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Dad and the Great War
World War I Centenary
Just over one hundred years ago, on 28th July, 1914, the Great War, or the war we now know as World War I, began in Sarajevo.
A week later, on 4th August, Great Britain declared war. That meant that other parts of the British Empire, including Australia, joined in, too.
The War to End all Wars
The Great War, was supposed to be the war that would end all wars. During the period from 1914 to 1918, lands and European economies were devastated and around twenty million people died.
Twenty-one years later World War II commenced and this time over sixty million people died.
Sadly, 'the war to end all wars' did not achieve it's aim, nor did World War II achieve that aim, and somewhere around the world people continue to be killed in wars and skirmishes every day.
Yet, every Christmas we continue to hear the carol, "Peace on the earth, goodwill to all."
That may not occur until all of us unruly humans make peace with God and then with each other. Now that's something we really need to pray about.
The Older Brothers Enlist
In Australia, my Dad's brothers signed up, but he was the youngest and was needed to help his ageing father carry on the family scale-making trade. He had served his time as an apprentice with his father and now knew the business.
Like the rest of the family, being of Welsh and Scottish descent, he was also musical. He and his sisters sang in St. Mark's, Fitzroy, choir. As a young man, he had been practicing a difficult tenor part in the family music room above the shop when a professor of singing walked by. He went into the shop and demanded to see the owner of the voice, the result was a singing scholarship.
Dad also found himself an evening job, as so many men had gone off to fight. One of the big silent picture theatres in Melbourne now needed an organist and that became Dad. It was very dramatic as the organ rose up from a pit below the screen with Dad playing and making all the sounds he could that were needed for the films. He told me his favourite was the galloping horses. The American organ builders came and trained him in how to care for the instrument.
It had been expected that the war would soon be over and the 'boys' would be back home, but that did not happen. People's fathers and sons were being killed and some were coming home ill and maimed for life. So Dad followed his brothers' example and signed up, much to the consternation of his parents and also the theatre manager. People needed the picture theatres to take their minds off the news of the dreadful things that were happening overseas to their loved ones.
The Gallipoli Campaign lasted from 25th April, 1915 - 9th January, 1916. The Australians suffered many losses, but it is also looked upon as a time when Australia achieved maturity as a nation.
The Anzac Book was sent to my Mother by her cousin Cyril, dated 26th June, 1916, not long after it was published.
Have Your Say
Do you think that war is ever good?
Make Much of Your Horses
As scale-making was precision work, Dad joined the Engineers. In France, he found that, along with others, his job was to care for a 'gun.' I think it was a cannon. He had to keep it in good order.
In the mornings he had to be on duty before some of the others, keeping the canon in good order and caring for the horses and harnessing them up to pull the gun.
At the end of the day when they returned to camp, he had to groom his horses. He said that the last order was:
"Make much of your horses."
I was so impressed with this. How important it is to say 'thank you' when a person does something for you.
Learning the Language
At one stage, Dad was billeted with a French family. The mother was strict. She allowed her daughters could go out with the soldiers, but they had to be back at a set hour that the 'boys' thought was unreasonable, but they complied.
When I began to learn French, Dad told me that the first French he learned was,
"VouleZ vouZ promenade avec moi ce soir?"
Dad Joins the Band
One of Dad's stories was the following:
The other lads finished first and Dad began to think that, although he loved his horses, there had to be an easier way to fight this war.
He thought about it and decided that the Band would be a good idea.
Which instrument? He was familiar with so many. Something small, he decided.
The result was that he applied to transfer to the Band and play the piccolo.
"Then," he said, "The band marched the boys out, waited for the day's fighting, and then marched them back again. When we returned I just put my piccolo in my pocket and I was free to go out for the evening with a girl on each arm."
Well, he was in the Band, because I have the photo, but from what I've seen of the Great War, the conditions were dreadful.
What is more, if it was so wonderful why did he have nightmares that Mother had to deal with, even many years later?
The Great War Ends
My Grandparents told me about the jubilant celebrations when the Armistice was announced. The boys came home, no longer boys, but men with memories that were difficult to erase. Well, some of the boys came home. No longer would young folk dance to Paul Jones' Band. Dad's tall elder brother was left behind in France, another brother had been gassed and had to be cared for by his young wife for the rest of his life. In other families their menfolk who returned were wounded and maimed. But we celebrated.
World War II
Sadly, it was not the 'war to end all wars.' Only twenty-one years later, World War II began. Much to his disappointment, my father had been rejected for this war. He was so upset, he just wanted to have a go at Hitler. I went into the kitchen when he was sitting at the table in tears, but was promptly sent out again and pretended I had not seen such a thing. Mother was trying to console him, but I could tell that she was secretly very glad.
Sapper or Snapper?
Anyway, back at school, with everyone boasting about what their fathers did, I said, "My father was a snapper!" "Not a snapper, stupid, a sapper." "Liar! He told me he had to crawl ahead and snap the barbed wire!" Next minute my Welsh temperament reared up and there were fisticuffs. The result of that was that the school decided that I should learn boxing with the boys. That was most unladylike and something girls never did, but I learned to fight and not lose my temper - quite a lesson!
Memories of World War II
At primary school in Melbourne all the girls had to learn to knit. We produced scarves, balaclavas and socks for the forces,and took pride in our efforts. The boys did other things. One that I know of was that they had to make camouflage nets and that it was very tedious. We were all taught how to spot enemy planes and had to practise lying in a gutter for protection if we happened to be in the street when an enemy came. Trenches were dug at the sides of the playing field under the peppercorn trees and when the siren sounded, we had to grab our packs and gas masks from the back of our seats and jog in an orderly fashion out to the trenches and crouch there until the all-clear. I was always getting into trouble at home for getting mud on my school tunic.
Mother joined a group that made and rolled bandages during the day while Dad was off at work. That was probably rather repetitive and boring, too, but they were proud of their efforts.
Dad joined the ARP and became a Senior Warden. Every house had to have blackout curtains and one of their duties was to patrol the streets and make sure that no light shone out.
As time went on, ration cards were introduced. By the time that I reached Grade 5, I found that if I stood partly on tiptoe I could just make 5 feet, so I qualified for the adult issue.
I remember travelling into the city on the tram (I was allowed to do this at age 10, as I wanted to visit the Museum to study the Egyptian mummies). At one end of the tram there was a poster. It claimed that if every one of the seven million people in Australia gave one pound, that would be seven million pounds towards the war effort. Seven million pounds! I tried to imagine what it would look like, but it was beyond my comprehension.
To save petrol, we moved to the city and Dad built a gas-producer. He attached it to the back of the car. He needed the car for his work, as he was now a Senior Inspector of Weights and Measures and this took him over a wide area of northern Melbourne.
He also spent hours digging out an air-raid shelter in the heavy clay of our back yard. He shored it up with timber, covered the roof with corrugated iron and piled soil on top to make a garden. We thought it was great fun. It had an entrance an an exit and steps down cut into the clay. There was a recess in the side where Mother stored food supplies for times of emergency, but, strangely, they seemed to become depleted fairly frequently and had to be replenished!
Again there were celebrations when this war ended, but it wasn't the 'war to end all wars' either. Wars and rumours of wars seem to continue in so many parts of this lovely earth we've been given to care for. When will we learn?
© 2014 Bronwen Scott-Branagan