Archives For Fathers

Family_Fathers_War

Royal Navy & A.I.F, 6th Lighthorse WW1, 6th A.B.G.R.O Coy WW1, 12th Reinforcements 4th Batt WW1. Papua New Guinea WW2, Royal Australian Airforce 1950’s & Army Reseve 1980’s. (Frederick Petrie not pictured).

I have a difficult relationship with Anzac day.

Firstly, I am fond of the practice of remembrance. It reminds the Australian people of their unique narrative, and place in the world. One that we can too easily take for granted, or pound into dust via political correctness.

For those of us with forefathers who were broken by war, it can be difficult to find a pathway beyond bitterness towards grateful ownership of our own narrative.

We find ourselves busy trying to repatriate ourselves into a family, in the shadow of those who found it difficult to be repatriated.

For example: ‘when the war ended, thousands of ex-servicemen, many disabled with physical or emotional wounds, had to be re-integrated into a society keen to consign the war to the past and resume normal life’. (AWM)

A personal example of this is my Great-Great grandfather, Frederick William Petrie. He was a locomotive fireman (stoker) and a volunteer, who enlisted in December 1916, at the age of 36.

From Australia he went to France, where he became a corporal in the ‘6th Australian broad gauge railroad company’ (6th A.B.G.R.O Coy). His war record shows that he served until July, 1918. Four months before the war was officially declared over.

Frederick’s reason for discharge was because he had ‘neurasthenia’. Neurasthenia is a general condition related to ‘shell shock’. That is, he suffered from ‘severe fatigue and emotional distress’. This was more than likely brought on by the trauma of spending eighteen months  shovelling coal into the belly of a steam train moving back and forth with supplies to ‘barren and bloodied battlefields’ (King).

Although Frederick was a non-combatant, as an engineer, his support role was crucial to the allied advance and it put him in harms way where he would surely have come under fire. Usually from artillery barrages, an enemy he could not see or even anticipate.

Lt. R.J Burchell in an interview for the ‘West Australian’ in 1919 illuminates the circumstances:

‘we were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even…the furthest back station of the 4th company was under fire from the 15in guns…With both planes and guns the enemy paid systematic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realise that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Coy…had the worst of it…their section of line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy…the amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and trains carry 1000-ton loads…the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised.’
(Lt. R.J Burchell 5th coy, The West Australian, June 1919)

F.W.P returned to Australia in 1918. Petrie had difficulty readjusting to a peacetime existence.

He helped raise my Grandfather, ‘Ted’, who had joined the Australian Airforce as an aircraft fitter in the 1950’s. ‘Ted’s testimony at a court-martial indicates the difficulty imposed on families by the ongoing effects of war:

Testimony_EdwardJHO

Adding to this the representative for his defence argued that:

assessmentbythedefendinglawyer_EdwardJHO

Although I have my reservations, I refuse to ‘howl with the wolves’ (Barth) and ridicule Anzac Day, deconstructing it, in an overexcited academic orgy that decries war, the evils of Patriarchy or the evils of Western civilisation.

I simply want to state that for me and my family, along with a large portion of Australians, Anzac day forces us to confront a ‘stubborn fact – the brutally elementary data’ (Arendt cited by Elshtain, 2000, p.135), that proves: causalities of war are not only the servicemen who were thrown into it’s abyss.

There is a ripple effect and it’s causalities also include the wives, children and the generations that followed these men.

Anzac day is not about a nations ideology. Anzac day is about a nations remembrance; its humanity and its theology. This is exhibited every April when a nation makes room for healing, gratitude and the acknowledgement that, those generations directly impacted by war are not forgotten.

Anzac day allows us the room to reflect and explain to others that we bear the burden of their scars, not just the benefit of their medals.

Anzac day should affect us. If the gravity of it doesn’t force us to reflect, we will end up in an ignorance which leads us to being only one misstep away from repeating history.

This also has theological relevance. For instance, we are reminded of  James’ call to look out for the widow and the orphan (Jm.1:27), and David’s reminder that ‘God is the father of the fatherless and protector of widows’ (Ps.68:5).

The benefit of Anzac day is that it allows a nation the room to grieve collectively.

According to my family history, we are the children of soldiers. We do not carry their wounds, but we do carry their scars.

Although we share different contexts, we still feel the effects of the price they paid.

Today, there are  serious interpersonal conflicts. These are largely caused by the hidden effects of a trauma still echoing through the generations. Because this goes unacknowledged, it is like watching ripples spread out from a point of impact in my family’s history. Anzac day helps me to frame that drama in a very real context. War, although now distant, is in large part the cause of that dysfunction.

Anzac day disturbs my complacency by confronting me with the story I am handed. It reminds us that we are given the gift of choice, and the chance to not make the same mistakes.

The Anzac pilgrimage each April is a paradox of thanksgiving grounded in the dialectic outcomes of war. War disinherits. Through the sacrifice of freedom it sets up an inheritance of freedom.

War costs families. It diminishes the potential for healthy and holistic relationships. Yet it opens the door for grace, forgiveness and gratitude.

Anzac day also brings us to find some deep sense of solidarity with Jesus Christ and the cross He was crucified on. It reminds us of His resurrection (Jn.15:13), and brings, by this fact, families to a place of hope, saying that through Him they can rise from the ashes of war.

Anzac day allows each generation to move forward in courage. It allows room for people to own their stories, leaving at the foot of the cross, the psychological, spiritual, emotional and financial dysfunction that war causes.

The hope of Anzac Day is Jesus Christ. It compels us to align ourselves with the table turning Messiah (Mt.21:12),  who, through His Spirit, is constantly at work in ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, even when we don’t see it.

It is here that we can catch our breath and find hope among the ashes.

#LestWeForget.


References (not otherwise linked):

Elshtain, J.B 2000 ‘Who are we?: Critical reflections and hopeful possibilities Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

When you come into a marriage with poverty and a broken heritage:

How do you move from the economic class of renter to “Home Owner”, without selling your own soul, selling out your own goals or killing that marriage?

When your support pillars are war ruins, broken hearts, lives and relationships:IMG_20140119_181544

How do you bring a shattered past to support the present?

When no gifts are left to you:

How do you say thank you for good gifts when they come?

When a parent abdicates responsibility, antagonizes the wounds, and  then a sibling speaks in half-truths, and falsely accuses, in order to hide the embarrassment of wrong doing:

How do you forgive?

How do you defend?

When the hand-downs  and opinions are always accusations, cruel measurements, and covert put downs:

How do you understand yourself and your own worth?

How do you breathe?

When the hands that were designated to be helpers don’t help:

How do you ask for help?

When people are moulded by manipulation and won by charm and false appearances:

How do you bless and not fall to the temptation to impress?

When you forgive and are not forgiven:

How do you engage or disengage properly when others refuse to do the same?

Perhaps a good place to begin is here:

                1. Talk with the Lord
                2. Learn carefully
                3. Care carefully
                4. Put into service the paradoxes of thanksgiving and of forgiveness
                5. Be brave

Don’t let that shattered heritage take root, or bring the echoes of resentment into your marriage. Reject the cycle of abuse. Reuse the useful things you have. I.e.: take stock, then do what you can with what you’ve got.

Aim to bless rather than impress[i].

Talk with the Lord. He is a working God, active caring and in pursuit of the broken.

Listen carefully because the ‘insight into divine matters is like a seed that needs to grow into a mature plant…Mature knowledge does not come quickly or easy…it takes time to penetrate profound matters and make them our own’[ii]

Trust and ‘humility must be the order of the day’[iii]

Learn carefully because ‘God’s leading is experienced as His Spirit fosters movement towards the truth, despite our mistakes and errors…we must be both hopeful and sober about the possibilities’[iv]

Care carefully because you are carefully cared for far beyond the extreme void, that makes you torn and breathless. Look at the blessings that do exist and count them, no matter how small, each one has significance.

There is no emptiness to His care. Give him permission to move you from an intensive care unit to a tender care one.

Put into service the paradoxes of thanksgiving and of forgiveness; losing in order to win[v], where the world measures success by appearance. Your success is measured by God in the victory and bravery of His Son, who is and was and is to come. Maintain boundaries and remember that forgiveness does not mean returning to a place of ignorance.

Be brave because beauty and light is found beyond the seemingly unbreakable walls of fear and dark loathing.

Weeping may tarry for the night,  but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5

Extreme anxiety has no future home in a broken heart[vi] touched by God. For the humble and broken are closer to the heart of God than they realise[vii].


[i] Mt.5:38, ESV “Forgive and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you”
[ii] Pinnock, C. 1996, Flame of Love InterVarsity Press p.219
[iii] Ibid, p.219
[iv] Ibid, p.219
[v] Matthew 16:25, ESV
[vi] Matthew 6:25, ESV
[vii] Psalm 34:18