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June 18, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: My Last Post

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Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: My Last Post

Saturday was Anzac Day. I was up early – not for remembrance but for a walk. Like a lot of Aussies I occasionally turn up at the 11am march, stand in the sun, get hot, wish I’d worn a hat, contemplate the unreality of going to war, pay my respects, then go home and enjoy a barbeque on the public holiday that our ancestors fought and died for. No one in my immediate family fought in any of the world wars; my grandfather had flat feet. That’s all I was ever told, as a child, when I asked why my grandfather didn’t have medals like my friend’s grandfathers did. For some reason, flat feet forbade you from combat. Perhaps the feet were too unattractive for the rest of the unit to deal with in such close quarters?
As a child, I wondered about flat feet. I found myself checking my own feet, and to my relief I found nicely formed arches. I have hero feet. Not the loser feet of my ancestors. The cowardly flat foot. Apparently they thought flat feet were clumsy. Your unit would be on a stealth mission, running through the forest. The enemy was close. You were quietly approaching, ready for the surprise attack, except Norman, the bloke from the country town who has flat feet, he’s fallen over again, dropped his backpack, his gun has fired, and now he’s fumbling with his military issue cutlery, the metallic clanging resounding in the quiet damp morning. Flat feet were the tootsies of defeat. Flat feet was a disqualifying factor when it came to enlisting for service in World War II. There were a lot of beliefs about the flat foot that have since been shown to be the stuff of mythology. Flat footers, like flat Earthers, may be annoying, but they are now eligible for military service. It turns out that people with flat feet actually incur fewer injuries than those with significant arches. They should have taken the flat-footed fucker.
I say that with the utmost respect, acknowledging the war and the ruin my grandfather stayed home to effect on his own family. That kind of war has no public holiday. The women and children who survived the nightly bombings, on his return from the pub, got no medals. Like returned servicemen their trauma also stained the generations that followed.
It’s dark, I’m drinking tea. I hear a lone bugle play The Last Post. Its mournful notes float in the darkness high above my small town, lingering in the silence. This year is the year no one can gather. The notes are all that connect us. This haunting mournful reverie – a reminder of the sacrifice of men and women long gone. Those men who, when boys, fought the battles of old men who used the poor and dispensable to fight their battles. The thought of no one being able to gather in remembrance made The Last Post even more melancholy. On this day, men who don’t speak of their trauma gather quietly in the dark to cry. By the time the sun comes up they are having a beer.
I find myself in tears. I move to my verandah to cling to those wavering notes that hover in the air. From my perch I see a lone woman holding a candle-lit vigil in her driveway. Somehow this is more poignant than the communal gathering. I think about what ANZAC Day means. About the unfathomable experiences of young men my sweet and gentle son’s age who were killed, or if they weren’t killed, if they lived through the horror, returned so traumatised they became the ‘enemy’ in their own families.
Whole generations of broken and damaged men used as pawns in a government war machine. The bugle notes are rising; I think about the resilience of that generation. I think about how soft we are; complaining of our hardship in lockdown in our nice comfortable homes.
I think about the old people. ANZAC Day always makes me think about old people. Many of them now very alone, either in isolation at home, or in nursing homes, with no family to visit. It’s their wartime again. They are on emotional rations. This time it’s not the young, it’s the old who are falling on the frontline.
It occurs to me how little we value them. There will be no march for them when they’ve gone. No public holiday. No one will gather at their funerals. In the time of COVID-19 these old people will die alone. The Last Post finishes. I wipe my face, finish my tea, and head to the beach. Lest we forget.

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  1. Brilliant and singularly poignant. I want to repost it but don’t want my 79-yr-old sister to see it because of the prophecy “…these old people will die alone…” That terribly sad situation may happen in some cases but is far from inevitable. Current “National Cabinet’s strong guidance to all Australians is to stay home unless for”…. (various reasons including)… “medical or health care needs, including compassionate requirements”.
    There is a similar exemption in the UK where she is. One can only hope that whoever is in a position to do so will have the courage to use it.

  2. Mandy – you’ve done it again – another great column. ANZAC often enlivens thoughts of our forebears, the men marching away, or as was the case of my mother’s cousin, enlisted in the last years of WWI aged 14 (he was 6 foot) & injured on the Somme.
    And then there were the women left behind working as the reserve army, raising kids, looking after elderly people, making clothes out of dad’s old shirts & trousers, cooking with make-do ingredients, writing calm loving letters to “our boys on the front” while their front was a battle-ground too.
    After the war the shattered families – “war neurosis” (PTSD), the fathers who were strangers to their kids and mongrels to their wives – and the many stories of hardships of a different sort despite the 1950s economic boom.
    Agree war is ghastly, inhumane, unfair and too often brings out the worst of man the savage. War is totally evil – always was, always will be. In this 21st century will nations find another way to settle their differences?

  3. Wonderfully written, Mandy. My Irish grandmother lost
    4 brothers in WW 1 & she worked with Salvage during
    WW 2 & ‘cussed’ most days I’m told because her two
    sons were over there. Salvage was the ‘place’ where
    the war dead uniforms were sent. The women often
    found unsent letters, family photographs, poetry &
    [as Geordie told me] an odd finger etc. The women
    fed the uniforms through the laundry – because
    they were recycled – & stitched them back to almost
    new. War is savage stuff.

  4. Great story Mandy. My dad got dragged into both wars,bankruptcy 1937 and a spell of unemployment (UK) not to mention the rest of the family.I can still remember the bombing. I was born in the depression remember being evicted ( furniture sold for 5 shillings) grew up during the war. How my Mother coped I have no idea, the good thing was that my Dad was not not an abuser or a drunk and they were close to each other until death. I have been a peace activist all of my life as has Julian Assange the forgotten,betrayed,vilified editor of Wikileaks imprisoned in Belmarsh Jail in solitary confined in his cell 22 hours a day. His CRIME is he exposed the criminal
    activities of the war mongers. Lest We Forget heroes like Julian otherwise we will all pay a heavy price
    Frank Ball, Tweed Heads

  5. I was under the impression that flat feet were rejected because in those days,the First World War especially soldiers were required to march long distances to get from A to B and flat feet became very painful to the extent that they were incapable of marching on. That would require mates to help them along thus overtiring all of them. So take pity on your poor ancestor


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