Sunday, 1 June 2014


I digress slightly as I'm preparing a post about money and conservation, I reflected on the Remembrance Coin I posted below. It got me thinking about War, war stories, experiences, effects on the innocent caught up in global turmoil and post-war trauma for those who fight and return.

Soldiers sent to war, sometimes a war which is far removed from their lives or in many cases irrelevant to them, still go to fight and battle - they go for many reasons - it is expected, social pressure, to earn a living, personal reasons and political agendas of the time.

Perhaps the reasons they go are irrelevant - what is more important is how they live post-war, how they return and live normal, everyday lives after trauma. How do they return to normal lives - it is expected isn't it that men who go to war, will just be able to return and slot in like nothing ever happened - end-of-story.

As it turns out, it doesn't work out that way. War is part of the human time-line's history for many reasons - however, perhaps we're not meant to battle. Perhaps the idea of war is abhorrent to us, so when soldiers return from battle, they're traumatised.

They're traumatised because war creates environments where boundaries are crossed and it's foreign; it's foreign territory to those in combat, living and breathing armed conflict. I don't think we are naturally disposed to warfare. Soldiers returning from combat face social, emotional, physical and psychological issues when adjusting to normalcy.

Soldiers are expected to return from armed conflicts, throw down their knapsacks and get on with it. I know this was the case for my father who was a Prisoner-of-War World War II, (POW - WWII). In the late 1940s, there was no counselling, no de-brief and no emotional psychological therapy to help deal with the trauma and experience of that period when returning to the shores of Australia.

Basically, the war ended and dad was in the camp with the other men just sitting around as their captors had disappeared. They had heard a rumour the war was over and the next thing they knew Dakota aircraft came over and dropped bundles of food. They were Americans.

No one had told them the war was over. After American troops dropped food bundles, British troops arrived. Sick men were flown back to Australia immediately and the others like my dad, were sent back gradually and rebuilt lives.

What is worse, there is inter-generational trauma which means kids experience trauma resulting from their forefathers' war experiences, so the cost and impact of war is passed onto future generations. This has an enormous toll on communities and nations as well as individuals affected.

Here is an excerpt from my father's experience as a WW II POW along the border of Thailand and Burma -

“We had to build a bloody railway. The casualty rate was very high. Every sleeper had cost a life. Many men died of cholera. Weary Dunlop was eventually our doctor. At Konu river camp three hundred men out of a total seven hundred died from cholera. I recall lighting fires with bamboo to burn the bodies to stop the spread of disease.

I survived with the help of two other men. I would go into the jungle and get elephant ear leaves and eat them. I would catch lizards with string by making a loop and the lizard would come up through the hole.

We were rationed with one cup of rice a day. The Japanese made us live on Tokyo time. We would get up in the pitch black and walk to the railway line, called Hell Fire crossing. We had no shoes. It would be pouring rain and stinking hot, about forty degrees Celsius. Blokes just died. We would say, another day nearer the grave.

Reconnaissance planes would come over and take photos. Then they would come back with knowledge gleaned from the shots and bomb our handiwork.

I had my twenty first at Tarso and was given extra rice by my mates. We were at Konu when we were told the war was over. It was about the 15 August 1945. Lots of Japanese came in and put machine guns all around us. I thought, “Hello, they were going to kill us.” My mate said to me, “Pretend we are dead then when they are finished, we will go.”

We had heard a rumour the war was over.

Around this time the Japanese just suddenly disappeared and we were sitting about. Dakota aircraft came over and dropped bundles of food. They were Americans. No one told us the war was over.

Next thing we knew British forces came along and they put us on a train in open carriages and took us down the line towards Singapore. We were taken to a camp. Lady Mountbatten from Burma came to see us, for moral support, I suppose.

The Singapore Red Cross attended to the sick men and flew them out immediately. The rest of us were gradually sent home. We were given money, a certain amount of money. I can’t recall how much. I had had malaria forty to fifty times and weighed six stone.”

As it was a World War, nationalities in Australia were too interned in a Prisoner of War camp in an inland region of southern Australia. Today the camp is symbolic of peace and forgiveness for all who experience warfare - we all ought to express our sorrow for those caught up in battle, those who fought, died, innocent victims, those who return and live a living hell and for those kids who experience inter-generational trauma all in the name of war.

The opposite of war ~~

forgiveness, understanding, compassion, peace, tranquility, acceptace forigve ourselves, harmony, healing

For more information about elephant ear leaves view - Eat your elephant ears - hiding food in plain sight


Weary Dunlop was a military officer on the Burma Thailand railway and he often put his own life at risk to advocate for sick and injured men. He stood up to the captors and laboured tirelessly. He got the name 'Weary' as his last name Dunlop was a reference to being tired like a Dunlop tyre - LOL.

On another note, if I could just be a little bit indulgent, another Australian who I admire is a female sailor called Kay Cottee who in June 1988 became the first woman to sail solo, unassisted and nonstop around the world. I admire her of course for this achievement but also in her autobiography she comes across as a regular and down-to-earth person, chatting to tradies during smoko (tea-break) showing interest in their lives and keen to learn more about their trades.


  1. Hello, dear Allie-Millie! Thank you for examining the ripple effects of war and for posting your father's compelling account of life as a Prisoner of War in WWII. I can't begin to imagine what it was like for him to live in such harsh and filthy conditions, face health threats like cholera and malaria and see suffering and death all around him on a daily basis. Thank goodness he survived.

    They aren't often discussed, but I can think of two more negative side effects of war. The first is "survivor's remorse" experienced by returning soldiers who lost friends or family members to war. The second is a lifelong feeling of guilt experienced by those who did not have to go to war at all. The latter applies to me. I was attending Penn State University when the draft went into effect and young men my age were sent off to fight in the Vietnam Conflict. A lottery decided their fate and would decide mine. I had drawn the number 125, meaning I would be pulled from college and pressed into military service in the 125th round of the draft if that many men were needed. I held my breath for weeks and breathed a sigh when it became clear that the draft quota has been met somewhere around the 100th round. To this day I am haunted by images that I have only seen in newsreels. I wonder how I would have handled myself at war. Could I have taken someone's life? Would I have lost mine? I can't help feeling guilt and shame thinking about those unlucky men who drew low numbers in the draft lottery. Many died young. Others who survived and returned home brought a tremendous amount of baggage with them.

    Thank you again for another thought provoking post, dear friend Allie-Millie. Have a fine Sunday and a great week ahead!

  2. Hi Shady Del Knight,

    Thanks for your comments and your own experiences about war. The 60s was a protest decade with the Civil Rights Movement in the US gaining momentum and the women's rights movement sweeping through industrialised nations. On top of all this there was the Vietnam War - a controversial and unpopular war and we too had conscription, so it was a lottery if your name was called. Equally mixed messages were given for those who both went and for those who stayed at home; so a period of dramatic political and social change. Great music came out of the 60's and movies though - I love Forrest Gump - LOL - anyhow, thank you Shady Del Knight for accepting my invitation to Guest Post @ writing the rapids, so I will be in touch soon - until then - enjoy the beginning of your northern summer as we experience our first day of winter here, until next time - keep safe - yours @ writing the rapids.