My adopted father served in the 29th Brigade, 47th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Military Forces, in World War II, and never spoke much about his six years in the army. Since his passing, I have done much research at the Australian War Memorial, to get a better understanding of his history and his service. There is a memorial plaque, at the AWM, for the 29th Brigade, and I wept when I saw it. My adopted father had actually told me quite a lot about his war; I didn't realise it until I saw that memorial plaque, and the Brigade motto:
"The difficult we perform immediately, the impossible sometimes takes a little longer."
I heard my father say that motto, that phrase, many, many times. He served from 1939 to 1945, yet he repeated that motto, I think, until the day he died. When I think what it must have represented to him, meant to him, from the time he learned it, until his passing in 2010, I am staggered by the depth of meaning his service gave to him.
The soldier's heart is something the rules and regulations don't take into account. It is considered, in the intent of the various military codes, as a given, something that the soldier will give in the line of duty.
The true soldier, the one who signs on to defend country and honour, in times of peace and war, the one who *gets* it, is the most precious asset a country can possibly have. The fancy war toys are nothing without the personnel to operate them. The planes can't fly themselves, even the fancy drones we have these days, and the ships can't sail themselves. War, regardless of how fancy the toys, will always come down to our people on the ground against the other people on the ground. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way.
Once a man or woman gives that commitment to serve to that final and bitter end, the soldier's heart must be respected and honoured, from recognition of their service during service and on demobilising, down to the folding of the flag from the coffin and the treatment of their surviving families.
Dad, I have a print of that memorial plaque on the wall of my home office, and I see look at it every day, and think of you. I think of all the times you had an obstacle, and heard you say this. I think of the encouragement you gave me, saying this.
While you were my adopted dad, you were the only dad I knew, and you broke my heart as only a dad can; I still don’t know if you meant to or not. If only I had known about that Brigade motto, back when I was a child, maybe things could have been different. Maybe I could have understood your thousand-yard stare, understood why you would only talk about the Red Cross, and the local New Guinea porters. Maybe it could have explained many other things, behaviours, withdrawals and the solace you found in your car and your dogs.
I have followed your Battalion’s trail, up the Queensland coast. I have visited the gun emplacements that your Battalion built and reinforced on the Coral Coast prior to deployment to New Guinea. One day, I’ll get to the sites in Papua New Guinea and Bouganville.
You gave your word, your undertaking, when you signed on to the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces. You had that soldier’s heart, all the way back in 1939, and while you may have left the army at the end of World War II, I know now that the army never left you.
As my research continues, I will, no doubt, find out more and more about those 5 years of your life, and maybe, wherever you are up there, you’ll hear me say, “Dad, thank you for your service.”