Today my family, like so many across our brown-stained nation, ‘celebrates’ the life of our ancestor, the dead man we never knew, the hero whose seed spawned us all.
Our long-dead great-grandfather, an ANZAC, a man who left Australia’s shores with our sunburnt country in his heart; yet died in a blood filled trench half a world away, his mangled body sprawled in a French farmer’s field; bombed-brown and barren, and so far, far away from home.
All we have left are faded photos; stories whispered across the generations; and the painful, imagined memories of a man who died with a German bullet in his head, while his first-born lay still in his lover’s womb, only days away from entering the world, my grandfather, who two decades later would try to walk in the footsteps of this unknown soldier, his unknown father, and unwittingly wreak a devastation that would ring down through the generations to pass.
In letters to his widow, they pronounced my great-grandfather a hero. He had been awarded a medal they declared, and like our glorious ‘victory’ soon it would be delivered, that’s what they said.
But, like the promised peace, and the man of whom she dreamed each night, it never arrived. Those who promised it had never left.
For 83 years she trudged daily down the potted path to the mailbox at the end of the long, uncut drive, her travels down that well-worn path becoming more difficult as each year passed. Yet each day hearing the sound of the postman’s whistle and the watchdog’s bark, reveille in her heart, still she made that journey.
Step by step, pause by pause – stopping only to imagine the rifleman’s red-dog rattle – she beat the path hoping to hear her lover’s voice inked in bayonet-held hand.
But like the handsome hero, of whose tender touch she nightly dreamed the paean never came. Instead she received the hated epistle, typed by a tired telegraphist’s hand.
We regret to inform you …….
That day the last post rang for her, just as it had for him the Anzac Days before.
The years passed, so many of them, yet still she remained; waiting, hoping; yearning. Until one day, lonely and alone, despite the hundreds who surrounded her, she, like him so many years before, sank swiftly into her grave, yearning to the last for the tender touch of the man – her man – the man who had saved the world.
Or so they who wrote the story said.
As it began, so it ended. In symbiosis, separated by near a century, like he she died.
Alone, dreaming still of her lover’s embrace, so far, far away. Her tear drops fell with her into the deep, dark hole, into which her heart had fallen all those many years ago.
Now year after year we march, clothed in ignorance, medals pinned vainglorious to breasts filled with pain. We march down city streets, the band playing and the maddened, deluded and deceived crowds cheering, for a truth that never was.
And all the while the ignominious glory of blood, sweat, mud, tears and death – dark, cold, young death – rests silently upon our souls; and loss nightly haunts our dreams.
While we sleep a woman lies forever, swollen belly bursting still, waiting for her man to come home.
He never arrived.
He never will.
The tears run ceaselessly down through the generations, and visions of darkness haunt us, while we lay tossing as the still moon stares down upon our hooded lies.
All’s quiet on the Western Front.
All’s quiet indeed.