…a line from ‘Bridal Train‘ – by The Waifs – has been rattling around in my brainbox for days now. A fantastic song, brought out around 2004 I think, and still quite poignant in it’s story telling. I say this because on the 25th of April this year, the Australian Embassy in Washington DC is going to host a gathering of Australian War Brides – brought to America from Australia after World War II. I’m not sure of the connection to Anzac Day as such (feel free to correct me) – but I definitely think some recognition is deserved for these women who gave up everything they knew – to follow their men – into a completely unknown world.
What in hell am I speaking about? Well, between 1943 and 1950 it’s said that over 12 000 Australian women left Australian soil to take up brand new lives in the United States of America – as what is colloquially known as Australia’s War Brides. This experience wasn’t Australia’s alone – Britain also experienced a large influx of uniformed American men, who for the latter duration of the War were posted for long periods in the UK – supporting or staging for various operations as they came to hand. Biggest problem with any Armed Forces is that you live a life by one simple motto: Hurry up and WAIT! People with ‘time’ on their hands get into mischief. Sooner or later people start seeking out company of the opposite sex, and before you know it people start keeping company with each other.
The inevitable happened – pretty much as it has alway done since time started ticking – relationships started, and people got attached to each other. Here – in a place called Fremantle, Western Australia – people weren’t all that different. American servicemen miles away from home, lonely and homesick – started ‘wooing’ young Fremantle ladies (for right or wrong reasons) and before you knew it, people were becoming ‘parents’, in some pretty tough circumstances. Imagine being one of these women. Imagine the names you would have been called. Imagine the reactions of these women’s friends, family and peers. Imagine how they would have made you feel. Imagine the place you’d have to be in to say goodbye to all you know – all your family. When I think on it, I couldn’t think of a more socially hostile environment if I tried. Yet 12 000 or so women wore it, accepted it, and packed up all the had – left ALL they knew – and threw their fate into the breeze, following it to America.
I don’t know about you – but THAT – takes a lot of doing! I can’t begin to fathom the sense of commitment a person must have to take such a plunge. To board a Train across Australia, only to be held in a ‘waiting’ camp in Sydney – so that you can board a ferry to the USA – all to be in the arms of your man. I can’t begin to imagine what it would take to make me cast off all I belong too, all that marks me (good or bad) to initiate such social upheaval in my life. Aside from utter destruction, drought or death even – I can’t think of a single thing that’d make me want to cut myself off from the world I once knew. Back in 1943 and onwards – that’s exactly what you did. No email, no voice messages, no VOIP, no ability to engage in cheap meaningless banter via a chat room or forum. No possibility of daily connection at all – with the world you once knew.
It’s just such an alien concept to us now – us as in those of us enjoying the trappings of a modern world. 10 – 15 years ago I had to line up behind twenty or thirty sailors at public telephone boxes all over SE Asia – just to enjoy 2 minutes of my then Fiance’s soft voice. It cost me a huge amount of money. Now – I can just talk direct to the XO – over the internet. In someplace’s – given the opportunity of a webcam – I can even see her in ‘real’ time. Our sense of isolation has diminished dramatically, thanks to wonders of technology, and the illusion it wraps us up in. What a luxury! I think back on the times experienced by these amazing women back now well over 50 years, and I am amazed at their strength and conviction. I don’t think I could do that.
I don’t fool myself either. Most of those 12 000 plus women didn’t have it easy. Things didn’t work out for a wide variety of reasons and some returned home. Some couldn’t come home. A lot stayed. In order to become American citizens and stay in the USA, they had to give up their Australian citizenship. I shudder when I think of this situation, and whilst it might have only been a relative few who lived these circumstances – it would have been damned scary to say the least. But they did it. Got on with it and did it. They raised children, fed faces, cleaned bottoms, cleaned and kept houses and husbands – worked when they could – survived all sorts of amazing things, and mostly in a place that was largely foreign to them.
If I was to take my hat off to only one thing this year, and shake my head in wonder and awe – it would be to these ladies. On the 25th of April this year, the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, will be hosting the War Brides – as their family, their friends and their peers are invited to celebrate their sacrifices. War brings about funny little things in life, and I wouldn’t mind being there to see it. War is a cruel beast – it’s true – but it’s amazing what good can come of it too. It’s a small thing to hold onto I suppose – but I hope you don’t mind if I grab onto it all the same. A bloke doesn’t need much these days – and that little bit of information will do me – just nicely!
Belongum – Out!