Monday, April 27, 2020

Reflections on War and Death

At the end of both the first and second world wars, the government promised the weeping mothers, distressed wives, and grieving brothers and sisters,

They will not be forgotten.
We will remember them.
But they were lying as usual.
The young men who were killed fighting for their countries
are being forgotten.
The government put up memorials of stone
but a name on a stone is not a memory.

My Uncle Alan died in Italy during the second world war.
A few years ago, I realised that he was being forgotten,
because I hardly knew anything about him.
So I talked with my father and his brother
and a friend from his school
and put the story of my uncle’s life in a book.

But even those who knew him
had forgotten lots about him,
their memories being battered by passing of time.
They had gone on to have wives and husbands,
children and grandchildren
owned farms and operated businesses,
so their memories were filled with these things
while the life of their brother and friend was cut off
before it even began.
And their memories have since died with them.

I have recorded the events of my uncle’s life,
his personality and his character,
but a life is too big for a book.
I have no idea about his joys, his hopes and dreams,
the fears, sorrows and disappointments,
that shaped his life.

I read the letters he wrote to his mother.
He could not write that he was afraid,
because that would have pushed her to worry and fear.
He could not say how the war was affecting him,
or how he felt about the war,
because all letters were censored.
So, although some of his life is recorded,
much more is forgotten.

When my grandchildren and great-grandchildren read my account,
they will think that it was an interesting story,
but that is not the same as being remembered.

My uncle's name is carved in stone
on the gates of the school he attended
and on a rock on a hill nearby.
But a person is more than a name.

I think of the young man whose name
is carved on the stone next to my uncle’s.

A. Lamb
It seems more like a pun than a person.
Aren’t lambs supposed to die anyway.

Does anyone remember him?
The Lamb family moved away from the district,
broken down by the great depression
after struggling to eke out a living on a small, lean farm.
The children of the family milked cows before going to school
walking barefooted, even on frosty winter mornings.
I presume that A Lamb has nieces and nephews who know his name,
but I doubt they will remember the person he was.

The children who pass through the school gates
hardly notice the names,
and when they do stop and look,
they are forgotten names of unknown people.

Now uring a lockdown,
people stood at their gates at 6 am on ANZAC day,
remembering the events,
feeling sorrow for the deaths,
but not able to remember the people.
Some of us remember those who lived,
and the pain they carried,
but we are too young to remember those who died.

Those who lived remember those who died amongst them
but now there are only 600 people still living
who fought in the second world war.
They are now in their late nineties or older,
so their memories will soon be gone,
having died with them.

We don’t honour the young men who were killed
by pretending that war is noble and good.
The politicians say that these young men died to make us free,
but men who were free before the war began
were conscripted and forced to fight and die.
They did not die to save freedom,
but to keep their current rulers in control.

Now we mostly remember the politician and generals
who started and directed the war,
but most of the people who died
are being forgotten.

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