MY FATHER’S WAR

This is a slightly modified version of a post that I put up on a previous blog. I think it’s worth repeating.

Some years before my father died a document circulated among some of his friends from the Second World War. It was a transcript of a radio programme from early 1943, a series of interviews with members of his unit, including Dad himself, recorded after the horrendous Buna – Sananada fighting in which they had participated. Because of wartime secrecy, the unit – the 2/12 Australian Infantry Battalion – was not identified. Here is a link to the full transcript.  I hope you find it interesting enough to read in full, but just to give you the flavour of it, here is an extract:

The morning of the attack on New Year’s Day we were in position around Battalion Headquarters. About ten minutes after the attack started the wounded started to come in. Well, when word came in that many of the stretcher bearers were wounded, Dave Hodgetts volunteered to go out and bring the wounded in. And I suppose during that day he must have brought in about 30 men. He had to go across a couple of nasty stretches swept by fire but that didn’t stop him. Then, in the afternoon, when all the wounded had been looked after, he carried ammunition to the forward positions, and some of them wouldn’t be more than 10 to 15 feet from some of the pillboxes. He had a cup of tea about six or seven o’clock and then he volunteered to lead a pioneer party out to the forward platoons with stew and tea, and I suppose he must’ve worked until about ten o’clock that night. First thing next morning he was out taking ammunition to the machine gunners. While he was out with ammunition he noticed a wounded man lying out in the open.Two of the Jap posts were sweeping this ground with machine gun and rifle fire and Dave was told he didn’t have a chance of getting to the wounded man. Dave said “Like hell!” and crawled out and got him. Every time he went out with ammunition he went round fossicking to see if there were any wounded left. He worked as no other fellow did. He seemed to be the first man in everything. He was always the first to volunteer for anything.

In a prefatory note to The Middle Parts of Fortune (the best novel of the First World War) the author, Frederic Manning, wrote

…in recording the conversations of the men I seemed at times to hear the voices of ghosts.”

As well as  my father, some of the men interviewed here were intermittent characters in my childhood and youth. It’s a strange feeling to read this text and come across those familiar names and idioms.  They are the nearest thing to ghosts in my experience.

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Leo Gardner (1918-2004)

There are army terms used in the transcript that might be unfamiliar to some readers. “MT” is “Motor Transport”, “sig” is “signaller”, “draw the crabs” means “attract enemy fire”, “C O” is “commanding officer”. If anybody has any questions on this or any other aspect of the transcript I will happily attempt to answer them.

Reflecting on these interviews leads me to try and clarify my thoughts about how we remember various wars and the men who fought in them. That is a matter for a later post. For now all I will say is that I am scornful of ill-informed and mawkish displays of public sentimentality. I can hardly do better than to quote Frederic Manning again.

“War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half of its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.”

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