Posted by: jkirkby8712 | February 18, 2012

‘Friday, 17th February 2012 – another aspect of war’s futility!

It’s like a dismal Winter morning outside today – not cold, but gloomy, heavy clouds overhead, and in nthe house, quite dark for 9am of a morning. Mind you, I kind of like the freshness that this cooler morning gives to the environment, and to the gardens and trees outside. Though after yesterday’s rather energetic afternoon, walking around the city, this scribe is feeling a little weary this morning, perfect excuse to sit down with a book [not that an excuse is usually required to do that!], just the light is a bit of a problem, don’t generally like having to put an ‘artificial’ light on during the day, even though after a  lifetime of working in offices, etc, the overhead lights blared all day. Perhaps that is why I prefer natural light so much now. What a pity the eyes are not as good as  they used to be!  And meanwhile, thinking those roadwork shd moved on a little, there seems to be a terrible racket out in the street this morning – just around the corner, every piece of machinery possible, seems to be going full bore [or ‘roar’]!!

A check-up appointment with the podiatrist  today, another of those regular things, us diabetics need to keep a watch on – is this to  my lot in life over the next few years, constantly checking up on things!!  Still be troubled by the forced change in aspirin type, and that ‘temporary’ filling work the other day, to relieve the pain until the next stage of the planned dental treatment doesn’t seem to be working the way it was suggested. These minor type of ailments annoy me, and leave one feeling more debilitated than I can be bothered with at present. Grrrrrrrrr!!  With the latter, I don’t want to add to the already high quoted cost by an extra visit, so do I wait until the next appointment and just put up with the inconvenient occasional pain lapses, or enquire!!?  Do not want to depend on painkillers for a relatively minor ailment for those four weeks!

Anyway, putting all those grumbles aside, I’m currently about two thirds of the way through Peter Fitzsimon’s book about ‘Tobruk’ and a couple of paragraphs I’d like to share with my readers through here.  In many ways, these brief examples clearly illustrate the futility and senselessness of wars

  • Yet amidst all the killings, there was equally the bare beginning of a faintly fraternal relationship between the two armies, even if their primary intent remained fratricide. On ….another night the Australians clearly recognised the wonderful melody of the Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’, which the Germans sang in their own language [which was, in fact, the language it had been written in]. Not to be outdone, a Sergeant Major of B Company stepped up and sang the carol in his own manner – a magnificent baritone that rolled over no-man’s-land and left no soldier untouched – as the Germans listened with what seemed like a reverential silence. Certainly, this shortly earned the good Sergeant Major a stern rebuke from on high, to stop ‘fraternising’ with the enemy, but no one cared. It had been a wonderful break in an otherwise bleak existence [p 401].
  • And there would be at least a few more……For sometimes a weird kind of thing would happen at around ten o’clock at night, when the Australians’ ‘tucker truck’ would arrive to deliver the long-awaited evening meal. After the truck was parked a safe distance away, the tuckerboxes would be carefully carried forwards and delivered to the front-line positions. No one was quite certain who started it, …but the thing was just before dinner was served, you’d quickly bang your ‘Dixie’ dish with your metal mug above your head in a split second to indicate you were about to eat. If the timing was right, you’d hear the ding-ding coming back from the Germans, to indicate they were about to have their evening meal too, and both sides would knock off the war for half an hour or so to have their din-dins…………………And then, at least slightly refreshed, and with something in their bellies, they’d get back into the business of killing each other  [pp 401-402]
  • Now bearing the weight of one of his own, the closest of the Australians nodded his head and – after jutting one leg out to keep the stretcher flat – touched two fingers to his helmet as a kind of personal, but not military, salute to the Germans, and was followed in this by his mate. Rolf and his Kamerad, bearing their own dead weight, returned the rough wave. A sort of understanding was emerging – yes, they were enemies on the battlefield, but when the battle was over they were first and foremost humans, acting in a hopefully humane way to each other. Now, with a last unspoken cherrio, both groups returned to their own lines. For the next two hours, not a single shot was fired, ensuring that both sides had the time necessary to get their wounded away, and bury their dead… [p. 418]
  • With a Sergeant by the name of Wally Tuit and stretcher-bearer Keith Pope, [the pastor, Father Tom Gard] grabbed a truck from behind the Blue Line and slowly drove it forwards, and  with a very nervous Wally sitting on the bonnet waving a Red Cross flagm they nudged their way into no-man’s- land. Every moment Wally thought might be his last, acutely conscious that at that instant there were probably 200 rifles and machine guns pointed right at him and it would only take one shot and he was done for…..but the louder sound of the [wounded] Australian soldiers crying out for help now that they were closer kept them going. Steady, mate, steady, keep ‘er going, slowly…..There! From the German lines suddenly appeared an officer, walking towards them in a strangely circuitous route, albeit with his hand up in the international signal for ‘Stop’, as he shouted something that sounded like ‘Halt, Minen!’  The Australians did halt, and then Father Gard walked forwards, offered the officer a cigarette and, in extremely broken English from the latter, the two began to talk, as for a brief blissful moment it felt, and it was so, that on this part of the planet the war had stopped. And indeed. The reason the officer had come out really had been to give the Australians an important warning. Their truck was heading straight for a minefield and if they had not stopped immediately they would have been blown apart. He soon organised for one of his men to emerge from his shelter and guide the truck through so they could pick up the Australian dead and wounded, while he busied himself organising for a German ambulance to come from behind Hill 209, to also pick up the German dead and wounded. In short order a small posse of soldiers from each side had emerged, tentatively at first, and then with a little more enthusiasm, and the men were mixing and mingling, exchanging cigarettes and conversing the best they could, even as the gathering of the fallen continued. In this process, Germans helped Australians, and Australians helped Germans, each with the other’s wounded, as well as the gathering of the dead. It was an extraordinary thing to be standing side by side with a man you’d done your utmost to kill just a few hours before, with no ill will, And then you could even be helping onto a stretcher a man you had yourself shot, as his best mate thanked you for your trouble – but that was the way it was for both sides [p. 446]
  • As later described by one of the Australian soldiers: ‘It was as though two armoured combatants had paused to raise their visors and for one moment had glimpsed human faces behind the steel’. [p.447]

Sadly, in times of war, such as this one, moments like that were but just fleeting glimpses of humanity in the total context. Sadly also, I doubt very much, that such moments ‘ever’ occurred when Australians faced the Japanese enemy across the ‘battlefields’ north of Australia during World War 2 – the psyche of the Japanese soldier and the German soldier were but worlds apart.



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