Judy’s memoirs

Repercussions of War

Among the flowers in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens.

Growing up in the heart of Sydney, in Australia, in the early 50s, meant not only witnessing returned soldiers who had been disabled somehow, somewhere in the world during WW2 but realising that the military uniforms they still wore meant there were hidden stories behind the empty sleeves and trouser legs pinned tidily up either to the shoulder, knee or the crotch.

The stark reality hit home of what war was really all about and my father always used it as an object lesson to chastise me if I was complaining about something. He’d crouch down at a distance and ensuring I had seen the man in the wheelchair with no arms or legs or at least with one arm or leg missing, ask me, “So, do you think you have anything to moan about now?” I’d almost cry with the sadness of it all, shake my head and feel contrite. I was lucky. A strange twist of fate had made my father unfit for active duty because he had varicose veins. He still served in Japan and the Philippines but he had a desk job. He returned with his body intact.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I once witnessed the school’s Head Girl shaking uncontrollably before dissolving into tears. She had been asked to carry the flag at the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day assembly. Her father had died in Japan and some unintelligent person had taken it upon himself to enlighten her about how her father had died at the hands of the Japanese. Well, of course, the story raced around the school like wildfire and I was left numb at ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. It seems he had been buried up to his neck in hot sand, then honey had been poured over his head while killer ants were released to swarm over his face and scalp to enjoy their delicious feast. Apparently, his captors stood there and laughed as he screamed in agony until he died. His daughter had been old enough to remember her father and it had shattered her.

For a special treat, there’d be a speedboat ride from the Gardens.

I was much older before my dad confided in me about a few incidents in the war. He may have had a desk job but he still had done all the rifle and unarmed combat training such as Judo — where he almost accidentally killed a man on the mat in the army training centre in Sydney. One day, he went out into the jungle where he and his fellow soldiers found one of their men hung, drawn and quartered between two trees. A deathly pallor crept over my father’s face and you could see it was an unbearable memory. I learnt not to probe after that. Thereafter, I would read about the war in books.

Over and above the atrocities, which my father always resolutely refused to discuss when I was younger, he did tell me about the lighter side of the war. Being a Staff Sergeant, one of his duties was to sign the leave passes of the men who wanted to go to town for the weekend. This was a pretty straightforward procedure except some of the men didn’t bother following orders until they had second thoughts and felt, perhaps they should approach the Staff Sergeant. They stood in front of my dad’s desk and tried to look as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

“Gidday, Sarge, we’ve come to have our leave passes signed, please.” Before replying, my father looked up and slowly scanned the faces of each of the men. He knew who they were and what they were like. They were young and full of nonsense but it was innocent mischief. Without any fuss, he just said, “Sign ‘em your bloody selves. You’ve been doing it long enough.”

Catching up on some sun in our backyard in Penshurst, Sydney.

After peace had been declared, being billeted in Japan cannot have been easy. However, it gave my father an opportunity to learn more about Japanese families and culture. He only had praise for the people who gave them beds while they waited to demob. I think I might have wondered whether my throat would be slit in the middle of the night but possibly, having experienced or even heard about what happened in the jungle made soldiers sleep very lightly, their rifle always beside them, its bayonet even closer. They must have prayed for their ships to arrive quickly to take them back to their homelands.

There was another incident when my father was walking through a city of Japan and a Japanese man glared and spat at him. Realising the impact of the war on everyone, my father said nothing but almost Instantly, a woman rushed across the street and kow-towed while apologising profusely for the man’s actions. She implored my father to forgive the man, saying, “We know it was not the soldiers who were at war but the governments”. This act of begging for forgiveness resonated deeply with my father.

I think the tug-a-war between the horror of combat as it was and the, what was semi-normality in everyday living for the Japanese again, must have been mystifying and confusing for the soldiers waiting to demob back to Australia. Wars still required a period of waiting to return home, as each troop ship could only take so many soldiers in one journey. Indeed, that lady’s comment about the men themselves not being at war but the governments was very true. Saying a war ended on a specific date didn’t mean everything went back to normal the day after, in any way, whatsoever.

Much has been written about the grievous after-effects of the war on returning soldiers and I think they must have lain deeply buried within my father. Apart from military reunions, it seems it was rarely mentioned and never in front of women. I must have been about nine or 10 when I fully realised how much inherent hatred was harboured for the Japanese because of the cruelty this enemy inflicted during the war. I know the war seemed very real in one way as the soldiers must have been allowed to keep their rifles and bayonets. These ghosts lay in my father’s cupboard, along with his Australian army hat with its distinctive badge of the rising sun. Strangely enough, Japan is referred to as the Land of the Rising Sun. Its country’s flag having the symbol of a sun.

Our house in Penshurst, Sydney.

Once, when we were about to sit down to a cooked lunch, my father noticed we had a new, attractive dinner service.

“Where did this come from?” My father asked.

“It’s from that new shop and it was on sale for a very good price.” Replied my mother.

“And where is it made?”

“I’ve no idea. I just liked the pattern on it.”

So saying, my father lifted his plate with its mashed potatoes, other vegetables and meat and peered underneath, where the stamp showed, Made in Japan.

Immediately, he took his, my mother’s and my plate off the table, piled them up in his arms and strode down the passage, opened the front door, across the patio and over to the front fence. My bewildered mother and myself bobbing up and down behind him. We were in a state of shock. He didn’t stop, making a number of trips to repeat this action, with bread-and-butter plates, dessert bowls, tea cups and saucers, milk jugs and anything else in the dinner set, angrily enquiring of my mother as he went whether there was anything more anywhere. Finally, when it was all broken, he was satisfied and wheeled around to reprimand my mother.

“Don’t you ever, ever bring anything into this house again, that has been made in Japan. Do you understand me?!”

It was the beginning of the era of shoddy goods entering Australia. It was definitely not up to the standard of what the usual Japanese housewives’ teacups were like, made by craftsmen. The transparent bottoms and delicate china with beautiful patterns. These were just basic items of crockery but they were made in Japan.

Years later, he explained to me that the dreadful atrocities of war had not only been committed by that Asian nation but by the allies as well. By then, I had read a lot about the war but found it difficult to accept what he was saying. However, he told me that such barbarous acts had also been imposed on the enemies by the British, the Americans and yes, even the Australians. Life suddenly looked very different. The reality of the human animal was totally altered. What was it that changed these men into virtually unrecognisable beasts? Obviously, I had a lot to learn about life.

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Hi, I’m Judy

My maiden name was Hawkins and perhaps that explains why I love travelling. Sir John Hawkins, who sailed for Queen Elizabeth I, was supposed to be related to me. Possibly, that may only be a fanciful notion on the part of my late father and in any case, I can’t be overly proud of the fact. Hawkins was responsible for discovering the use of tobacco by the Native Americans, returning to England with it and the process of smoking in 1565. Not to mention the dreadful fact that he was also a slave trader.

Perhaps none of us knows a lot about our ancestors. I grew up in the days when a person’s personal business was just that – personal. I like it that way but in this Blog you can peek around the edges of my life. I am a non-smoker and only raise a glass of champagne on special occasions. Otherwise … well, I’d like to think you’ll find me interesting.

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