My dad was silent about his place in the war
except to say that shells whizzed through the night
over El-Alamain seeking the army
of the Desert Fox. And that, sleeping on
those cold night sands, if you could, you would
wake to find a brace of scorpions
under your bedroll each morning. The tales of
my Uncle Don by contrast would enthral
us kids, how he'd dived behind a tank
with bullets ricocheting around his head...
No, my dad was mostly silent about
his place in the war. He had seen a Bedouin
carrying in a basket much prized eggs for sale
walk too close to the makeshift runway
and a Spitfire while landing had lopped his head
and everyone had jostled for those eggs.
I think that vision stayed; summed up war for him.
He did say that when the allies liberated
Rome he stood for hours in Saint Peter's Square
at a papal mass in celebration
of peace. Now, whether it was the fierce heat
or perhaps he was just overwhelmed,
he fainted and found himself inside the Vatican
where a kind and grateful priest gave him
a heavenly wine; scooped from the spring at Cana.
I recall that he and a fellow Airforce
mate were returning to base along a
valley track, maybe from a night out
in Perugia with those friendly effusive
Italian girls or maybe from a visit to Assisi,
'just us,' he said, 'not a soul to be seen'
and out of the sky swung a German fighter
with jackhammer canons raking the ground.
They dived in a ditch. 'What sort of human..?'
I recall as a young lad being on a hot
pebble beach at Deal where the Romans
had landed in 55BC. Granddad
had a handkerchief over his bald pate,
and a single engined plane zoomed over.
'Eee, exclaimed our Nan, 'I thought Gerry were back.'
We all laughed.
No, my dad never
celebrated ANZAC Day despite being
urged to do so by his boss.
In Dad's opinion
such marching and celebration
ratified the inhumanity of humanity.