As the boy-child becomes a man, I find myself reflecting on the suffering of my grandmothers and great grandmothers whose sons went off to war. My family seems to have been particularly blessed in that all but one of our men who served in World War I or II returned. My great grandfather was wounded in WWI, and lost a leg, but lived until 1970, raising five children and celebrating over 60 years of marriage to my great grandmother.
The Big T’s great grandmother was less fortunate. Both her sons joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in WWI, but only one- the Big T’s grandfather Wallace Gray – returned, wounded and weakened by illness. His younger brother Eric Gray was killed in March 1918 in the third battle of the Somme. Like so many Kiwis, he is buried thousands of miles from home in a Commonwealth War Cemetery, at Martinsart in the Somme Valley.
Yesterday, my friend Alix sent me this, the words of a speech delivered in 1934 by Kemal Atatürk, first President of the Republic of Turkey, to the families of British, Australian and New Zealand troops who visited the battlefields of Galipolli:
Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.
These words are also inscribed on the memorial to fallen soldiers at ANZAC Beach in Galipolli, and also on memorials in Canberra, Australia and Wellington, NZ.
Today I’m thinking of all the mothers who have ever waved sons off to war and waited in almost unbearable anxiety for them to return – or not.
I know this isn’t six words, but it’s my Saturday.