Thursday, 21 April 2011

Thoughts for a Thursday... family at war

Anzac Day is always a time of reflection. Time to think about war and its impact.

I’d always thought that The War (in this case World War II) didn’t have much of an impact on my immediate family. My dad was too young, and my grandads had long-standing injuries that meant they were unfit. Today I realised that The War really did have a major influence on my life – let alone others in my immediate family.

My grandfather in uniform, at a
family wedding.
October 1944.
The War changed people. It sent my biological maternal grandfather off to the Pacific (Air Force ground crew). Like many men, he left behind his wife and children (my mother and aunt). While operating as a solo mother, my grandmother had an independent life. Something she’d never had before. Her husband returned, I’m sure with mental trauma from his experiences, and things didn’t work out. As my nana said ‘he hit me once, and I forgave him. He hit me again, and I went out the window’. And she did. Never to return. (Gosh, I don’t mean he hit her, and the impetus pushed her out the window. I mean, she ran away.)

How did you get a divorce in 1944? You had to prove adultery. And that is why my aunt was born in July 1945. And my grandparents married in October 1945.

So – what impact did the war have on my family? It split it. It gave my mother a new dad, and a new name. It meant we ended up with a really amazing grandad. Maybe my biological grandfather would have been nice, but we’ll never know. (That said, his grandchildren from his second marriage cried at his funeral, so maybe they did get a good grandad.)

Mum with Uncle Jim.
What else? That Nana had three brothers: Jim and Ernie were in the army (Middle East), and Al in the navy (on the Achilles during the Battle of the River Plate). Uncle Jim was seriously injured at some point – got to meet Rommel while in a German hospital. At least, that’s the story – hard to know really. As his sister (Nana) admitted once, ‘I don’t know how sane I’d be if I’d had his war experiences’. Well, he wasn’t really insane, as much as paranoid.

A completely different story for his wife. How sane would you be, if one of your first ever jobs was helping repatriate Holocaust victims to Palestine? As with many of Uncle Jim’s stories, we were sceptical – but no, she really did. Diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia, with a side-order of violence. Army training really helped with that.

Dad's intake.
Nearer to home, Dad could tell fun stories about his time in CMT in 1952. Seemed to involve a lot of drinking. Oh, and fun with the Korean soldiers. As a kid, I always thought he meant Korean Koreans, rather than New Zealand soldiers heading to the Korean WAR .

When I met my half-brother, we found out that he was a navy boy. Ex, at that point. He was based in South-East Asia when I was born – and it wasn’t that quiet a place in 1971. (Funny thing is, although he never met Uncle Al – they look alike and had the same rolling walk.)

This weekend my nephew* heads off to Singapore for three months. He’s in the navy. Go well. And come home safe to your wife and baby. May your relationship only strengthen during this time of separation. May your love grow deeper.


*this nephew is a result of war. His mother is first-generation New Zealander of Dutch descendent. His Oma wanted to move somewhere that couldn’t be invaded. And there was this guy with glasshouse pieces ready to move to New Zealand.

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