Tommy Wilson: Pain of war a lonely burden

By Tommy Wilson

Add a comment
An exhibit at Te Papa. For many soldiers at Gallipoli, the letters they received from loved ones back home were all that kept them sane.
An exhibit at Te Papa. For many soldiers at Gallipoli, the letters they received from loved ones back home were all that kept them sane.

Dear Dad -

This is a letter you never received during your dark days of war. Wars that have always been fought over land and religion, and it still goes on today, Dad.

"When will we ever learn" - remember that Howard Morrison song you used to sing with Uncle Jerry at the Rotorua RSA?

I walked around the Gallipoli Exhibition at Te Papa on Saturday in stunned silence, as did most of the others who had queued in line with me - and you walked with me, Dad.

Although it may have been 100 years ago that this battle took place, and although we walked around trying to connect with what took place, there is no answer for war and what it is good for.

Only you can tell me that, and I guess you never could because it was just too damn painful to talk about. So you suffered in silence for all those years, like a candle in the wind, not knowing who to turn to other than your RSA mates.

What was it like for you, Dad? War and all that went with it?

How could a boy, barely 17, understand what was over there on the other side of the world where you were heading? Did you know who or what you were fighting for and why?

We do, Dad. We are reminded about it every year on Anzac Day - the day for us to remember you and your RSA mates.

Last year we visited the cemeteries in Normandy and again you were with me, and I found the very same corner in Italy that you sat on, that I knew from your war chest of photos and medals you thought were hidden from us down the back of your wardrobe.

You, all decked out in your uniform with your war buddies after it was all over, and you were one of the lucky ones heading home.

I sat on the same corner and now I too have that photo. It's called a "selfie", Dad.

I thought of you then, as I did at Te Papa on Saturday.

There is a haunting image in the Gallipoli exhibition that will stay with me forever. It's of a soldier who looked a lot like you, Dad, opening a letter from home and holding it close to his heart as if it were his mother's apron or childhood teddy bear. It is all he has to stay sane amongst the madness and absolute terror that surrounds him as his mates are cut down like the first cut of fresh hay on the Taranaki farm he longed for back home.

What made this image so haunting, so sad and so wanting to ask you so many more questions, Dad, was I knew you didn't get any letters during your time over there, in what we simply called the "war days", and that is why you had 11 kids - so you would never be alone ever again.

You were a street kid brought up mostly on your own, with no close family to write to you during those dark days when you needed a mother's apron or a sister's comforting words of news back home in the land of milk and honey.

Words woven into letters of love, to pick you up like a sweet chariot, coming forth to carry you home.

Today in Te Puna as we march to remember, I will march for you, Dad.

We will all march for loved ones from bygone wars and carry their memories like a letter, close to our heart and forever etched in gratitude for what you gave, so we could have freedom to enjoy life without having to fight in a war.

Others will march for their own fathers, loved ones and ancestors, who fought for their lands right here in Tauranga and paid the ultimate sacrifice so we could live on whenua paid for with their blood.

Some will march for the vets of Vietnam and the brothers in arms of the Maori battalion while the almost forgotten heroes of Iraq, Malaysia, Boer and Bosnia could and should be equally remembered on this day.

I don't know if we, as a world, have learned the lesson that war has taught us but I know you did, Dad, and paid for it in ways we are only beginning to understand.

You couldn't share that world with us and sometimes you were just a shell of what you would have been if your country hadn't come calling for you to go to war.

So I salute you, my war hero father, and I write this letter to sit somewhere in the pocket of your heart, where you will always know you and your war hero mates shall never be forgotten.

Lest we forget.


- Tommy Wilson is a Tauranga author and writer.

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 23 Oct 2016 08:57:29 Processing Time: 523ms