Thursday, March 21, 2013

The War Room.

A recent visit to see my parents meant that for the weekend I was billeted in the 'War Room'. This sanctuary is my fathers domain, it's his den where he writes and finds his muse, where he recollects and remembers. Below is a small snapshot of the relics that adorn the room, souvenirs of a time of great conflict, when very simple men like my father participated in very extraordinary events.

 Bullets of various calibre: in the rear are .50 cal's. its not hard to image how one of these could down an aircraft or take off an arm. I was always amazed by old war movies where a pilot was hit by one of these and then held his hand over a small trickle of blood, I would have thought he would have lost half his shoulder?

 Hand Grenade and a bottle of Atabrine. Atabrine was the wonder pill that staved off malaria, that is until you stopped taking it. My father arrived home and then one day on the tram he collapsed with a fever only to wake up in hospital with the shivers and sweats of the mosquito borne condition. Atabrine also had a much more popular side effect, it could be crushed and used as a yellow dye. Consequently it was highly desired by the natives who would use it to colour the grass skirts to sell to GI's as souvenirs of the South Pacific.

A Japanese helmet atop an American steel 'pot'.

The Australian equivalent, a British issue helmet that once issued was usually 'lost in action', many a South Pacific latrine is full of these.

Australian 2nd signal corps colour patches.

My favourite photo and an often inspirational look at the origins of the Papa Nui. Dad stands on a palm tree lined beach up in the islands, styling in his slouch hat and amazing belted vintage swim togs.

In uniform on Buna Beach August 1945.

Dad was a commercial artist before the war. He studied at East Sydney Art College under the tutorage of the likes of William Dobel. This water colour shows a patrol on a high ridge in New Guinea. Much of Dads experiences abroad were captured in his sketch books. Some of these I have posted previously. Drawing offered an opportunity to capture the every day experience of the campaign in the islands as possessing and maintaining a camera in those conditions was not easy.

Hand Grenade pin, possibly from a practice 'pineapple'? I have my eye of this one as a zipper-pull for my 
A-2 jacket. 

A collection of American campaign medals.

Dad's own 'gongs'. Every week before Anzac day the medals would come out and get the 'brasso' rub over, preparing themselves for the annual remembrance march on the 25th of April. The first one was held in 1949 and Dad never missed it ever. It was a major event in our household when I was growing up. Last year Dad did the march around the city for the final time. He is 89 years old and of his original section only 6 members are left. This year one wonders? A visit to the dawn service and then one or two 'bevvies' at the local Returned Serviceman's Club will probably be it for this year.

As you can imagine I've watched the annual parade almost my entire life, first as a child in front the Television broadcast then later as a young man I would venture into the city and stake out my piece of the side walk armed with a thermos and a camera and wait for Dad to come past resplendent in his beautiful Blue Blazer and chest adorned full of his coloured service ribbons marching to the drum beat behind a huge unfurled unit banner. As the years went by I stood there with my own children and after the parade we would walk up to Hyde park in front the sandstone memorial and meet up with Dad and his mates for a brief cup of tea and a biscuit put on by the Australian Red Cross. Those days are long gone now and his friends are no more, perhaps only one or two at most have the strength to attend. I find it quite strange to bare witness to this passing of a generation as its often difficult to accept the frailty and infirmity of age, to see your loved ones slowly fade from the glory of their youth. 
I have a favourite except for James A Michener's, 'Tales of the South Pacific', which although has a very American slant is still perhaps of the most beautifully articulate observations that I've read, so please indulge me this; 
" They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific.They had an American quality. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their Guadalcanal sounds distance on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge".

Papa Nui Says.

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