ANZAC day 2012 – Family Perspectives

Today is ANZAC day. If you are not an Aussie or Kiwi, you may not be familiar with the day. It is the day that our countries honour the Australia New Zealand Army Corp. You can read more about the day here.

I just read a nice little story here about a mother sending her son to war. I decided to join the ANZAC Day blog challenge and remember my family’s involvement in serving our country and the implications war had on our family.

Our family has a limited history of military service. My grandfather served in World War 2, but was never posted overseas due to being an excellent training instructor.

Clarence Joseph. Light Horseman.

My great grandfather and great uncle served in World War 1 in Europe. Their tale is a good story, that has often been retold by the family. This is how the story goes according to oral tradition:

When my Great Grandfather, Ben, married my great Grandmother, Peggy, in 1918, he already had 5 children to a previous marriage. The eldest of those 5 children was Les. Ben and Peggy had three more girls, the youngest of these was Beryl, my grandmother.

Ben was a sharp shooter. He was a finalist in the prestigious  “Kings Shoot” competition. (A competition among various countries in the Commonwealth, which still continues today) Here he is photographed at the event. He’s the man kneeling on the ground with an enormous moustache.

When WWI began, Ben signed up and was sent overseas. Ben had a natural gift of leadership and this assisted him rising up the ranks. Unfortunately Ben also had a natural larrikin spirit. The combination of these two traits meant that Ben had a series of promotions followed by demotions.

The favourite family story illustrating this is when Ben the Sharp Shooter became Ben the Shark Shooter.

On a troop carrier to England he was travelling in enemy waters and there was a rigid regime of silence that was being enforced. The men used to congregate on the top deck watching the waves. A shark was noticed swimming alongside the boat. Ben, then a sergeant and well known as a crack shot, started boasting that he would be able to shoot the shark. Before long a rifle was smuggled up to the deck. Ben took careful aim and BANG! He shot the shark. It resulted in him being stripped of his stripes and sent to the brig for the rest of the journey.

Benjamin John Palmer in England with his cousin.

Meanwhile back at home, young 16 year old Les had lied about his age and signed up into the army. The story is that Ben was extremely surprised one day to meet up with Les in France. Ben informed an officer that Les was underage and Les was sent back to England until his 17th birthday.

Ben was gassed on the fields of France. He was returned to England and spent a great deal of time in convalescence before returning home to Australia. His family said he never was the same after war. His spirit had been crushed and he was often sick as a result of complications sustained from the war. He died in 1948.

Les served overseas before being sent home after being caught in a bomb explosion on Flanders Fields where he was catapaulted through the air. He remained deaf in one ear for the rest of his life and became sterile.

Les had been engaged, but called it off when he returned home. He never married, but instead he devoted his life to the care of Ben’s wife, his stepmother.

They remained living in a small cottage which had been built for return soldiers. It was the house that my Gran grew up in and I remember visiting “Old Gran and Uncle Les” there as a young child.

Great Gran and Uncle Les with myself, (the oldest child with the becoming hair do thanks to Mum), my sister Katrina and brother Gregory. I don’t know where little Julienne was – maybe getting a nappy change?

When Uncle Les was no longer able to care for Great Gran by himself, she was transferred to a nursing home and faithfully Uncle Les would walk over an hour every day to visit her.

There are many forms of sacrifice that Australian soldiers have demonstrated for their country. Their sacrifice and involvement has not only influenced the family life of thousands of Australians, it has shaped our country.

It is an honour to remember these courageous men and women every ANZAC day.

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