A photo of the memorial which bares the name of Private Matthew Thompson killed in Belgium, who this story was inspired by.
Doris arrived home from her day, it was a warm spring day. She had taken a walk near the docks. She would usually see men down there who knew her son. They would wave and wish her well. Bluey would always come and say hello and have a chat when he could.
Awaiting her at home was a letter it was from the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It was nearly four years since her son’s death. She hated receiving mail from the AIF. It triggered thoughts of her young son in a trench. She preferred to remember him how he was when he was with her. Not the solider. She had not heard much from the AIF since receiving information of Jacko’s death and then signing for his personal effects.
She took the letter out and read, it was generic, impersonal and stated;
It is noted that you are registered on the records of the late No. (Jacko’s service number) Private (Jacko’s name), (Jacko’s Battalion), as next of kin, but in order that instructions under the “Deceased Soldiers Estates Act 1918” may be properly complied with when disposing of War Medals, &c. , I shall be glad to learn whether there are and nearer blood relations than yourself to the above named, for instance, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx is his father still alive, if so I shall be much obliged for his name and address at your earliest convenience.
The provisions of a Will have no bearing upon the distribution of Medals unless they are specifically mentioned therein, such mementos, being handed over in the following order of relationship, unless good and sufficient reasons for varying procedure are stated: –
Widow, eldest surviving son, eldest surviving daughter, father, mother, eldest surviving brother, eldest surviving sister, eldest surviving half-brother, eldest surviving half-sister.
Thanking you in anticipation of the favour of an early reply.
Officer in Charge, Base Records.
Doris went inside made a cup of tea, sat down, screwed up the letter and wept. She’d lost a son in a war that she couldn’t understand. The letter stirred the memories of her son dying in a trench. She had no idea how it happened. No one did. No one who’d served with him had come to see her and no details were contained in any documentation about his service. He was just another of the thousands killed.
Aside from that the letter asked of her late husband. The awful man he was. She found it insulting that he was considered higher than her, and if he was still alive would be the one to receive the honours of their son’s service. She thought that this matter had been handled when she dealt with the personal effects and received those. Those effects she placed in a box and kept in a drawer. All Jacko’s service records stated her as his next of kin. Why did they now ask this?
She didn’t want the medals anyway. She didn’t know what they symbolised, all they meant to her was the death of her son.
She looked across the table. No longer was there a place setting out, she had packed it up the day she read the letter telling her of her son’s death.
The weeks following his death the church had been so supportive. But soon she was just another one to lose a son. One of many. Only so much support could be given.
The Vicar had been one to speak of the great duty of Christians to fight this war. Her son had died and it didn’t seem Godly in anyway.
The worst part was telling Arthur, the poor boy wept for hours. He cast a lonely figure at church now, and Doris never saw him play cricket.
Doris took out paper and begun a letter to return to the AIF advising that Jacko’s father had died.
This would not be the last correspondence she would receive from the AIF. Four months on from receiving the letter for war medals she would sign for a memorial scroll in honour of her son’s service and a year later sign for a memorial plaque. They glorified her son’s sacrifice. She would never look at them.
Every letter was met with the same sadness as the one that had notified Doris of Jacko’s death.
War memorials had sprouted across the city. Her son’s name was included on one. His service and sacrifice would be immortalised forever she was told, but she could still not explain what the sacrifice was for. The empire had won the war but what had they won?
Her son had served his country. Wouldn’t have working at the docks also served them? Would not being able to grow old, getting married and having children been a better service to the Empire?
She watched the men who returned as they walked down the street. All were haunted. The life had been sucked from them. Some had visual scars. All had ones that could not be seen. The Empire had used this generation to fight the war and had now lost a generation to the war.
Prior to going they were told they would be feted as heroes upon their return. They were received well upon coming home, but none felt like heroes.
The joy of the end of the war had abated. Men were now expected to get on with “normal life.” But they could not simply bury what they saw and did and move on. They had to deal with people staring at their wounds and scars some would make children scared and cry. Life was not normal anymore and pretending it was would send many mad.
Doris did not live out many more days, she had nothing to live for anymore. She was alone.
She tried to not think about the war, she received a letter to say where her son was buried but she would never visit, how could she? All that was left was his pension which she used to fund her existence. In the end all she often thought regularly was what was it all for.
Thanks for reading. Life would have been so different if I’d been born 100 years earlier. Jacko’s fate may have been mine. All the men who served paid a price and we shall remember them.