Today is Anzac Day and like many Australians I have spent the day in contemplation and thanks for those who have served my country.
Despite the fact there have been limited direct action on Australian soil, it is nevertheless a very rare Australian family indeed who have not been touched by war.
There are those like me, who are descendants of those original World War One Anzacs or of the subsequent generations that fought in later 20th century conflicts ensuring the continuation of our lifestyle and society that I suspect we so often take for granted today.
Then there are others whose family background doesn’t include the Anzac tradition. Instead they are the descendants of soldiers from the opposite sides of the front. Their families having decided that Australia provided an opportunity for a fresh start away from their war torn countries.
Unfortunately there are those recent families who still have had to flee war and persecution. Some of whom are still waiting in limbo for that new life of freedom.
Born 20 years after World War 2 and with the Vietnam War already raging in the background, I recognise that my life and that of my family’s has been shaped by war.
I might have been a child of the Cold War but I also very much grew up in the shadow of both World Wars.
The family war stories started with the legend of my Great Grandfather, a veteran of the Western Front and whom, unlike two Great Great Uncles on my Great Grandmother’s side, did make it back to Australia. Unfortunately he died years before I was born but his stories that were passed down to us, nevertheless ensured his presence was still around.
Then there were my Grandparents who both joined the Air Force in 1940 just months after their December 1939 marriage; a Great Uncle who was a Rat of Tobruk and my Great Aunt and foster Mother (my complex family makeup is for another day), who worked in munitions. I grew up hearing all these stories and understood that the years between 1939 and 1945 shaped not only their lives but that of subsequent generations.
Through my Bulgarian foster Father and other family friends, the Europeans who decided that Australia was far enough away from blood soaked soil of Europe to regenerate their lives, I also grew up understanding the reality of being a refugee and how their experience also shaped my world.
It is probably somewhat not surprising with these tales swirling around me, that I developed an interest in war stories from a young age. I still fondly remember the first book I read featuring a World War 2 background – “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.” Strictly speaking, this memoir by a German Jewish girl about her childhood fleeing Hitler, leading to a journey through Switzerland, France and finally Britain, was set in the 1930s before war broke out. However to my nine year old mind even then, Nazism and World War 2 were seemingly synonymous. As a story reflecting on the impact of politics and war on civilians it was a book that was to have a profound impact on me, leading to my lifelong interest of the home front both in Australia and abroad. That interest has included a particular fascination with stories involving children and war.
That absorbed knowledge over the years either through family tales, reading or formal study is driving my latest WIP. It is probably of no great surprise that the themes of war, conflict and their impact should emerge.
With the family background and my intellectual interest in the period, it is probably of no surprise that World War 2 is a partial setting to the work. However not only are historical conflicts and political events shaping the work, the impact of terrorism on our 21st century lives is also making itself felt.
I am now as a result relishing one of the great joys as a writer, the opportunity to place yourself squarely in a world which until now has only been available to me vicariously. There is however, I believe, a balancing act in having this privileged position.
Although this is a fictional work the fact that my story is set in real time and place means I need to honour that. Consequently there have been times while writing that I stop and think about whether, given that I haven’t had a direct experience on what I am writing about it, should even be writing about it in the first place. I suspect, and hope, that many writers of historical fiction have this same debate.
This is where the legend and memory of the Anzacs and all the other experiences of war I have come across over the years have proved to be pivotal in helping me to reconcile that indeed I do have a right to do this.
Having studied history at university I am a strong believer that if we forget the lessons of the past we are set to experience it all again. Therefore I have decided that reminding people about the reality and impact of war, even as part of a fictional work, is an important part of ensuring those lessons remains alive.
Once the manuscript is finally complete and the story is out there for all to read, I suspect there will be others who will then debate about whether I have that right to write about such experiences. However again that is one of the joys of being a writer – to generate that debate.
If at the end of the day I honestly feel that I have made a meaningful contribution towards reminding us all on the folly and consequences of war it is really all one can ask for.
Indeed Lest We Forget.