… it was newly formed and still a little ‘squeaky’ in places – but remains poignant none the less – more so because it reminds me about the marvels of the Human race – the bizarre happenings that associate themselves with people. I’m constantly reminded that sometimes, funny little bits of good come of things that often seem, so bad. This might be one of them.
Last weekend – my brother and several other soldiers buried a colleague of their’s, in a small military service in my old home town. It required a Wake – as most good Military Funerals do – and people came together to celebrate a fella – once a soldier – now dead. An Australian Military Wake is Irish to the core, in nearly every context. People come together amongst all that noise, and occasionally new faces come to meet other new faces. My father was one of these faces. He was grabbed by the ex-wife of the deceased, and was introduced to an older man, the ex-wifes father.
He was introduced with his whole name. To which the older man immediately replied:
I only know of one man called Xxx Yyyyyyyyy. He was a soldier, and worked at Custom’s in Fremantle”
This surprised my father, and in reply he said:
“That was my father.”
The older man; also pleasantly surprised, then went on to explain that my grandfather was – in his opinion – a true gentleman in every sense of the word. Professional,polite and an absolute pleasure to work with. He went on in this fashion for a short time – all the while my father stood there completely lost for words. If you knew my father, you’d know how hard it is for that, to actually happen. This man had stopped my father in his tracks; his sincerity and obvious admiration for my grandfather, was a new experience for my Dad. My father knew very little of my grandfather as a private person – nor as a person after the war – in his day to day job. To hear someone speak of him in this fashion was almost an unreal experience.
My Grandfather was an extremely private person. He and his brother had experienced an extremely difficult life before World War II and, as a lot of young men did at the time they both escaped this looking for big adventures, in the shiny guise of a ‘new’ War. My grandfather never spoke of this time with his children. Their memories of him in the years after the War were of a man who got up before they did, went to work all day, and often came home after they went to bed. Not an unusual picture really – one many people would recognise of the time. The War finished when it did, and people were expected to simply get back on with their life.
The truth is of course – that this isn’t as simple as it might sound to some, and it wasn’t for my Grandfather. My grandmother tells us stories now of how it was her job to keep the kids away from their father, as he couldn’t stand loud noises, or noisy surprises. Kids the world around are all of this and more, and I guess this wasn’t any different in my Grandad’s time, nor for that of my Father’s. A man who survived the whole War, severely traumatised by things that go BANG!, simply couldn’t handle having his noisy gaggle of kids about him. Dad’s only way of getting close to his Father, was to be a helping hand whenever there was a job at hand.
My grandfather wasn’t a big talker. He didn’t waste a lot of words – he spoke with purpose – and often, around things. He always avoided any talk that involved his experiences during the War. He had a set number of about 3 yarns he would spin, meaningless little stories, that had next to no substance in them at all, and once he’d finished them – that was it – it was over. Off you go then! In fact, I think it’d be fair to say that my Grandad had more of a father-son relationship with us – his own grandchildren – then he did with my father. He gave us so much of his time, and I never realised this until my father told me, when I was in my early twenties and I was joining the Navy.
So you see, for a complete stranger to materialise at a military wake; in my father’s old ‘stomping ground’ as a soldier himself, and start to talk about my grandfather as a personal friend and colleague – it was close to unbelievable. That he spoke of my Grandfather with such admiration and respect just confounded my father – who never knew this side of his father. His Dad – as a child – was someone you tiptoed around; or handed the hammer too; or swung off the other end of a saw with; or never saw for days. It wasn’t until my father had us, that my grandfather developed a personal relationship with my father, not to long after my father became a soldier himself.
This man knew of my Grandfather’s War Service and Decorations. He then proceeded to tell the young soldiers all about this man he knew – all of which was new to these young (and not so young soldiers), as my father too, is an extremely private man. I won’t go into what these exploits were, but it ended in him being awarded a medal – shortly behind that of the Victoria Cross – personally by the Queen of England (if that gives you any kind of context in this topic). My Grandfather was an extraordinary solider in some extremely difficult times, and he survived. He never once marched in an Anzac Service, nor took part in reunions with his fellow comrades. He spoke very little of these times to me – but opened up some when I too put on a uniform and buggered off to do some service.
This man asked after my Grandfather, and Dad was forced to tell him that he had died sometime ago.
The man cried openly, and I believe this probably confounded my father all the more.
So much so that my father never had the time nor thought to get this man’s actually name, nor his contact details. I reckon he just stood there amazed, and soaking p every single word this man had to say about that part of a father, a son very rarely gets to know.
A funeral, a wake, a re-union of a son with his dead father – through a complete stranger – and a handful of lives changed for the better, out of a time of absolute sadness for most others.
Life takes some odd turns at times, and things that belong to you, sometimes takes the long way round – on their route towards reaching you. I don’t know what you call it, but it’s left all of us a little more enlightened as to the man my Grandfather might have been.
And it mightn’t surprise you none, that this was what I suspected all along!
Belongum – Out!