September 2011 Dad passed away at the age of 94. A ‘good innings’, and a pretty full life.
He’d done his bit in WW2, serving in the 2/7th Field Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery, in North Africa and Borneo.
For many reasons, Dad didn’t volunteer a lot of information about his experiences of that time, but when he did, it was remembering the good stuff, the times when they had a laugh, not the times when fear and the chance of annihilation were present.
One story he did occasionally recount was, in the end, apocryphal of that time time abroad, when neither he, nor his mates could be certain about what was around the corner. And this story I’m recounting is in the context of an episode of remembering by my 5 year old son Max of ‘Nonno’, and what Anzac Day means now for Max. For a number of recent years we’d made the trip back to Adelaide to help Dad out on Anzac Day; either I, or my nephew Jonathan pushing Dad in a wheelchair at the head of what was left of his regiment in the Anzac Day march. The other night, at home with Max, at evening story-time, I reminded Max that we wouldn’t be going to Adelaide for Anzac Day this year, as there was really no need, now Nonno had passed away. Without a blink, Max suggested we go anyway, and push an empty wheelchair in the march, to remember Nonno: then he buried his face in his pillow and sobbed.
Anzac Day this year is in 5 day’s time. So I’m in a bit of reminiscent mood.
So to The Wizard of Oz.
Dad told the story occasionally to us of his special connection with The Wizard of Oz. Released for the first time in 1939, the story began with a night at the movies for his regiment in Perth late November 1940, just before embarkation to the Middle East. The Wizard of Oz was the main feature. The regiment arrived in Palestine mid-December 1940. Dad told the story: as they were marching in to barracks, someone started to whistle (against regulations? who knows?), We’re Off To See The Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz – then the whole, or most, of the regiment joined in. It seems ironic now, and probably was at the time, that they were marching along to war, to a future none of them could predict with certainty, to such a light-hearted and optimistic tune.
In October 1942, the 2/7th played a vital role in the Battle of El Alamein.
How many of those young men who had joined in the jaunt of whistling a happy tune didn’t return home to Australia, and family, and loved ones?
Dad wouldn’t dwell on the losses he experienced during his time in North Africa. I don’t mind that his stories of overseas service were only about the funny, the light-hearted, and the adventurous times. (The best story was when he was on duty as Officer-in-Charge, when a regimental contingent had a ‘night out’ at the local brothel…)
And so tonight, there’s a screening of The Wizard of Oz at son Max’s school. Max loves The Wizard of Oz, as he does many other musicals of the 1940s and 50s. We’re going as family. Any just maybe I might feel a bit sad; but then again, the movie is about hope, and optimism, and cccccourage.