I have very mixed feelings about all the hype surrounding the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, but share the deep sorrow most feel for the terrible loss of life on both sides. I was always told dad served at Gallipoli but he never discussed details of his service and the Archival record is incomplete. Certainly he enlisted on 25 April 1915 and sailed from Sydney in mid July, so he could well have been involved with 2nd Battalion in the latter stages. It is a question awaiting an answer.
Anzac Day was truly the ‘one day of the year’ in our family. Dad would return home from the march very inebriated, sometimes jubilant, sometimes inconsolably emotional or withdrawn, occasionally very argumentative. I recall as a boy lining up in the crowds with my mother and sisters to wave flags as the men and bands marched by and, years later, driving dad and a few of his mates to the Dawn Service at the Sydney cenotaph and picking them up after the reunion, ‘Well out the heads’, as dad would say. They are some of the most powerful memories of my younger days and only possible because he survived.
Here are a few photographs showing dad celebrating the occasion with some of his returned comrades. The top one is labelled, dad is in the middle of the one below and in ‘Ooh La La !!!’ he is first on the left next to the man at the head of the table.
That’s my dear sister, the late Gwen Dean, brandishing me proudly as a wee bairn. Imagine having a sister already in her twenties when you were born and only because your father survived a disaster as terrible as the Great War. What are the odds on that? You’ve probably already noticed the similarity with the ‘miracle monkey’ shot. Thanks to another ‘miracle’, Photoshop, the author’s head has been transposed from this photograph with Gwen to that one. Actually, the baby on Dad’s lap wasn’t me at all – it was my cousin, Barry Mandile, with my head patched on. Sorry, Baz, it was such a great shot of Dad, I couldn’t resist.
Little did Dad know when this photograph was taken that the wee ‘miracle monkey’ on his knee was already scheming to one day write Wounded: a Great War novel to evoke something of his experience in that catastrophe and signify the miracle that we both existed, at all.
No idea where or when this poor quality photograph I found with dad’s things was taken but suspect that’s him, seated, middle, foreground. What stuck me about it was the range of expressions on the young men’s faces, from a troubled emptiness to glowing good cheer. Maybe ‘Number 5’ was a pub or estaminet and some of the boys when leaving bumped into some on the way in. Or maybe those haunted looks were permanent. Perhaps you might recognize someone in the photograph and help solve the mystery.
Dad painted this display banner for the 50th Anniversary of his battalion’s departure from Sydney in 1915. In Wounded; a Great War novel, George tells an old Frenchman he meets while visiting a village his father billeted in, ‘Sometimes on Anzac Day I would drive him and a couple of Digger mates … to the Sydney Cenotaph for the Dawn Service and pick them up after the reunion …. Dad used to paint illustrated banners, depicting battle sites, and I remember how emotional I’d get watching him and his old pals shuffling along beneath them, trying to keep up with the band, proud but contrite, minds thousands of miles away with fallen mates, still just boys in their minds … and thinking about young men they’d killed, too, I should think.’
In ‘Wounded: a Great War novel’, Snow and Cozette form a romantic attachment in the summer of 1917 while the Old Bat is resting in the tiny French Flanders village of Sec Bois. So, naturally, when I found this rather amateurish, incomplete embroidered doily in the cedar title box in dad’s shed, my imagination was stirred: ‘She takes cloth and thread, positions an embroidering needle between my fingers, nudges me in the ribs and I set the implement darting back and forth, every stitch vested with a higher meaning under Cozette’s close tutelage, every error an excuse for gales of laughter and ‘inadvertent’ touching.’