Saturday, 27 August 2011

Sepia Saturday: Libyan Lament

After seeing the horrendous news footage from the Abu Salim hospital in Tripoli, I was reminded that my late step-father spent time in the region during WW2. His experiences affected him until the very end of his 89 years. I never heard him brag about his exploits, nor did he glorify war. Rather, he was irreparably damaged by the human cost of conflict. So, although his accounts could sometimes be funny, more often that not, they were heart-rending.


He told of his time in Tobruk, shortly after the Allies had retaken it in November, 1942. "I buried a young officer," he said, "I'll always remember, his hands were soft and small, like a woman's." Arthur was only 22, but war made certain he was seeing life from a point, way beyond his years.

The images I see today, horrify me, but I'm not actually there. I am only qualified to give a distant reaction. I've never been called up to fight for my country, and although it's been said many times by men of my generation, it's worth repeating, we owe a huge debt to the likes of Arthur. He was at the sharp end. All I can do is write a poem. You can read it at Poetry24.

22 comments:

  1. Only 22 and experiencing that kind of horror is definitely something that would stay with someone for the rest of their lives. He was indeed a heroic & beautiful man. I feel sad that his life was touched by war! The costs of war are so, so high.

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  2. Like you I am horrified.
    Those soft and small hands - so sad and such a waste of a life and still it goes on. The world learns nothing from the past.

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  3. Eloquently put as usual Martin. My mother was a 22 year old ATS clerk at the War Office when the original news of the Fall of Tobruk came through, and I think the devastating loss of morale experienced by those she knew at that time stayed with her, as I can remember her talking about when I was quite young. Both my parents have vivid memories of the war years, when after all six years of their young lives were dominated by the whole experience. As you say we weren’t there, but they were and we must make sure that those voices are never lost.

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  4. That was a part of WWII I didn't know about before.

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  5. It's such a waste... somebody's son, somebody's brother, somebody's freedom.

    Your poem is so moving.

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  6. What terrifying recall - 'his hands were soft and small, like a woman's'. That's when you know someone has been greatly affected.

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  7. its A Strange Double-Bind. We See From The Newsreel/Telly/Internet The Blasts& Gunfire & Think We Know It.........Yet A Greater Depth + Pain Remains Invisible Us Not In It.

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  8. Living through a war alters people's perceptions for life...

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  9. We need to keep these memories alive. My father was in that area at about the same age - a newly qualified doctor. He never really talked about it and that in itself tells a story.

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  10. My brother was in the Mediterranean in WWII. He never spoke of his experiences aboard UK aircraft carriers protecting the Malta convoys.His name was Arthur too and he woulld have been in the same age range as your step-father. We owe them a lot.

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  11. My grandfather was in the first world war, Martin. He hardly ever spoke of it. He was underage when he went. It affected him badly. He was the only one to come back of those he went with; that's about all I was ever told.

    Those who experience war never want it to happen again. We are lucky. We have never had to go through what they went through and are still going through. When will we learn?

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  12. And the most important part is they be remembered.

    Every other month I go to a luncheon of World War II pilots. The numbers continue to dwindle. Over the years I've met some men who did some amazingly courageous things. Heros all of them, but none needing to be filled with bravado.

    Perhaps a lot of todays celebrities should take notice of those who had a right to brag and didn't.

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  13. "I buried a young officer," he said, "I'll always remember, his hands were soft and small, like a woman's." - heartbreaking stuff! My grandfather's platoon all got killed in the trenches (he was the only survivor) and he was shellshocked as a result and it affected all of his family afterwards - war is so horrible.

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  14. Well said Martin. We are indeed the lucky generation despite what it sometimes appears.

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  15. Just been over to P24 and read the excellent poem. I hesitate to say this, but I think you might have invented Sepia 24!

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  16. So many people were killed or damaged - it's horrifying. We are indeed the lucky generation. Jo

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  17. Your father's experiences were very much like my late father-in-laws. He never spoke of his role in the war until the last few years of his life, and it was harrowing stuff.

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  18. He seems like such a kind hearted man. And the photo of him is wonderful!

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  19. I have a friend from Libya, who has been an exile for some time. because of that, I follow the news in Libya fairly closely. It's both an exciting and a scary time right now.

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  20. Terrible sights indeed - many would never talk about it after the war, even to their families. Thank you for sharing your step-father's story.

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  21. I really appreciate your comments at any time, but reading what you have to say in response to this particular post, is special. Arthur was, indeed, a hero. Like many of his generation, he didn't question his conscription, but the experience of war left him painfully short of answers.

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  22. The short stories we inherit from our parents and grandparents, sometimes just a few words, can carry more weight of memory and are valued beyond price. The cycles of remembered history are very long in the middle east too.

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