As Anzac Day has just passed, I find myself with mixed feelings about the remembrance of those who died in War. Naturally, I honour and respect them and their families left behind. But, I do wonder about the excuse for a day off, a booze-up and a BBQ which it seems to me, is what it means to a lot of people these days.
But also, I think the words of my father had quite an impact on me in my younger days – and I always remember him saying “War should never be glorified”. Most of we “over 60s” do not remember even the Second World War – we were part of the post war baby boom. My parents’ experiences, though was probably fairly unusual.
As I have mentioned before in articles, I was born and brought up in Guernsey, which is the second largest island in the Channel Islands which are dots in the English Channel, south of England and closer to France. During the war, Guernsey was occupied by Germans for the whole five years. I grew up hearing about “the occupation” for all of my childhood, but in typical childish style, did not really have any understanding of what the term meant. My older brother was born in 1940 in the midst of it all, and so spent the first years of his life in this situation. Apparently, the rented house in which I spent my first 15 years was taken over by the occupying troops. My maternal grandmother, with her two younger daughters and the granddaughter she was raising, were evacuated to England for the whole period. Many school children were sent away, and were separated from and not able to see families again until the war was over.
There were so many stories told over and over in my childhood. My parents would get together with friends and remind each other of some of the yarns and would laugh and cry about it all. Many of the tales were of the tricks played on “the enemy” to obtain more food or listen to the forbidden English news on the radio. There are tales of my aunt being halted for riding a bicycle after curfew, and in some madness of panic, picking the bike up and running as if that would make it quicker! But most of all, the stories involved food. There was gradually a shorter and ever diminishing supply of food. Red Cross parcels would arrive for families with perhaps a little bit of chocolate for a special treat. But basic supplies ran very low. People who have never lived on an island, have little concept of how isolated they can be once there are no regular visits of planes and ships. I have experienced this only for short periods during times of thick fog over the island. People were eating – and making coffee from – turnips, stew from seaweed, growing what they could and sharing with friends and neighbours. Perhaps those stories of the excitement and camaraderie of sharing a rare chicken or piece of meat with friends were the most memorable. The experiences of friendship during those times were special and I think at times – were even missed by those who had been there. For my working class parents, once rationing was over, it was important to them that we always had “good food”. My Father hated turnips and parsnips with a passion and my brother would never eat bananas, as he would not ever have been offered one as a small child. By the end of the war, everyone in the island was very hungry, including of course, the Germans. I think that both sides suffered great deprivation of basic needs and loss of family.
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I greatly regret now that I didn’t ask more questions and find out more about the Occupation. Of course, there are quite a few books and records of these historical times. Every year, Liberation Day is celebrated on May 9th. One can only begin to imagine the joy and celebration of that first one in in 1945. I was fortunate to be in the island for the 60th celebration in 2005 and people were celebrating with much joy. My mother was still alive then and while she had memory issues, she knew the occasion and I was glad to talk to her a little about it.
I suppose my birth in 1947, was part of the celebration. I was always very close to my maternal grandma who had not met my brother until he was 5. I did not come to Australia until 1970, so even Vietnam was not part of my direct experience. Perhaps that is why I can’t help wondering how it is that we have not learned enough to discourage war at every turn, and we still send our people to fight on other soil. Let’s by all means honour those who fought, but never ever forget the ravages and horrors of War for everyone concerned.
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