Tuesday 26 April 2011

My father and the bloody point of war

ANZAC Day is come and gone again. Yesterday was the 95th anniversary since Australian and New Zealand Army Corps day was first commemorated.

It was then made famous by some tasty biscuits, or was it?

This day has different meaning for us all.

In a post 9/11 era, those who lived through the madness and what seemed the never-ending Vietnam war that was to last nearly 20 years, from November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, question the futility of war.

My father Maurice [pictured], who passed away 14 years ago aged 82, served in the Second World War. He was in the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and I believe he was stationed in the Solomons.

When Italy entered the war with the Germans in In June 1940, the New Zealand Government brought in conscription after a War Cabinet was formed. Then Germany invaded the Soviet Union the following year, New Zealand declared war on Germany's Eastern European allies - Finland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria in December of 1941.

Here's dad's enrolment certificate as a reservist dated 22nd August 1940 when he was just 25 years old. He was a grocer's assistant then, a profession he maintained till the end of his working life.

Historians have said that the Second World War had important consequences for New Zealand's stance in the world, as it sought to bolster its interests. A notable first was New Zealand opened diplomatic relations with a non-Commonwealth power and established a diplomatic office in Washington and in Moscow two years later in 1944.

In the 30 or so years of my life that my father was alive, he never talked about his war service.

I recall showing an interest at numerous times but he was a poor communicator. At least about his past. I now surmise this was a result of the damage that the effects of war inflicted on him. I believe he was scarred from the experience and like many Aussies and Kiwis, he returned to start a family and silently carry the internal physiological damage.

His relationship with me and my three brothers, was caged and jilted at best.

I know family was important to Maurice, and he had a special bond to his only sister Mardy, who passed away during my last visit to Christchurch in late February, in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Like his brother Bill, he buried his worries in alcohol. It was his coping mechanism as an escape from life's memories. The effects of
long drinking sessions drove a wedge between what should have been a healthy home life and the growing disconnect with a staunchly Catholic wife.

The relationship with dad lacked closeness and often compassion. I often searched for explanation why it was so. I now conclude his wartime service was unhealthy and had a profound radical impact on his life as he tried to establish a family and regain some meaning of his journey. Nowadays the experts call it post traumatic stress disorder. At the time, it was easy to label him an alcoholic, and mum's search for help from AA hardly dug into his wartime experience for answers.

VE day was 8th May, Japan stopped fighting on 15th August, and VJ day (official surrender) on 2nd September.  My father was discharged from the Army on 4th July 1945, 2 months before war was declared over.

Children of parents who served in war had a vastly different youth than children today experience.

There was one humorous memory that mother once recalled.
Prince Rainer of Monaco, a catch for the ladies of the time, was "spotted" in New Brighton, in the area where I grew up.

Rainer had become engaged to Amercian Actress Grace Kelly, and it was rumoured that they could have taken a South Pacific holiday together.

There were reports in the local Christchurch Press.

However it was none other than my father. His looks tricked some to believe he was the Prince, with the same signature mustache and slick brylcream hair.

Dad passed away in 1997, and the last years of his life, endured a slow and hospitalised sickness that lasted for at least 12 years.

Mum was his carer and visited him every day in various care facilities from Princess Margaret Hospital and Nurse Maude nursing homes around Christchurch. Those years were sad and depressing for him. I recall one time turning up at his tiny room, and we sat there hardly exchanging a word. I had a million questions but the past years had rendered the art of conversation on those important probing questions near impossible, a result of his past wartime personal damage. I often ponder the stories and secrets he took with him.

It was a motor-neuron disorder that finally claimed him in October of 1997. I was asked to present the eulogy along with a visual tribute accompanied by Terry Oldfield's Celtic Blessing. It was a haunting memory from a congregation that never knew Maurice.

The irony of his disconnect with his military experience that was never uttered to his children, became his final wishes as the government allocated a military plot for Lance Corporal Maurice Patrick Moore.

Lest we remember.

His number was 74526.


Hans Van Veluwen said...

very well written and I too have had what you could term a challenging relationship with my father...he never talked about what he experienced during the war years but I have a feeling that it had an ongoing disturbing influence on him...no one wins a war...there are only losers

The Expiditor said...

Chrisgaff says

Mike my father, Barney, was a drunken thug, a wife basher and a brutal child beater. He was know all smart arse who ruled by fear.
My father was a 2/20 battalion Changi prisoner of war who drank and fought his way through life from the end of the way to the day he died.
I was lucky enough to have gained enough free education in the country he fought for to be able to understand his "living hell"
I still loved him and i march every Anzac Day for him.