Lest the young forget
It seemed like a cool trick. Placing my thumb neatly into the scarred hole on the side of my dad’s waist. My thumb sitting flush to his body. To a five-year-old it seemed like the injury was fashioned that way for a reason.
In fact it was senseless. A war injury that barely told the truth of the “indefinable personality change” noted on my father’s war records, which I’ve only days ago uncovered.
As a teenager in the 1980s there was a succession of years when public debate rang around whether we should even bother having Anzac Day. The expression “glorifies war” was bandied about to an offensive level. For the first time I felt like a stranger in my own country. My opinion about the value and significance of Anzac Day was in the minority among my peers.
But somewhere in Australia a shift back towards Anzac Day occurred. Maybe it was sparked by the Bicentennial in 1988, or the success of home grown films such as Gallipoli and Breaker Morant, or the impressive little mini-series Vietnam. Perhaps it was the change to our laws giving our High Court its power, quashing the need to ever go to Britain’s Privy council again.
Somewhere deep in the Australian psyche, we, as a single mob, seemed to decide that Anzac Day was bloody well going to stay. In fact we were going to make a big deal of it.
Chris Masters recounted in a Four Corners episode how the Turkish people regarded modern Australian youth highly for the way they travelled en masse to Gallipoli. It is impressive.
This current generation embrace the day with emotion and storytelling. We all have our stories to tell. And some stories can’t be told. My father never explained how he got all those bits of shrapnel down his arm and clearly visible under the skin on the back of his hand. He never explained why his stomach was “missing bits”. He never explained why his symmetrical face had scars around it. Inviting my friends around to our house was risky. He could flare up over the tiniest thing.
His generation learned to fight and survive and have manners. They knew nothing about parenting.
I had the privilege a few days ago of meeting and spending half a day with Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths (Ret.). He attended the Royal Australian Naval College from the tender age of 13 in a class called Philip year. It was regular practice to be given “six of the best” with the back of a sand shoe if you misbehaved.
“It wouldn’t be tolerated today,” he says “but it didn’t do us any harm at all,”.
One of his classmates was my father, Alan Parker. Guy Griffiths shed some light on their actions and adventures. “It was no gap year, it was different,” he says.
In those days Australia had different rules. It was normal for 18 year olds to be toting guns in the streets of Melbourne and Sydney. Drive-by shootings were rare.
My father and his classmate Keith Thompson were hit by German bombers in the south of England. My father listed as “dangerously ill” on his records, before being sent to convalesce under the care of the British upper class who opened their estates to the war wounded.
Today, Guy Griffiths at 89 is still a steely man having survived three wars, commanded ships, and been involved in some of the most famous naval battles of the last half century.
My father, a 13-year-old cadet midshipman in 1937, became a Sub-Lieutenant within five years. But I never really knew him until the final years when he died in the early ‘80s. He was often described as an officer and a gentle man. I think in another life he would have been more gentle. Jolly and not on-edge, always. It wasn’t entirely fair and he knew it.
The scars of a war veteran are passed down. We don’t want that inheritance that unknowingly moulds us. We all cope and adjust as best we can, with as much compassion as we can muster.
This current generation of youth has an understanding and empathy towards our war veterans that few modern generations have possessed. Gen Y and Z are privileged, educated, and live in the lucky country. On Anzac Day, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we should always put aside some significant time to reflect on our history and our future. Lest we forget.
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