I watched as the young widow laid her wreath. I wanted to tell her I was with her husband shortly before he was killed in action. It was not to be. In seconds she had merged with the large gathering attending the Dawn Service.
Decades later, she rang me and, in excited voice, told me she had just read the poem (below) and had been given my phone number.
A religious lass, she had deserted her faith with the news of her husband’s death and had spent much of her young life raising her children, as both mother and father. It was then she told me, after reading the poem a lifetime later, her faith had been restored, and was very grateful to have found her God again.
Time marches on, and each year she rings with Christmas greetings, always cheerful and ever so brave. Like all military wives and partners, she remains an unsung hero who kept the home fires burning, despite the constant dread of an uninvited knock on the door.
I recall another fallen comrade whose widow received his posthumous Mentioned in Dispatches (a special recognition for service in war) with the whistle blast from a postman and the closing clang of a letter box. She asked me what it was for.
Oh great Caesar, smothered in garlands and far from angry spears; tell us why.
By George Mansford
HOW COULD I FORGET?
The killing stopped, well, just for a while
It was a day of peace or so they said
So my mate and I met on a lonely hill
Shared a tin of meat, a brew and some bread
Talked of home and sweet love to fulfill
Had other mates been wounded or killed?
We joked and laughed of better days
Then as shadows grew, we said hooray
For I was going home and he had to stay
I felt the power of that farewell embrace
Saw his final wave as I left him there
Heard his distant shout “you take care”
Since then, so many years I have bid adieu
Now I have grand children, more than a few
Most of my dreams but not his came true
I still think of him in so many special ways
More so of our meeting on that xmas day
I recall that familiar welcome cheeky grin
A soft voice, ruffled hair, oh yes, it’s him
I feel the strength of that brotherly embrace
The pain of farewell etched on a sunburnt face
See again his fond salute as I left him there
Hear faint echoes of a call “you take care”
How could I forget? Who would even dare?
By George Mansford
25 September 2009
FILE PHOTO: Minister for Defence the Honourable Marise Payne and Minister for Veterans’ Affair’s lay wreaths during the Vietnam Veteran’s Day and 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan commemoration service, held at the Vietnam Memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra on 18 August, 2016.