Thomas Mann once said
War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.
I don’t much like ANZAC DAY.. too many bad memories.
He, like alot of young men of the time, changed his surname and added a year or so to his age, just to enlist. He achieved this, but lived to regret the decision for the rest of his life.. You see, it was like this…He, along with many thousands of others had no idea of what they had let themselves in for… We can’t even begin to imagine!! There are countless stories of this horrific time in our history. Nightmares that lasted a lifetime.. Families torn apart by the ravages of war.. How many times have we heard this? Thousands!!
Every year at this time, these memories are relived over and over.. My grandfather married a young lass from Victoria. Like lots of young blokes at the time, they married quickly.. I once asked him why.. His answer..”We were in Love” Stupid of me really..of course they were in love.. He with the adventure and a married man to boot.. My grandmother, put through a living hell.
He went off to foreign shores, she not knowing if he would ever return. He was one of the lucky ones…He did return, but his life was never to be the same.. My recollection of him was that of a “hard bastard” with a deep dark secret, one I never really understood in my growing years.. His medals are confined to a display in an army museum and that’s where they will stay. He wanted no reminder of that time..
He moved to New Zealand and was given a government ballot farm.. 100 acres of prime farmland. He worked it hard, raised a family and tried to put the past behind him.. He could not! Every year at this time, he was reminded of the brutality of Gallipoli, the landing, the slaughter, disease and infection, mud and trenches and “Johnny Turk”
As the years passed, his body slowed, but his mind never did…He never forgot! Every ANZAC day he cried.. I learned this from my father, something I could not understand as a youngster, but in later years, came to know the reason. His tears were filled with sadness and joy. Sadness for those he left behind. Joy, that he was wounded and his hell was over.
I met some of his mates… Hard men, scarred for life because of that horrendous time. Many had turned to booze to help them overcome their youthful adventure, sometimes described as worse than hell itself.. We all have our own stories from family and our own reflections of ANZAC DAY.. The forging of mate-ship between equal men from both sides of the Tasman, fighting for their King & Country. A bond that is still very much alive today and will continue long into the future…
It brings me to a story about a forgotten group of heroes, not from Gallipoli, but from a little known island in the Pacific.. It’s a story, of 17 men who were beheaded on October 15, 1942, along with five other white men on Tarawa in what is now Kiribati.These men were Coast watchers. They had all been tied up to coconut trees in front of Commander Keisuke Matsuo house on Betio.
What happened at around 2pm on 15 October 1942 is not clear. Some say a US warship shelled the island and two aircraft attacked Japanese ships in the lagoon. One of the prisoners may have waved to the planes.
One Japanese soldier stepped forward to the first European in the line and cut his head off. The rest followed in quick succession. They were New Zealanders. Nothing was found of these dead men..
The Americans erected a small memorial to them. They were pretty much forgotten about until recently… But despite orders not to get close to the locals, the radio operators and the soldiers had relationships with the women of the atolls. And they left a number of children. Discretely the New Zealand Government paid for their education. Their many grandchildren can still be found in Kiribati. A monument was erected – paid for by the Australian Government – but had been unable to fend off continued vandalism. Instead of a solemn moment, it is stained with fish guts and human excrement.
The New Zealand bodies were never found although the US Army last year found human remains that may well be New Zealanders. Testing has yet to be completed to confirm it.
There is one last survivor..John Jones. He is 91, and will lay a wreath, driven by the passion that he is the only survivor of a unique group of men. Jones was also the first New Zealand Japanese prisoner of war.
He doesn’t much like Anzac Day either… too many bad memories.