A Tale from Grandma
One day, many years ago, we were sitting outside in the garden having afternoon tea. I was only eight years old, but the memory is very clear . . . warm Spring sunshine . . . the old ginger cat asleep on my mother’s lap . . . my sister eating a lamington . . . honeybees in the flower beds . . . the smell of jasmine . . . and Gran telling us the story of her favourite brother.
Frank was an adventurer who left London at sixteen to go to Australia. He ended up out west on a property working as a jackaroo and, as time went by, it seemed he would not return home. The remoteness of the Outback made it difficult to stay in touch, and Gran really missed him. When war broke out, Frank enlisted in the Australian army and in 1916 his unit was sent to the Western Front in France. This was trench warfare at its worst with huge casualties on both sides. One day the Germans launched a massive artillery bombardment which landed on the Australian trenches, destroying some of them and killing many soldiers. One shell exploded near Frank causing a huge eruption which buried him alive.
Later, when the barrage had ended, the sergeant did a roll call to see who was left alive. Frank didn’t answer when his name was called. The sergeant was about to cross him off when his mate, who had been looking for him, saw a hand sticking out of the earth. They dug frantically and out came Frank, more dead than alive. He seemed to be breathing, so they carried him with the other wounded to a casualty clearing station behind the lines. The army surgeon said would live, but he had been blinded by the mud and grit which been blasted into his face. A few days later he was transferred to a hospital ship with hundreds of others for evacuation across the English Channel.
In England, casualties from the fighting were arriving at the ports in their thousands. When Frank’s ship berthed they were carried onto the wharf and laid out on stretchers until they could be transported to various hospitals set up to treat them. There were long delays. During this time, women volunteers moved amongst the wounded men to watch over them and keep them company. Frank couldn’t see what was happening around him so he lay quietly listening to a young lady talking to someone nearby. Her voice seemed familiar . . . she sounded just like his sister Lillian.
Gran was moving among her group of men, talking to each one and making sure they were as comfortable as possible. Suddenly a voice cried out, “Is that you Lill?” She turned towards a soldier with heavily bandaged eyes and looked at him — looked very closely — and gasped in disbelief. Lying there a few yards away was her dear, long lost brother.
August 2014 495 words