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Friday, 2 December 2016

My Dad's Army

Some years before my father died a document circulated among some of his friends from the Second World War. It was a transcript of a radio programme from early 1943, a series of interviews with members of his unit, including Dad himself, recorded after the horrendous Buna - Sananada fighting in which they had participated. Because of wartime secrecy, the unit - the 2/12 Australian Infantry Battalion - was not identified. For a link to the transcript scroll to the bottom of this post.

As well as  my father, some of the men interviewed here were intermittent characters in my childhood and youth. It’s a strange feeling to read this text and come across familiar names and idioms.  In a prefatory note to The Middle Parts of Fortune (the best novel of the First World War) the author, Frederic Manning wrote “ recording the conversations of the men I seemed at times to hear the voices of ghosts.”

Leo Gardner (1918-2004)

There are army terms used in the transcript that might be unfamiliar to some readers. “MT” is “Motor Transport”, “sig” is “signaller”, “draw the crabs” means “attract enemy fire”, “C O” is “commanding officer”. If anybody has any questions on this or any other aspect of the transcript I will happily attempt to answer them.

Reflecting on these interviews leads me to try and clarify my thoughts about how we remember various wars and the men who fought in them. That is a matter for a later post. For now all I will say is that I am scornful of ill-informed and mawkish displays of public sentimentality. I can hardly do better than to quote Frederic Manning again.

“War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half of its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.”

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