Some fragments for Anzac Day — in lieu of commentary. For reflection.
THE LANDING By a Man of the Tenth
Come on, lads, have a good, hot supper—there’s business doing.” So spoke No. 10 Platoon Sergeant of the 10th Australian Battalion to his men, lying about in all sorts of odd corners aboard the battleship Prince of Wales, in the first hour of the morning of April 25th, 1915. The ship, or her company, had provided a hot stew of bully beef, and the lads set to and took what proved, alas to many, their last real meal together. They laugh and joke as though picnicking. Then a voice: “Fall in!” comes ringing down the ladderway from the deck above. The boys swing on their heavy equipment, grasp their rifles, silently make their way on deck, and stand in grim black masses. All lights are out….
Kenneth Ross WHITFIELD (b.1897 d. 1967) m 1920 Esma H. EAST (b. 1895 d. 24 Mar. 1971)
That’s my Uncle Ken, whom I remember well.
In 2023 the start of the Shellharbour Dawn Service is a sign of an Australia that is coming to terms with all its histories — of our wars including those at home, of all our peoples, and of our personal stories. See this symbolised so beautifully here!
Judith Wright (1915-2000) is one of my favourite poets. “The Company of Lovers” was written during World War II and I think captures the feel of the time as many lovers were separated by the war. It is not one of her better known poems.
We meet and part now over all the world; we, the lost company, take hands together in the night, forget the night in our brief happiness, silently. We, who sought many things, throw all away for this one thing, one only, remembering that in the narrow grave we shall be lonely.
Death marshals up his armies round us now. Their footsteps crowd too near. Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart and for a time I live without my fear. Grope in the night to find me and embrace, for the dark preludes of the drums begin, and round us round the company of lovers, death draws his cordons in.
On the other hand, the following poem by Kenneth Slessor is — or used to be — very well known.
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs The convoys of dead sailors come; At night they sway and wander in the waters far under, But morning rolls them in the foam.
Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire Someone, it seems, has time for this, To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood, Bears the last signature of men, Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity, The words choke as they begin –
‘Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil Wavers and fades, the purple drips, The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions As blue as drowned men’s lips,
Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall, Whether as enemies they fought, Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together, Enlisted on the other front.
If you go here; you will find an account by my mother of her feelings during the war years and a letter my father wrote in 1945 from Papua.
14390 Cpl. Whitfield J. N. Group 833 RAAF Pacific 16-2-45
My Darling Wife
I came to work this morning thinking it was just another day, another hot steaming day, after a terrific thunderstorm last night. About nine o’clock a chap came in with some demands that had to be attended to and on dating them the realisation struck me, this was no ordinary day to me, but a very special one, the anniversary of the day when I made my very bestest pal in all the world mine for keeps, for worse or better. You notice I put the “worse” first, because I am sure many, many happy days lie ahead for us. Yes, we have had more than our share of worries & I have at times very selfishly added to them, sometimes quite unintentionally, because there really wasn’t any need for you to worry at all. I’m a bit of a tease really.
Anyway I promise you darling that I will try to make you just as happy as ever I can. I only hope that I am able to maintain a decent living standard for you & the kids. You are entitled to the best of everything by virtue of the fact that you have always been such a loyal pal always to me. If I can I will try to get some other sort of business going as well as the building so that we will be secure in our old age. Anyway dearest one I will try to do as you wish me to in everything. I have caused you enough heartaches. I can’t always help this of course, but I fully intend to try and make up for any short comings I may have. I can never repay the debt I owe you for giving me three such lovely children. I love them very dearly, and am exceedingly proud of their nice appearance & manner.
Dearest girl, I can only pray that we are spared to celebrate many anniversaries — together, as indeed an anniversary should be celebrated. If, as I hope, I shall be with you next wedding anniversary I will see to it that I have some leave to take & we will go away for a few days together. I am sure someone would take responsibility of the kiddies for just that few days. We could book in at one of the mountain hotels. I will send you home the money as an anniversary present in a week or so & you can save it on one side as a special little cache for no other purpose than to give us our certainly overdue holiday away together. [This did not happen until about 1951, and we kids went as well!] Do not put it in the Bank and then you will not notice it as drawing it out & leaving a depleted sum. I suggest that you put it in your special “precious box.” My! I am looking forward to it, even now, all that long way ahead.
I am sure [my mother’s then unmarried sister] will look after the nips for us, if she isn’t married. … I wonder does she know what she’s missing. [She married in the early 1950s and subsequently gave birth to twins.] To me marriage is worth any sacrifice, having to do without some things that do not matter very much in any case, & learning the hard way self restraint & moderation certainly enriches the character of a person (particularly a woman) [Ouch!] and makes her something understanding–self-sacrificing–grasping eagerly every chance to go out and enjoy life with her loved ones. Yes, I think she becomes, provided she is in the first place a true & not a fair-weather friend–an exalted and beautiful creature. Darling a chasing after rainbows is a horribly empty sensation that causes one to be a frustrated cynic, taxing the patience and at times occasioning the dislike of everyone.
Darling, I am glad you married young, I should have hated you to be like that, instead of sweet & gently, and yet I think I would have been patient and understanding.
Anyway, dearest one, you have with you on this our wedding day my every best love and a very real longing to be with you. I think maybe you’d better be extravagant & use up some of those “packets”. I can sympathise with you–& wouldn’t blame you in the least.
Well, all the very best of luck darling, from your loving Husband
It was their tenth anniversary, that one.
Seems he may have, though you will note several months elapsed from the end of the war in August to the time of discharge, some of which I think was spent at the Repat Hospital.
When Dad finally did get home my first words to him (so I have been told) were “Get that man out of here!” I was used to the family group you see in the photo above and “Daddy” was either a photo or some guy in an air force uniform that I didn’t really know. Apparently I had a bad habit when I was taken to the city of addressing random men in RAAF uniforms as “Daddy” — and this was a touch embarrassing when the random man had his wife or girlfriend with him.
Here I am at that time in the city. I had my own air force uniform, as you may see,
#Strongwomen. "I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful - for all of it." Kristin Armstrong