Being ANZAC Day, and in order for this blog’s author to assume his first person stance, (terrible sorry Ken, but no outing this time around) Bannerman has been sent to the shed to fetch another bottle of the amber fluid with which we both commemorate the passing of the man to whom this weblog is dedicated, while I tell you a little about that man, and why he remains in the heart and mind of this writer.
As stated, Bannerman is having a day off, and he’s probably just as inebriated as I am right now. One of the benefits of brewing your own, I suppose. ANZAC Day is very special to me given that my father – Alexander Bannerman Cook – fought in New Guinea at twenty years of age. In fact, he passed his twenty-first birthday without realising it, only being made aware by benefit of a telegram from home days later while helping to establish an allied base of operations at Jacquinot Bay in New Britain.
My father rarely spoke of his experiences in New Guinea, in fact I remember only three occasions that he ever spoke of. One being the take-off from Milne Bay, and subsequent crash into the jungle close by, of a beaufighter in 1943, the types of latrines they had in the same place (a 44 gal drum sunk into a hole in the earth right out in the open that one would perch one’s bum over), and the generosity of the naive Yank engineers at Jacquinot Bay in sharing their ice cream ration in exchange for Aussie digger’s bully beef and hard tack. Dad always claimed the Yanks were a good lot, even if gullible and easily led. Farm boys straight from home I believed he called them, but no malice was ever intended. I’m certain there was much, much more to be gleaned from that active mind, but it remained closed for most of my adult life. Now it’s gone forever.
ANZAC Day touches me more today that it has ever done in my fifty years because that source of knowledge is no longer available. I find the link to the past, to the essence of what it means to be a real Aussie, to be willing to put yourself in harms way despite of societal pressures and do what you, the individual, believes to be right, more important in the modern age than it has ever been before. This world we live in hasn’t progressed any further in real terms than when it sighed a breath of relief at the end of hostilities in 1945. As a species, we still feel it necessary to express our technological advancements in militaristic terms, and that I find to be inordinately sad. In fact, I seriously doubt that even our society, at it’s base, has progressed any further than where it stood in 1942 when my father joined up, aged 19. I do remember distinctly him telling me of white feathers being anonymously sent in the mail to eligible young men, as quite commonplace in his day. How very disgusting! In the first world war, young men considered joining up to be an adventure. In the second, it was a duty to be considered at length before commitment, yet society literally demanded their lives through the cowardice of anonymity.
I have my Dad’s army records from enlistment to discharge. His pay sheets, his medical records, his dispersal records. Clearly the Army didn’t record everything because I do remember him telling me of his posting to Finschaffen and Lae. He also saw the volcano at Rabaul erupt in November 1943 which means he traveled, or was assigned around New Britain elsewhere than Jacquinot Bay. These records make interesting reading, apart from allowing the reader to get just that little bit closer to the subject. All of these records are freely available from the National Archives in Canberra by writing to PO Box 7425, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT, 2610 or telephoning 02 6212 3910 for assistance. Including GST, I paid the grand sum of $16.20 to gain access to my father’s war records. I would strongly urge anyone with family still alive who served in the Australian Imperial Forces to access those records. Try to gain the holders confidence sufficient to glean their stories, even if only for the benefit of the immediate listener. This is history which is rapidly receding from us. Once gone into the darkness of the past, it can never be recovered and so, I feel, it’s imperative to preserve those memories in text or voice or even in the special cases, video, for those who come afterwards.
This is why ANZAC Day holds so much interest and reverence for the current post-war generations. Little is really known of what really happened to the individuals concerned because those persons didn’t, and still don’t, want to remember. I feel it’s imperative that those memories be kept alive in order that ANZAC be kept alive. Unless today’s Australians make active efforts to extend the memory of those who fought and survived, the memory of those who fought and died will likely fade, or worse, become confused among the inevitable embellishment which media sensationalism brings when factual evidence fails.
So, in honour of the day and in honour of man, I commend this post to my father – Alexander Bannerman Cook, 1923-2005. My father. My mentor and my friend. May his memory live on in his grandchildren long after I pass.