#normanmartinpeterson

Looking for a publisher

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I am getting back to a long-overdue project. If anyone has any ideas of where best to publish a book based on the letters of my grandfather’s experiences in WWII I would be most grateful. Here is an extract of the introduction plus three of the 120 letters he wrote.

BEYOND THE NORM

Introduction

Hidden amongst a stack of boxes accumulated over many decades in an attic lay a treasure trove of over 100 letters from World War II written by Lt. Norman Martin Peterson. This decorated ANZAC served from 1939-1945 in the 2/1 & 2/2 Australian Field Ambulance.

Lt. Peterson was a Rat of Tobruk. He served in the hell hole of Crete and saw hand-to-hand combat in the jungles of the Pacific Islands. Reading his letters and viewing the many photographs gave me an insight into a man, my grandfather, who I never really knew.

As a child, I only saw him as a larrikin given his wit and humour. He never discussed his experiences, but after reading his letters I developed a new found respect for him and wondered how he managed to maintain his sanity during, let alone after the war.

It is important his despatches be preserved as a reminder of how we must never take for granted the bravery of those who fought and died for our freedom.

Despite the often graphic details contained within his eloquent prose, he left some invaluable lessons about honour, courage and sacrifice. To read these letters in chronological order provides a powerful insight into what it’s like to serve in a theatre of war. Over time, the initial excitement of being in different surroundings and serving one’s country turns to fear, and eventually relief in the dying years of the war. His personal courage and bravery are never discussed. But anger and depression, in and after battle, make their presence felt.

Norman painted a very clear picture of the stresses and trauma faced by soldiers in the field. Whether the bitterness of losing a respected commanding officer, the courage shown when facing direct fire from a Messerschmitt Me-109 or moving wounded troops under mortar fire as a mate falls victim to shell shock, his letters bring to life what few Australians have ever experienced.

It wasn’t only Norman Peterson who bore the weight of war. From his letters, it is clear that his wife, Mary ‘Molly’ Peterson was suffering on the home front too. She never knew if or when she would become a war widow or whether their daughters, Margaret and Valma, would ever see their father again.

Sometimes communications were brief. They said almost nothing, but then again, everything. The telegram which cryptically advised her, “LEFT GREECE. STILL ALIVE. LOVE PETERSON” provided momentary relief before the nagging fear of how long it would be before she received another telegram telling her that Norman’s luck had run out.

TOBRUK – 1941

We were wakened by the drone of Italian bombers which have a distinctive note and easily recognizable at night…we heard 1/2 dozen explosions & wondered what they would be bombing…about 30 minutes later we got a message to go immediately to the prisoner of war compound as they had been bombed…

…it was a most ghastly sight imaginable. The prisoners without blankets were huddled together for warmth and had lit fires and their own planes had dropped big 500lb bombs…

…there were bits of bodies everywhere, like a slaughterhouse – brains, livers, arms, trunks. I couldn’t describe it. The bombs landed right into the huddled mass of prisoners & blown them to pieces. The doctors and the boys worked like Trojans doing amputations in the field. Arms and legs were put in a stack like a wood heap and to make it worse some desert dogs were having a feast on the remains. One of our blokes was doing an Italian, who had his arm just hanging by a bit of tissue, hacked the arm off with a jackknife. When he returned a bloody dog had the arm in his mouth. And was streaking over the hill when an MP shot it with his revolver. We worked all that day and through the night & done around 300 operations on the spot. Near one bomb crater, we shovelled bits and pieces in the hole and covered it in…it is not so much the shrapnel but the concussion that does the damage”

CRETE -1941

“We were in an olive grove with wounded men under every tree before we got word to get going and they gave us hell here, the guns tipped toward the men under the trees and straked is with machine guns. I nearly took a soilly here. I heard a plane roaring down & looking up saw a Messerschmitt 109 diving straight for me. You should have seen me move. I dived for the nearest tree and just got there before he opened up with his machine guns (6 of them, 3 in each wing).  The chatter of them was deafening as he flew as low as 100ft from me, the b———-d…any man on Crete who never prayed was a bloody liar…

…anyway I had the job of getting 300 walking wounded to the beach which was 45 miles away (they told us 7)…what a march keeping our movement secret & taking cover by day and moving only at night…the hours of daylight would drive you crazy…a road was being done over by Junkers 87s and heard Jerries trench mortars landing very close so I said to Kev & Bill “let’s go” daylight or not I was moving. Bill told me he’d had enough and couldn’t stand it any longer then I noticed for the first time he was bomb happy (shell shock) his head was nodding nineteen to the dozen, eyes staring and hands shaking…

…water was scarce. My mouth like blotting paper and we were in rotten condition until we came across a bombed truck so we drank the radiator water (rust, oil and all). It was like nectar…I never thought hunger was so crook…I couldn’t keep my mind off food, even dreamt of it and of the crusts I’d wasted (Kev admitted the same)

NEW GUINEA – 1942

Meanwhile Private Jenkins was sent through by jeep to act as a guide…however about 50yds from the corner; a sustained burst of MG fire whistled around us which was tragically funny as I looked behind to see the boys moving up the track. After the burst I dived for cover in the tall Kumai grass and when I looked back there wasn’t a man to be seen because when I dived they all dived too. We stayed about 1/4 hour and I decided I couldn’t stay all day so I decided to risk it and make a dash for it…a man every two minutes…without mock heroics my knees were knocking as I got to my feet and darted 200 yards long and expected to get one in the guts at any moment…

…to my sorrow around the corner we came across poor George Jenkins who had been the guide- shot-our first casualty and we’d only been in the place 5 minutes and a sniper had got him. The bullet had plowed through his scalp from ear to eye and his face was a mess. Poor bugger. All he was worrying about was that he wasn’t able to tell us about the snipers and was we alright? I slipped a shell dressing on his skull and carried him back – lucky bugger he’ll go home now…

…this bloody war is a terrible mental strain. You can get shot anywhere with snipers (who never live more than two hours anyway after they’ve climbed the trees) because our boys comb the branches with Brens and they dangle like rabbits from their perch). I’ve lost about 2 stone since I’ve been in action here. It’s tough believe me.”

Banned documentary – Let There Be Light, 1946

In compiling the book of letters from the battlefields of WWII by Lt. Norman Peterson, researching PTSD in that era has unearthed some interesting facts. A documentary made by John Huston in 1946, which chronicled the treatment of troops suffering from neuro-psychiatric conditions, was banned by the Army from release to the public until 1981. The excuse made was that it was necessary to protect the identity of the patients, despite Huston having received signed waivers. It would seem the top brass did not want to have the extent of the problem acknowledged by the broader public.

The first published book related to what we now know as PTSD was the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of 1952. It listed the condition as “gross stress reaction.” It wasn’t until 1980 that PTSD was properly recognized as a psychological issue. After WWII, veterans were told to just tough it out.

WWII British Army veteran, Victor Gregg, wrote the following in The Telegraph newspaper article on 9th November 2015 with respect to PTSD like conditions.

“I remember one day during the Battle of Alamein when my friend Frankie Batt, a man I had enlisted with in 1937, was blown to pieces. I recall trying in vain to put the bits together, to somehow bring Frankie back to life. As I picked up what was left of him I could feel the hate burning inside me. For the next three or four weeks our section never brought in a single prisoner, in spite of the fact that the battle was nearly over and the enemy were surrendering in droves. So long as no officer was there to witness, we shot as many as we could until our anger died its own death…by the time I got home I had witnessed things that I had not thought possible, and my brain was filled with images of suffering that were to haunt me for the next forty years…When I was demobbed, people didn’t talk about what was going on in their minds. It just was not the done thing; you straightened your shoulders and got on with life. The men who did try to raise the subject were treated with scorn…It was only after many years that I realised how much heartache and misery my anger caused to those I loved. 

The Cambridge History of the First World War contains an article by Jay Winter, Professor of History at Yale University, where he suggested that shell shock in WWI comprised around 20% of all troops, not the 5% often reported. His contention was that the truth was deliberately suppressed otherwise sufferers would not have received a disability pension if not accompanied by physical wounds.

In 1993, MA Kidson, JC & BJ Holwill wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia a piece titled, ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder in Australian World War II veterans attending a psychiatric outpatient clinic’. Out of 108 veterans who participated in the study 45% were shown to carry symptoms of PTSD – as defined by DSM-III – 48 years after it had ended. The study claimed, The presence of PTSD was significantly associated with the taking of casualties (an indicator of severity of war stress as reported by the veterans themselves) and with combat stress as rated by their treating doctors.”

A 2007-08 study at the University Michigan looked at 78 WWII veterans being treated for depression and discovered that 38% of them had significant PTSD symptoms.

Dr. Helen Kales, principal investigator of the geriatric psychiatry section at the University of Michigan wrote,

World War II veterans come from a generation in which expressing psychological symptoms or distress was pretty stigmatized. So these cases may have gone untreated as the vets did not seek treatment and were able to somehow suppress their symptoms and function.

Reading into Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) reveals even more concerns about the problems we face dealing with returning soldiers.

While PTSD does not necessarily require physical damage to occur, TBI, in the military, tends to occur when exposed to blast-related injuries such as artillery, improvised explosive devices (IED), land mines and rock-propelled grenades (RPG).

TBI can be the result of occurrences where an object (bullet, bomb fragments) causes the scalp/skull to break or fracture. Sometimes it is a closed injury where the outside force impacts the head but no objects manage to penetrate. Even in the case of closed injuries, the brain can experience such considerable force that it can result in torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage which can be irreversible in severe cases.

TBI was better recognized in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) where 1.64 million served. 60% of blast injuries in those conflicts resulted in TBI. According to the US Veteran Affairs (VA), 59,000 (c.10%) Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who used the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from 2009 to 2011 were diagnosed with TBI.

VA now records that 4.3mn receive disability benefits, up 2mn from 2000. The total budget for the VA in 2019 will total $198.6bn, up from $97.7bn in 2009. It was $43.6bn in 2000. The VA is asking for $212bn for 2020. The VA budget relative to the defense spending budget was 14% in 2000. It is now 30%. The cost of war is obscene. The cost of looking after veterans is hot on defence spending heels.

Comparing gender fluidity in the military vs this 77yo telegram

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While the gender neutral PC brigade strives to prevent hurt feelings by way of compelling correct pronoun usage in the military, perhaps they might reflect on how Lt. Norman Martin Peterson was feeling at the time he telegrammed his wife in 1941. Only true veterans can possibly understand how precious life is when living day in and day out under live fire against people sworn to kill them. They never knew when their number might be up. Yet our top brass want to cloak our soldiers in imaginary verbal flak jackets.

75 years ago, this is what Lt Peterson of the 1st Australian Field Ambulance had to say about the people who took for granted the very freedoms he and his mates sacrificed so much to provide. The military is no place for snowflakes.

“Well on reading about some of the women you were telling me about I feel a loathing for such hypocritical parasites. Is this what men are laying down their lives to protect? I sometimes wish that they could see how a bloke looks like when he is unburied for a couple of months, a skeleton with boots and clothes on, eaten by ants. A grinning skull and shirt black and stiff with congealed blood. Or a few Japs scattered around a shell hole with leg bones protruding from their boots…

…I wonder and think that these bones were a few months ago living people, with their loves and hates, wives and mothers, and sweethearts, posted as missing, they are frequently seen in the jungle, unburied until found. Then I think of the mongrels safe in Australia and having a great time the bastards – pardon my eloquence but I really get worked up over the mongrels that are not worth the little finger of the boys on the job defending their pseudo honour and their miserable little lives.”

When a man can see sadness and pity even for his sworn enemy, it makes one reflect on the horrors of war and why we should spend much more time honoring our military’s  bravery rather than protect cowardice by hiding behind compelled speech indoctrination.

#ThinkAboutIt

Drunk AIF politically incorrect hymn of 1941

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Political correctness wasn’t a strong suit and I’m guessing Lt. Peterson was a bit of a lad.

Living life to the max (when he could)

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It is hard not to get a bit misty eyes reading my grandfather’s letters. I only wish I had done it earlier. From New Guinea he wrote about how much he grew to appreciate life. Then again he knew he, like his mates, could be offed at any moment. Lt Peterson wrote on 16 March 1943,

”Next time I go home – when God only knows – I will profit from previous mistakes of my previous leavein that this time I’m going to have a hell of a fling in case it’s my last! I have 108 pounds in my paybook and it will be none by the time I get home – I mean you can’t help but save in an operational area because there is nothing to buy, not even a stamp. Our tobacco is issued by the Comfort Fund. Our recreations  -nil. Except talk and letter writing and I pine for the bright lights and life and gaiety. – the flick, – children, -trams, – shops, a pot of beer, – electric light, – steak, fish and chips. I am going to buy some civvy clothes this leave to get the feel of them again. We take life’s amenities for granted too much I think. At least the army has taught me to place a value on things I never gave a thought for…

…At the moment I’m in tip top condition. Lean as a rake as usual but feel extra well. I suppose its the air. Old Nippon is a bit quiet here at the moment- but I guess the big news will break shortly – you’ll know when and are we ready and rarin’ to go?…

…you have no idea how eagerly mail is looked forward to by the boys. As soon as it comes up the track the cry goes up, “Mail’s in!” And you get knocked down in the stampede…

…excuse me for a moment. I’m about to partake in half a huge succulent pawpaw with lemon all for nothing…like some? It was delicious indeed…

a lot of blokes to save razor blades are sporting mutton chops and side levers with waxed moustaches – it gives ‘em something to do. Cripes some of ‘em look funny…

…Sgt Wilcox is now telling me about his past girlfriends- all virgins of course-but it is going in one ear and out the other as I write. Capt “Doggy” Reid after having been staring into a hurricane lamp for the last past hour just made us laugh. Usually the quiet type, he hasn’t said a word since meal time, but just stood up and said , “Japanese Bastards!!”and went straight to bed. It sounded funny as hell. He has been daydreaming about his missus and leave – it’s a morale thing

tell Jim to lay in a stock of plonk and we’ll down it like nobody’s business!”

It would appear from reading all the other letters that the troops were feeling far more confident they’d win against the Japanese. This is perhaps his cheeriest letter with battle hardened experience behind him. It reads much like the pre battle stationing in Palestine. Truly powerful stuff.

 

Unseen WW2 pics thru lens of AIF Lt. Norman Peterson

 

Most powerful thing I’ve read in a very long time

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As ANZAC day approaches tomorrow I went through my grandfather’s WW2 memorabilia. This is a message Lt. Norman Martin Peterson sent my grandmother on 10 May 1941. Puts our petty modern day quibbles into perspective. He survived 6 years of battle on the front lines as a medic – from Crete to Tobruk to the Pacific Islands. He never got hit by bullets but no doubt remained scarred inside for a long time after. I was always amazed at him. I do not know what brave is. Lest we forget.