand on the sidelines and watch.  As I got older often Mum would take Dad into the march then come to our place and we'd watch it on television and wait for the 2/23rd to appear.  Once we saw Dad marching, medals clinking, surrounded by his mates we'd turn the tele off and enjoy ourselves until it came time to pick Dad up from he reunion.  He'd always be quite happy, a bit pissed as were most of his mates and we'd bring him home, often dropping off a few of his mates on the way.

He loved coming back to our place, loved it best if it was a cold day and we had the fire going.  He didn't talk much about the war but he'd give us the goss on all his mates and sing some of the old songs - my favourite was:
 Around her head she wore a yellow ribbon, she wore it for a paratrooper far far away, far away... 
Yes he started off his war service with the paratroopers, but for some reason he couldn't leave with them so he joined the 2/23rd an infantry battalion based in Albury.  He went to the Middle East and was in Tobruk.  I am lucky enough to have some letters that he wrote back to my Mum while he was over seas.

HIs letters show me a man who was a bit bamboozled by it all, who didn't cope well with regimentation and who maintained his sense of humour all the way through.

My favourite bit in one of his letters is about a time he'd been injured:
I happened to be in the vicinity of one of Jerry's shells when it came over.  Thought i had joined the Air Force for a while, but when I came down realised I was still in the footsloggers
He goes on to talk about his recovery and the hospital then says:
When you are in the trenches you hate the Ities and Jerrys like poison, but once you capture them or they surrender you feel quite sorry for them.  I came down in an ambulance from the front alongside a wounded Itie.  A few of my cobbers had been killed the night before, and although I felt like shooting the Itie at first, before we got back to hospital we were quite good cobbers.  Couldn't understand a word he was saying, but we had some fun.  He used to call me 'Tom Mix' don't know why though.
Seems to me to sum up the craziness of war, fighting someone who has been designated an enemy for whatever reason, then realising that really they are no different from you.  

Anyway Dad. thought of you today, the fire's going there's a leg of lamb in the oven and I wish I could share it with you and Mum.  I'll have a glass of port afterwards to toast you and try to avoid all the reports of today's tourist invasion of Gallipoli.

My brother Harold, has sent me this history after reading this blog and responding a question from one of his daughters. Both he and my other brother Frank were in the army at different times.  So this gives the correct history, interesting how I got things quite confused......

He was then around (when a photo my niece asked about was taken) 24 or 25, in 1940-41 He was a temporary sergeant in 2/22nd Battalion when he was sent to Portsea to do a PTI (PHYSICAL TRAINING INSTRUCTORS), when he returned his Battalion had left and he was transferred to 2/23rd Battalion reserves, and as there was no posting for him as a Sgt, he became a private again and went to the Middle East with a large group of reinforcements. He arrived after the Tobruk siege but took part in the pivotal battle of El Alamein, and many other important battles. He was wounded twice in the arm, but after treatment in field hospitals, returned to fight.
He travelled to M East on the Queen Mary and returned on the Queen Elizabeth. 
He then volunteered for the newly formed Paratroopers, and after training in NSW was based at an airstrip In FNQld at Mareeba. His Paratroop Battalion, was held there in reserve if the Japanese had landed, but they were not needed in combat. After Mum (Nana) was attacked late at night in wartime Melbourne he was transferred back there on compassionate grounds. They were married on 6/5/1944 almost a year before I was born. Dad had a clerical posting in Melb until he was discharged.


  1. I've sent you an email updating Dads WW2 history/timeline


    1. and realise it wasn't Tobruk, it was Alamein, there are two telegrams with the letters one from Jim, his brother telling Mum dad had been wounded (they weren't married then), the other was from Nan also letting Mum know he'd been wounded. They were addressed to her at the Buxton pub where she was working.