#WWII

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.”

109 minutes NSW politicians should spend before voting on abortion

As the NSW Gov’t seeks to rush through amendments to legislation on abortion today, this is a movie that people who hold strong opinions (on either side) and parliamentarians would do well to spare 109 minutes for.

It depicts Abby Johnson, the main character and director of an abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood. It shows how she came full circle when she actually got to witness an abortion live from the procedural end. Despite having two abortions that she admitted were sacrificed  “on the altar of convenience,” this event caused her to quit. 

A rather damning insight into the ‘industry’. It is really well worth watching and perhaps better education and support might be an amendment Berijiklian considers. Why not enforce child support to ensure potential deadbeat father’s to be can’t escape responsibility? Why should the state be forced to pick up the whole tab for single mothers? Maybe couples should be made to watch this movie to better educate themselves on the procedure.

Making it safe is one thing. Making people aware of the pros and cons is another. The latter seems to be woefully catered for.

Remember the stats folks. 56 million abortions every year worldwide. 50 million died in the 6 years of WWII. 20% of fetuses in Europe never make it out of the womb. To think the population crisis it faces?

Pro-Choice will argue access to proper medical facilities is paramount. There is a good point to be made to avoid dangerous backyard abortions. Perhaps better legislation will mandate that education sessions on options for pregnant women that may dissuade abortion is no bad thing. At the moment, little seems to be done in that regard. Make people better aware before making such a literally ‘life-changing‘ decision.

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.

Building the Education Revolution the right way

AWM at night.

Is the $500m upgrade to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) to honour recent conflicts too exorbitant? It is a lot of money. The current building is worth $140mn. The AWM cultural/heritage collection alone is worth over $1.2 billion. Only 4% of it is on display. While some will look at the expense as extreme it is worth considering some facts. Before that let’s not forget the $442mn to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA)  allocates $42.7mn of the entire $11bn budget annually to operate the AWM. Donations of $13.8m (+150% year-on-year) were made in 2017, $4.3mn in merchandise, $2mn in interest and $2mn in net GST receipts make up the balance. If one wants to be properly cynical the expansion project is only 1% of the current amount to upgrade our submarine fleet!!

As much as the complaints will flow around wasting money on glorifying war, the stats show that interest in the museum has been rising over time.

1.12 million visited the AWM in the 2017 fiscal year. A total of 844,899 people visited the Memorial in 2007. That is a 33% increase. Time spent on the AWM website totaled 5.61mn up from 4mn in 2007. Anzac Day related searches in the period just past were up 47.7% year over year. Facebook followers hit 100,000, a 27% year on year increase. So much for those who think nobody cares anymore and that there is a drop off in interest in honouring our military history. Clearly not.

Honouring the brave soldiers who have defended our freedom in recent conflicts are no less worthy of being shown respect. Should we scale the funding dependent on the number of deaths. Should we pro-rata the investment based on the 64 killed in action in armed conflicts since Vietnam to the 102,792 prior?

The AWM is already an exceptionally well designed and curated museum. The reality is there is no space to augment the collection without a rebuild.

Canberra got 4.95mn visitors annually in 2017 (+10.6% on 2016) adding $2.26bn to the ACT economy.

Expensive yes, but to ensure the aesthetics are kept tasteful and in the spirit of the 76yo AWM, it is hardly going to be worth erecting a corrugated iron shed with a few ceiling fans. Building underneath the current site will take some pretty serious engineering feats.

And to the Anzac haters whose cheap shots remain too frequent.  Even our own state broadcasters can’t resist the temptation to demean those who served. Anzac Day is treated more and more as one of resentment, not honour and sacrifice.

ABC presenter Jonathan Green protested by saying Anzac Day is “our collective quest for a military history that we can drape around us”.

Scott McIntyre, formerly of the taxpayer funded SBS, tweeted with respect to those commemorating Anzac Day,

Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror all mankind suffered.

He had also tweeted,

Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan.

As well as,

“The cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation that Australia had no quarrel with is against all ideals of modern society.”

Not to be outdone the left leaning mainstream media journalists stepped into the fray. Geoff Weinstock of Fairfax wrote on his twitter page with respect to the sacking of McIntyre,

“Ridiculous. Frightening. I also think Anzacs were racist yobs and Anzac Day is a death cult. Sack me Fairfax.”

Michael Leunig’s Anzac Day cartoon in The Age, depicted medals with a legend against each: Fear, Hate, Anger, Violence, Homicide.

Guardian columnist Catherine Deveny called Anzac Day a

“Trojan horse for racism, sexism, toxic masculinity, violence, homophobia and discrimination.”

Perhaps these people might reflect on the reality of Lt Norman Martin Peterson’s letter of 7 May 1943 which reflected on Anzac Day

“Perhaps you may think, at times, that I’m a moaner. — but it’s not that the life here (in spite of a few hardships) doesn’t agree with me, but the fact that wharfies, and coal miners, and munition workers go on strike, or want extra pay for working on Anzac Day , while the soldier (for whom Anzac Day is for), puts up everything with a wisecrack and forgets days and dates. I though finely, when we brought in a wounded bloke on Easter Monday, shot like a sieve, while in his homeland his fellow countryman strike for more pay, or holidays. Was his shocking wounds worthwhile in keeping his country safe for racecourse wages, “sportsmen (?)”, strikes, and absentees?—What do you think!!!!”

or just the general conditions these soldiers endured under constant attack by an enemy sworn to kill them. From his despatch of 5th February 1942,

“This bloody war is a terrific mental strain, you can get shot anywhere by snipers, (who never live more than two hours anyway, after they’ve climbed the trees, because our blokes comb the branches with Brens and they dangle like rabbits from their perch). I’ve lost about 2 stone {he was 154lb at the start] since I’ve been in action here, it’s tough, believe me…

“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 around the 200 yard long bend, expected to get one in the guts any moment. To my sorrow, around the corner we came across poor old George Jenkins, who had been guide, —shot, —our first casualty and we had only been in the place 5 minutes and a sniper had got him. The bullet had plowed through his scalp from ear to ear, and his face was a mess. Poor buggar, all he was worrying about was that he wasn’t able to tell us about the sniper and was we alright. I slapped a shell dressing on his skull, and we carried him back, —lucky buggar, he’ll go home now.”

We spent $16.2bn on Building the Education Revolution. $500m for the “educational” value in a society in desperate need of waking up to how good they have it is quite frankly cheap at twice the price.