Different for generation off to war

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War is mostly a foreign concept to my generation.

I’m 27 now, and for the past 10 years the biggest danger to me and my mates has been making the odd questionable decision.

For my Grandad and his mates, at the same age, life was a lot different.

My Grandad, Pat Murphy, volunteered for the army at the beginning of World War II.

He was scheduled to depart as part of the South Island company to North Africa, but was ruled out with the mumps.

He was disappointed, but it turned out he dodged a bullet as that company suffered devastating losses.

Grandad was eventually deployed to the Pacific, where he spent three or so years fighting in the tropics.

Pat Murphy

I was recently asking my Nana, Margaret, about what she knew about Grandad’s war stories, but she didn’t know a lot.

This isn’t because she couldn’t remember – Nana is a remarkable woman for her 95 years – but she said Grandad never talked about the war.

He always had a very good sense of humour, but some of the things he experienced over there must have had a lasting effect.

For many years after the war, he held a lasting resentment of all things Japanese, a reasonable reaction to seeing his friends’ heads on stakes around local villages.

Nana told me a good story, though – once, in his latter years, they were driving home from Central Otago and stopped to pick up a young hitch-hiker.

When she got in the car and said she was Japanese, Nana winced and wasn’t sure what sort of response to expect from Grandad, but he was happy to look out for a young traveller, even inviting her to stay for a few days where she learnt how to spin wool, and about life in a rural New Zealand town.

Grandad died when I was 10, so I never thought to ask him about his experiences in the army, but I think he would have made some sort of joke and brushed it off.

Although he made some very good friends in the army, who he kept in contact with, he never went to an Anzac Day service, or spent much time at the RSA – I guess because he wanted to put the war behind him.

His wasn’t a generation who went to talk therapy, or posted self-reflective messages on Instagram.

They just got on with what they were doing before the war – in his case farming, shearing and keeping an eye on the sports pages.

They signed up for a sense of duty and comradeship, not glory.

That’s why I’ll be going along to the Anzac Day service in Waimate next week.

In a different time, in a different generation, that could have been me and my mates.