Monday, July 1, 2013

Day 12

DAY 12 Today’s agenda was sightseeing around Lae.  First stop was a view of the old air strip which was now stacked with containers & then on to the war cemetery.  

The cemetery is maintained by the Australian Government & very well kept.  There was also security as unfortunately locals had taken to both vandalism of the cemetery but also trying to solicit &/or steal from visitors to the cemetery (like us).  There a number of plaques commemorating various battles in & around Lae that had been relocated to the front of the cemetery due to said vandalism.

Blue’s brother Tom (my great uncle) also went to war, but was killed in action & never made it home.  In a way, this was the culmination of our journey, to find Tom’s grave in the cemetery.  We are certainly the only family who have ever made the pilgrimage to pay our respects & probably the only people ever to specifically visit his grave. 

I’d not really given a lot of thought over the years to my great uncle Tom.  I knew that he died in the war & until recently didn't even realize that he fought in PNG although in a different battalion to Blue & I had no idea he even had a grave over there.  It wasn't until someone mentioned to me that the thing Dad was most looking forward to on the trip was seeing his uncles grave, that I began to think about it.

That he never had the opportunity to meet my Dad or any of his nieces or nephews.  That he never had the opportunity to come home like Blue & make a life, find love, get married, have children.  That was all denied him.  Regardless of my feelings about war, he went voluntarily & believed he doing the right thing for his family if not his country (Blue was to have said he never fought for the “government”).  

The last time Great Uncle Tom saw any of his family was in Lae at the hospital after Blue had been shot: they ran into each other there.  According to Blue, he said to Tom, don’t you recognize me?

I was feeling quite emotional as we entered the cemetery.  It is by no means a large war cemetery, but most of the people buried there we under the age of 25.  Dad & Plumbing Boy went on ahead & checked the cemetery register finding Tom’s details.  

There were big plaques on the wall listing all those who were denied a burial as their bodies weren't recovered.  I felt a bit weird taking photos of the plaques, almost disrespectful.  I commented such to G who assured me that it wasn't disrespectful; the fact that we were there showing respect warranted it.

Next it was time to find Tom’s plot which was first, in the last row on the top left hand side of the cemetery.  As we walked towards the plot, I looked for flowers & apologized silently to the gardeners for taking a couple, to place on his grave.  Emotion welled up in me & I almost felt sick as we approached his grave.  I knew that there was nothing to be afraid of, but I felt so bad that he had been there all that time with no-one to bring him flowers or to say goodbye.  I knew this was a bit daft & that he wasn't really there, but that was how I felt.  Dad laughed at me with my flowers saying that I was a better man/woman than he, as he hadn't even thought of doing that.  

We took a few photo’s & then went on to look at some of the other graves.  Each family was given the opportunity to have a line of their own words on the plaque & I had to stop reading them or I was going to run out of tissues.  I’d also lost my sunglasses the day before & it was a very overcast & glarey day.  This in combination with sinusitis which was now in full force did not help my teary state.

I went back to Tom’s grave a few times before we left the cemetery saying my own personal good bye.  And hello.  How do you say goodbye to someone you never even had the chance to meet? 

We found the area where the locals were buried & a whole section of Indian sailors who’d been used by the Japanese to dig tunnels under Lae.  All of their plots read: hear lies an Indian sailor, with the date of the war on the plaque.  While their names were unknown as were their birth & death dates, they each were given a respectful burial & a plaque.  So So Sad.

Once we’d finished wandering around, Reg & Dave called us together to the monument in the center of the cemetery where Reg said a few words.

From the FallenThey went with songs to the battle, they were young,Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;They sit no more at familiar tables of home;They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,To the innermost heart of their own land they are knownAs the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,To the end, to the end, they remain.

From Danny Boy Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callingFrom glen to glen, and down the mountain sideThe summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadowOr when the valley's hushed and white with snow'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadowOh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dyingAnd I am dead, as dead I well may beYou'll come and find the place where I am lyingAnd kneel and say an "Ave" there for me. And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above meAnd all my dreams will warm and sweeter beIf you'll not fail to tell me that you love meI'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me. I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me. 

 Again the atmosphere was emotionally charged with Reg’s voice starting to break as he concluded. Dave & G were keen on finding some of the graves of VC recipients & PB was enjoying reading the register & learning about some of the soldiers who were buried there, so they joined forces, PB found the VC’s & Dave & G found their graves.  

Dave said that usually when he goes to a war cemetery he picks a random grave & places a stone on it to pay his respect; as per Tom’s grave, many graves are not visited & he feels this is the best way he can pay his respect. Both G & I had run out of camera battery by the time we’d finished at the cemetery & our driver Kevin was happy to make a quick detour back to the hotel for us to pick up fresh batteries & also to do a drive by a chemist as Dad’s nasal spray was now giving me rebound sinus issues & I picked up some Sudafed.  Dave & Reg were happy too, to make a stop picking up a razor & a phone charger respectively! Next stop was the Markham bridge although the significance was lost on me, still feeling quite emotional & unwell due to said sinus issues.  The bridge wasn't there during the war & the supplies had to navigate across in boats I guess.  

After this we went to the yacht club for lunch (where we’d returned to yesterday from Salamaua) – the food was so much better than the hotel!!!  Next stop a the beginning of the tunnels the Japanese had dug under the town of Lae & apparently went under our hotel several kms away, a church who’s relevance I missed, then a rundown wildlife park which was pretty sad to see the animals in captivity.  We were told they’d tried to release the birds back into the wild, but were unable to fend for themselves & kept coming back to the park to be fed.

 Finally we returned to our hotel for a relax until our final dinner back at the yacht club.  I had a sleep, the boys a few beers, K a read & I think the same for Dad.  It was quite surreal at this point to believe we’d completed our pilgrimage & were about to return home.  It felt like it had gone forever, yet at the same time was over in the blink of an eye.  I wasn't ready for it to be over! Dave did a little presentation & awarded us each a laminated certificate of completion which was sweet.  He always finds it rewarding doing treks with people who have a family connection & in our case the two connections made it all the more special & he has asked Dad for a photo & more information on Tom to do something with.  Despite the fact that his clowning around at times frustrated me, his passion for what he does, his knowledge & his crazy sense of humor rendered him overall a pretty good bloke & I was grateful for the opportunity to have trekked with him.  That said there were still a few organisational issues that need ironing out & a strict policy on NO THONGS of which he is well aware of :0)!


Emile Buttocks said...

I can't understand people who vandalize cemetaries. Its one of those crimes where you just want to hunt them down and beat them.

C said...

Oh gees Cat, are you trying to make me cry?! That was really touching and I can only imagine what it would have meant to your grandfather that you paid your respects to his brother. It is such an amazing thing to do for someone and I am sure it is a memory that both you and your dad will cherish forever.


AlleyCat said...

Emile - yes, evil bloody vandals.

C - yes, I made myself cry writing it!!! And it is indeed a memory we will both cherish of ever. xo