Tag Archives: war

1901. Some things don’t change

There can’t have been that many in the world with the name Clauderic Winslow McPherson; let alone many with that name living in the little hamlet he came from. Strawfordton-on-Tiddleswing had decided to erect a monument to honour the local folk who had died in the war. There were three names, and Clauderic Winslow McPherson was one of them.

The trouble was that Clauderic Winslow McPherson wasn’t dead. He certainly got the surprise of his life when he saw his name. As the only survivor of the village folk who had gone to war he was asked to lay the wreath when the monument was declared open. The mayor pulled the rope that released the flag that covered the engraved names, and there it was: Clauderic Winslow McPherson.

“But I’m not dead,” said Clauderic Winslow McPherson.

There was much muttering going on among the village aldermen, and among the considerable village crowd of twelve for that matter.

“Who does he think he is? He must have got his wires twisted. That fellow can’t be Clauderic Winslow McPherson. Clauderic Winslow McPherson’s name is engraved on the monument and therefore he is dead.”

Clauderic Winslow McPherson was arrested and thrown into the local jail cell. Impersonating a war hero! Goodness me! The level some people descend to. Clauderic Winslow McPherson was kept in the jail cell. It was a lot cheaper than having to redo the monument. And the town council was a bit short on the funds, which is why they kept Clauderic Winslow McPherson’s war pension that came in every month.

Some things don’t change.

1899. Digital poppies

Yvette came up with a brilliant plan, although it may not have been as brilliant as one might like to think. She had come across a website that listed the fallen dead in various wars. If you clicked on a button on the page dedicated to each fallen soldier, you could leave a digital poppy.

Yvette chose the First World War. Some soldiers had a single poppy left, others had several poppies. One or two, here and there, had dozens of poppies. Most soldiers however had none. These soldiers had been forgotten. There was no one left who remembered them; no one to be grateful specifically to them for their sacrifice. Yvette knew exactly what she was going to do.

Methodically, because she was a careful and methodical person, she would make her way through the pages dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the First World War. If they had no poppy she would click on the button to show that the world still cared.

It was early August. If she hurried she could give each a poppy by the 11th of November; that was Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day. Oh, but there were millions of names! Yvette quickly discovered that there were too many for her to say “Thank you” to.

“This year,” thought Yvette, “I shall simply do those whose family name starts with an A. Next year I’ll do the B’s.

Remembrance Day came and went. She was nowhere near finished; not even halfway through. Not even a quarter. “I know,” thought Yvette, “I’ll get it done by Christmas!”

Christmas came and went. “I know,” thought Yvette, “I’ll get it done by New Year!” New Year came! Would you believe! Yvette had finished the As! She finished at 11 o’clock on New Year’s Eve!

Midnight came. It was the New Year. The computer program deleted all the poppies left in the past year. This was a New Year. The leaving of poppies would start from scratch.

1800. Army training

Today is ANZAC Day in New Zealand and Australia. It’s the day when we remember those fallen in wars. Ironically, the date is on the day of the greatest failure and loss of life in our common history: Gallipoli. Since I’m writing this reflection a good three and a half weeks before the posting date, goodness knows whether the pandemic will allow any public commemoration of the day. The day usually starts with Dawn Services at various cenotaphs.

Also, the number of this posting is Story 1800, and as with most “round numbers”, I usually relate something more personal – if I can think of something (which I just have!)

When I started high school (it was a boys’ boarding school because we lived too far in the countryside to travel daily to a high school) it was not that long since the end of World War II. Hence, as part of the school curriculum, there was military training. We called it “Barracks”. Every Wednesday there would be “Barracks”. And then, twice a year there would be “Barracks Week”.

I hated it.

We were issued with “Sandpaper Suits”, i.e. shorts, jacket, and beret, made of rough fabric, which with all the marching simply sandpapered your groin into oblivion. Every night the dormitories reeked of “Brasso” as everyone polished the brass buttons on their uniform.

I hated it.

My paternal grandfather (Boer War)

We would march and march and march. It was drill drill drill. The high school was just down the road from the country’s largest military camp, and army personnel would come to drill us and shout at us and order us hither and yon. Sometimes we seemed to stand still in the hot sun for hours. I learnt to obey everything with half an ear but my mind retreated into a world of make-believe. If I spied a lone distant house on a hill I would invent its rooms, its view, its story. Or if I saw a bird I would fly to its nest and concoct its life.

My maternal grandfather (World War I)

During Barracks Week we were given guns and had to ponce around with them in various positions. Then we were taken “down to the river bed” where we shot at targets all afternoon and (I would imagine) I mainly missed.

I hated it.

Occasionally we would decorate ourselves with flora and crawl through muddy creeks and prickly hedgerows to fire blanks at opposing army personnel. It was to turn boys into men.

I hated it.

My mother’s brother (World War II) – he didn’t come back

Once a year we would go on “Bivouac”. We were herded into army trucks and transported deep into the mountains where we would set up camp in the middle of the forest, sharing with another the single canvas ground sheet (one sheet on the ground and one above). From there we would eat our rations and set a watch all night because the army was going to attack. And attack they always did, usually around 3 in the morning.

I hated it.

A school photo but I’m not in it! – shows building, rifles, uniform

Barracks continued for all five years of high school (in New Zealand high school roughly goes from age 13 to 17). It was discipline without mercy. I guess if I had been called up for war I would have gone, but the military experience taught me one thing:

to hate myself.

Today as we remember the “fallen heroes of the past” no doubt some liked the compulsory military experience and some did not. Personally I feel most for those who died fighting for our freedom…

… and hating every minute of it.

Some graves at Gallipoli

1721. Funny old lady

Rue was known simply as “The funny old lady who lived down the road”. That’s because she lived down the road and was a funny old lady.

No one knew her very well, but she seemed pleasant enough when greeted in passing. She lived down a fairly long driveway. It would have been a good ten minutes’ walk. Rue would wander down it every day at the same time (never on a Sunday) to check the mail box on the side of the road. As far back as anyone could remember (and that would be a good forty years) she had never missed a day.

A good forty years ago she had lost a son in some war or other. Which war it was no one really knew. He hadn’t been in the war for very long when he was killed. He’d never written home. Somehow Rue hoped he had written and the letter was “lost in the mail”. Sometimes a letter can do that. But lost for forty years? So everyday deep down when she opened the mail box to check she always thought of her son.

It was a momentary thing. It was a brief daily ritual. But today was different! There was a letter there! But it wasn’t from her son as such, but almost. It was the ticket to go see his grave.

1562. Knock! Knock! Knock!

Old Mrs Hilda Pinkerton may have turned ninety, but she was no slug. She was as sprightly as a lively fifty year old. She drove her own car. She did her own shopping. She cleaned her own house. She volunteered twice a week to deliver Meals-on-Wheels to people around the town. But there was one thing she wouldn’t do. She wouldn’t knock on a door. No doorbell, no delivery. She simply would not knock with her knuckles. Knock! Knock! Knock! Anybody home?

She herself had a button to push at her front door. It would ring most pleasant chimes in the house. How lovely to get visitors! Talk! Talk! Talk! Could Mrs Hilda Pinkerton talk! And the kettle was always hot in case someone visited. But if someone knocked on her door she wouldn’t answer. Never. Never. Never.

It had been well-nigh seventy years since Mrs Hilda Pinkerton had physically knocked on a door. Since giving up such a practice she had married twice, had six children, been widowed twice, become a grandmother and a great-grandmother, and thrice won a potted plant and a large jar of marmalade at Bingo.

She could still hear it. In her head. That knock on the door seventy years ago. Knock! Knock! Knock!

Knock! Knock! Knock! It was the policeman come to tell that her brother had been killed in the war.

1469. Why should I have to suffer?

Hello. I’m here to collect for the Red Cross. They say you have a son roughly the same age as my son. Well – I’d like to say just one thing. Why should I have to suffer because my son was killed in the war, while your namby-pamby son sits around doing nothing? I hear he doesn’t even have a job. You obviously brought him up to be lazy. Like mother like son I always say. There’s a reason why lazy slobs like your son don’t get out of their cosy house and do something positive for their country. That reason is always the parents. No, I have no qualms in telling it the way it is to your face. My son died so your son could enjoy his sloppy life in peace. It’s not fair. There’s no justice left in the world.

Who’s this coming into the room? That’s right, don’t introduce me. Continue to play the rude housewife. I didn’t know you had an invalid in a wheelchair in your house. Does he live here? Who is it?

1464. War families

Enid’s husband had died in 1910. In the traditional, old-fashioned way, Harold ran the farm and Enid ran the household that included a son. The farm was the sole source of income of course, but it was a partnership. One spouse couldn’t do without the other.

When Enid’s husband died fortunately her son, Jack, was old enough to run the farm on his own and do all the heavy work. It was a partnership as before, although Enid was inclined to help more on the farm than she had previously.

And then Jack was called to war.

Enid ran the farm as best she could, but it wasn’t good enough. She sold the farm for a song. The farm wouldn’t take care of itself while she waited for a millionaire to come along and buy. She went and lived in town, but had no experience of the work force. Her skills lay in other areas. She couldn’t find a job.

And Jack didn’t come back.

It’s not only soldiers who make sacrifices in times of war.

1446. Just in case

The Second World War raged in Europe. Although she lived way away in New Zealand, she had three sons fighting in the war. One was in Turkey, she believed, and two in France.

Every Wednesday she would walk to town. It took about three quarters of an hour to walk there. While there she would get a few things for the coming week. She looked forward to the return of her sons. Besides, her knees were not too good, and she could do with a hand to carry the groceries!

Then she got a visit from a nice policeman who came to say that Sammy had died in Turkey. And a man in the army wrote a beautiful letter which made her cry even more. She continued of course to walk into town every Wednesday. How she longed for the war to be over.

Having the name of Catharyina Dodunski-Shultze meant she had to report to the Government office in town every Wednesday. They had to make sure. Just in case.

1400. Spring Equinox

It is just two weeks before the Spring Equinox. Today it’s raining and blowing a gale. I wonder how best to “celebrate” this blog’s 1400th story.

Putting on a warm pullover and raincoat I went up the little hill at the back of my house where there are the ruins of a home. The derelict house was built in the late 1800s. Growing in the field around the house are clumps of now wild daffodils and snowdrops, all in full flower. The field was once a garden. There is a grove of camellia trees in bloom, red and white. The abandoned kitchen cupboard hides a few old preserving jars and a starling’s nest.

The farming Hamblyn family used to live there. It was there that Charles and Mary Hamblyn began their married life in 1887. The excitement of breaking in new land! From wild forest to farm! From flooding quagmire to dairy cows! It was there they had their thirteen children. Two children died in infancy, but by 1905 there were eight healthy sons and three healthy daughters! Here’s a little information on some of them…

William Charles Hamblyn: the oldest son, a cheese-maker at the factory down the road, left for France on the 9th December 1916. Killed in France on the 9th of June 1917.

James Edward Hamblyn: the second son, a farm hand, left for France on the 13th April 1916. Missing, later declared killed in France, on the 9th September 1917.Henry John Hamblyn: the third son, a farm hand, left for France on the 5th of March 1916. Missing, later declared killed in France, on the 3rd of October 1916.

Thomas Day Hamblyn: the fourth son, a farm hand, left for France on the 9th December 1916. Killed in France on the 9th of June 1917, the same day as his oldest brother.

Richard Ernest Hamblyn: the fifth son, a farm hand, left for France on the 18th September 1916. On the 28 November 1917, declared “No longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on active service”.

Frederick Leonard Hamblyn: the sixth son, a farm hand, left for France on the 28th September 1917. On the 4th of October 1917, classified as injured with an “indeterminate disability”. The authorities believed that four brothers killed and another ill was enough.

Before the two surviving veteran sons could return home, father Charles and youngest brother Osborne died back home in the 1918 flu epidemic.

I wonder who planted all those daffodils and snowdrops? Who established the grove of red and white of camellias? Was it Mary the mother, or the sisters Winifred, Bessie and Letitia? Perhaps it was their brother, Harold, who never went to war, or Richard and Frederick who came back. Perhaps it was the children themselves in an earlier time. Perhaps it was their father. Maybe even grandchildren.

Few remember the family of course. But there’s a remnant of memory in those flowers each year at the end of winter. In the field next to the old house a cow has had a calf. It’s a girl! It is two weeks before the Spring Equinox. It’s not a platitude to say new life begins to spin out of control.

Poem 87: Gone but not forgotten

I saw my name on a war memorial
It wasn’t me of course
Same name but someone else who was
Gone but not forgotten

I fell between the cracks of wars
A rather rare occurrence
Else it would be me who was
Gone but not forgotten

They drafted names for Vietnam
Picked by random birthdays
Those born one day after me are
Gone but not forgotten

As each war comes and each war goes
And parents siblings fade
Dead soldiers are remembered in a generic sort of way
But as individuals no one would have a clue who the hell they were
They’re gone and long forgotten