This morning here in Helsinki I finished reading “The Great War” by Les Carlyon.
Today I will be in France.
It is truly well worth reading, a fine book which tells the stories of some of the hundreds of thousands of Australian men and women who went to Europe in the Great War. “The war to end wars”. He tells the story from many viewpoints.
I’ll be thinking of the men my mum told me about, her dad Alex Gibson, her uncle Jack and men I met like Gerald Boës who was my great aunt Gloria’s husband. He was an electician from Sydney, a trade unionist and a Dutchman. He had served in the Dutch Navy as an apprentice electrician.
Gloria came to Helsinki with her political work in the women’s peace movement.
Mum loved her dad immensley and she remembers him everyday. I never knew him, he died young from the results of mustard gas shelling. He spent 3 years in France and Beligum. It is impossible to contemplate.
I asked my aunt Gwen recently whether Alex Gibson said much about the Great War to her. She said all he said was those who talked about it weren’t there. On another occasion during the Great Depression on seeing a workless mate from the AIF walking towards him in the street he said, “here comes another workless victor”.
I know that both Alex and Gerald were politcally active and there is the story of Uncle Jack throwing down his war medals at a protest in the Sydney Domain in the depression only to threatened with a charge of destroying the King’s property.
So today I will be in France and I will remember them.
I will also think about Duncan McCallum, a railway fettler of Redfern who grew up in Lakemba. He is my Dad’s uncle who is buried in Belgium near Passchendale. My great uncle.
My grandfather Donald McCallum was opposed to conscription and he lost his brother Duncan to that war to end wars only to watch his sons go off to the next one.
Duncan was 35 when he died, the father of two little girls. He’d been in France and Belgium less than a year when he was killed in that terrible battle. I will visit his grave.
So this part of the reason for my journey. Lest we forget.