Never Forgotten

November 11, 2010 at 2:50 am (Uncategorized)

Remembrance Day. I was out walking – listening to the Book Show on ABC Radio National, as has become my habit – and when the program ended, there was a brief piece about WWI’s Battle of Fromelles, the first major battle for Australian troops on the Western Front. They sustained heavy casualties, thousands died, and because some bodies were never recovered (as many as 1,335 Australians alone), there was long speculation about unidentified additional burial sites, one of which was eventually uncovered on the German side in 2007. The remains of 250 young men – 200 Australians and 50 Brits – were belatedly honoured with full military burials earlier this year, and I believe the last of them has just recently been formally identified. What a relief for their descendants, and their own unquiet souls. “Returned at last to their families,” said the man on the radio, “and returned to us.”

It was 11 am. I stopped on the beachfront and turned to face the water with my hands held behind my back and a lump in my throat. Through the earpiece came the always-heartrending notes of ‘The Last Post,’ the mournful bugle never failing to tighten and twist unnameable, unknowable things inside. A ghostly call to things I’ve never known and yet was raised never to forget.

I stared out to the horizon, past the surfers, beyond the boats, to the beguiling union of sky and sea. After ‘The Last Post’ there followed a minute’s static radio silence, and, as always at this time, wherever I am at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I thought of all those young men, their lost promise, and the life I enjoy that none of them lived long enough to properly know.

Lest We Forget.

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9 Comments

  1. adminsmit said,

    The door was left open just a crack and each mornng the light of the day would find its way through, not cognisant of time or place, to fall across the face of the man who had for some sixty years slept in this bed positioned here by the door.
    For many years he had had a wife and family, who quietly lived around him. Now he is alone.
    He had always been alone. Everyday it was the same – the light would usher in the day and the life within would stir. The man would shuffle to the doorway and sit staring out across to the sea. immobile and expressionless.
    For many hours he would sit there, and at some point he could be heard to whisper, “I haven’t forgotten.”
    Unseen behind the clouds bunched up on the horison would be the men the old man had been young with. Young, energetic, full of life and plans, the boys and men who had picked up the ideals of the nation, mustered their courage and pledged their breath away.
    The old man shifted onto his other leg and winced; his breath came with difficulty these days and his eyes felt cloudy.For so long he had been the one left behind – the lucky one, everyone had called him.
    With eyes closed and sun glowing through his eyelids, he saw their faces as they laughed and called to him.
    “See you soon,” they called. A big breath of relief escaped from his chest.
    “At last,” he thought, “At last..”

    written for the old man for whom my children and I renamed Curl Curl foreshore “Old man’s Beach” who has gone beyond the clouds in the last year

    • doctordi said,

      That’s a lovely tribute, adminsmit. I can’t even look at elderly diggers without getting wildly emotional – and your old man, this story, is a very good, sobering reminder that culturally we tend to celebrate the fallen and overlook the survivors. In some sense, returned servicemen must feel the continuation of civilian life as a lifelong limbo.

  2. davidrochester said,

    The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It still gives me pause, even as I think of the irony … the war to end all wars. Oh, how I wish they’d been right about that.

    • doctordi said,

      Me too. I can’t bear thinking of all the lives lost in wars without end – but the human will to war starts to seem as undeniable as death.

  3. litlove said,

    Oh that bugle call – it gets me every time. Lest we forget, indeed, the stupidity and waste of war. And the worst thing is that we will forget, once again. Well, not you and me, but leaders and governments will, as soon as an external threat is perceived. I’m beginning to wonder whether retaliatory aggression isn’t the most powerful force inside humanity. A depressing thought, but I guess it’s the day for them.

    • doctordi said,

      Same. Every. Single. Time. I don’t think it’s failing to remember so much as failing to learn the lesson, do you? It’s such a waste, an appalling waste of human life, but that will to power… yes, if it’s not the dominant force within humanity, it’s certainly one to be reckoned with – over and over and over again, it seems.

  4. Grad said,

    Today is Veterans Day in America. Yesterday, as I was at the register to pay for my groceries, behind me there stood a young man in an Army uniform with his wife by his side. I thanked him for his service to his country and I told him how much he was appreciated. As I started to leave, I turned to him again and said, “Stay safe.” “I will, ma’am,” he replied. Please God, let him keep that promise.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh, how I hope he holds to that promise too, Graddikins.

  5. Lilian Nattel said,

    A moving post, Di, and thoughtful comments. Perhaps it’s easier, or rather simpler, to be sad about those who died then to do something for and with those who live.

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