Chapter 23 – The Aftermath

A photo of the memorial which bares the name of Private Matthew Thompson killed in Belgium, who this story was inspired by.

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here

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;

Dear Madam,

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.

Yours faithfully,

Major

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.

THE END

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.

Chapter 22 – The End

Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here

Flowers in these back lines could be seen, a rare thing of beauty in what was otherwise a complete hell hole.

The training in the back lines remained intense as the preparation for the spring offensives continued. Jacko was now regimented into the routine of infantry life, he no longer felt fear. His overwhelming emotion was boredom.

The build-up of troops was happening at pace. Jacko had only been at the front 4 months but knew his way around and he could tell the newcomers. You learned quick or died quick. More coffins were brought with the new arrivals as always. Despite his relative experience Jacko had not participated in a large offensive from either side. How much different could it be. So far, the main dangers had been the occasional sniper, persistent shell fire or a patrol that went haywire.

Jacko wondered what the aims of the offensives were, he often wondered what winning the war meant. Both sides seemed fairly entrenched in their positions and not easy to move. Who decided who won and how? Was this simply a case of last man standing? These were questions a Private was not supposed to ask but, in his head Jacko thought about them regularly. Often it seemed that this was now his place in life as there appeared no way forward, backward or out other than death.

Jacko had come to peace with the fact he would die. When it was around every corner and every day you were only inches away from it, you had no option.

If an exploding shell didn’t confront you with your mortality, then burial duty would. Jacko had now placed enough dead men in graves. It seemed they were at peace. No noise, no mud, no disease, nothing.

The day came to return to the front, it was May and it brought sunshine. The men as always would wait until the cover of darkness to move up the line. The march forward was uneventful. A welcome change. Climbing into his spot in the trench Jacko awaited the customary welcome barrage of fire but tonight it didn’t come. This became concerning. The front had a pattern and when the lines changed over, shells came. This time nothing came which meant something was different. A change in the front-line pattern meant something was up. Maybe this talk of spring offensives was true. The calm before the storm maybe.

A few days past and the normal way of trench life resumed. Planes flew overhead, and Jacko watched as one was shot down it was a German and the men cheered. Other than this the front was quiet.

Mick with the warmer weather was more relaxed, his worst fears were over as far as he was concerned. He would not freeze to death in a trench, a bayonet or a shell were possible but at least he wouldn’t freeze. He never wanted to see snow and ice again.

It was time for another day to begin. The men rose for the morning stand to, the sun would soon rise over the battlefield. Just as the light begun to come all hell broke loose. A barrage of artillery came crashing down on the trenches, men took cover.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

A relentless barrage. The Germans must have been saving shells and now every shell on the western front was landing near Jacko’s head.

Runners were sent the SOS was raised. After what seemed an eternity artillery fire was returned on the German lines. This was the biggest onslaught Jacko had seen, shells rained down everywhere, dirt, mud and blood rained down.

BOOM! BOOM!

“Arghhhh!!”

BOOM! BOOM!

Screams were heard as men were hit.

Then without warning. Silence.

It must have only been seconds but seemed an eternity.

This time was different to previous shelling. A noise was heard. Men were rushing towards the trench. Germans! The enemy!

Machine guns began firing rapidly. Germans fell all over the no man’s land.

RATATATATATATATA

“TO THE RIGHT!” Willis was screaming.

“FIRE MEN FIRE!” Willis continued barking orders.

RATATATATATATA

BOOM! Allied artillery was trying to provide support.

Germans started arriving at the trench. One jumped in.

“Hands oop!” he was shot almost instantly.

The fierce fighting continued until the German advance was driven back and the carnage ceased.

The Australian battalion quickly gathered their weapons and gear preparing for a counter attack. The men were readied to jump over the top as soon as the word was given. They would drive the Germans back and maybe take ground of their own.

Jacko heard the commotion as it went on above him, but he did not see it. He did not see Mick. He had no idea where he was. He had been right next to him but now he was gone. Jacko lay listening to the sounds as he looked down at his blood-soaked hands, he had an abdominal wound. He didn’t know what hit him or where it had come from. As he lay there, he knew he was finished an abdominal wound was as good as dead. Given the amount of blood around he figured death would not be too far away.

He lay there and thought about the pub, he would never drink there again. He thought of his father and figured he’d at least made more of his life.

He thought about Mick where was he, maybe whatever hit him had got Mick as well. He wished Mick was here. He wanted to thank him for making life bearable at the front and tell him he could have his tunic.

His mind wandered to Doris and the empty table setting, he would not be able to keep his promise to her and be home for dinner.

He also thought of Arthur. He wouldn’t be able to keep his promise and take him to the big city to watch the cricket.

As he began to slip into a state of unconsciousness, he couldn’t help but let his mind wander to the thoughts of the war and what it meant. Had he helped his country? Had he helped the empire? All he could think in his final moments was what a waste this all was. He may have only been a labourer but wasn’t that helping the empire more than sitting shivering in a trench. It didn’t matter now as the end had come.

Jacko felt a tickle on his cheek and snapped back to reality. He looked and saw a rat. It climbed his shoulder sat and looked at him. Looking the rat square in the eye, Jacko used his remaining strength.

“Wait your turn you bastard. I’m not dead yet.”

Private Jacko was killed in action, in a trench in Belgium. His body would be collected and placed in one of the coffins that was regularly bought to the front. He would be buried in a war cemetery in Belgium. He was 22 years old.

He did not die gloriously, he died in a trench. He was not a hero, but his mother would be assured his sacrifice was not in vein. He would never return for dinner with Doris.

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Chapter 21 – The letter from Home

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here

After what seemed an eternity at the front the men of Jacko’s company were relieved and sent to the rear for rest. It was much needed Jacko’s feet were causing him many problems and this would be a chance to get treatment.

After the events that had gone on, he needed time away from looking out at no man’s land every day.

When the men arrived after a long march all were ready to rest. Most had problems with their feet, they were all malnourished and all had or were about to have dysentery.

Little did the men realise what was in store.

“Alright men, bed down for the night. Training starts right after stand to.” The company commander advised.

“Training for what?” Mick looked at Jacko.

“Winter is over mate. That means the fighting will start.” One of the older men said.

“We’re already fighting.” Mick quipped back.

“The proper fighting. You ain’t seen nothing yet!” The man said.

The orders of training were met with disdain by all the men. It signaled offensives. Going over the top. Running at entrenched positions under machine gun fire. It meant death and destruction.

The ignorance of the newer members was quickly erased as the older men informed them what going over the top was like.

Hand to hand combat. Bayonetting. Ambush tactics. All were practiced.

The training was more exhausting than being at the front. The food was no better.

“Jacko, we just run at the Krauts in the trenches.” Mick discussed with Jacko over dinner.

“What about it?” Jacko replied.

“Is that really the best way to do this? They’ll just mow us down.”

“Don’t think we ask those questions.”

“Doesn’t seem that bright to me.”

“We ain’t here to be bright. We just do what we’re told.”

“The bastards that come up with these ideas ain’t runnin at machine guns. Bit easier for them to make the call eh.”

Jacko ended the conversation it was not one he’d want Willis overhearing. Could get he and Mick into trouble.

The next day a call that always lifted the men’s spirits was heard.

“Mail!”

Letters from home were a small escape from the world they lived in.

“Jacko!” The postal officer through a small stack of letters to Jacko.

Most had Doris’ handwriting except one. It was scribbly handwriting that he’d never seen before. Jacko pulled it out and opened it.

Dear Jacko,

Doris told me how to write to you. I miss you after Church. No one else wants to be England when we play cricket.

I hope to get a letter from you soon. I guess you’re busy.

At school they say the war is going well. One day when I’m big I’ll be ready to go to war!

I hope it’s over soon so you can come back, and we can go to the cricket like you promised.

See you soon Jacko!

Your mate,

Arthur

Jacko madly searched for a pencil and paper.

“Mick, you got any paper?”

“Here ya go.”

Mick handed Jacko a tattered piece of paper he tore from a notebook he carried.

Jacko started writing.

Dear Arthur,

I got your letter mate. I’m sorry I haven’t written you.

It’s not so easy up here.

Don’t come here mate. Stay home and play cricket.

It’s not good up here mate.

I hope it’s over soon to and I can take you to the cricket. But I don’t know when that will be.

Look after Doris for me.

Your mate,

Jacko

“Mick you got an envelope?”

“Here you go.” Jacko placed the ratty piece of paper into an equally tatty envelope. Wrote Arthur’s details on the front and sent it.

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Chapter 20 – The One-Armed Bandit

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Stand to was called Jacko and Mick pulled themselves up for the normal morning routine. What did the Germans have in store this morning?

Jacko was hungry and craving breakfast. He must be hungry to crave the food on offer in the trenches. A cup of tea to warm up was also what was needed. Spring was coming, and the worst of winter was behind them. But this morning had a chill in the air. A mist hung over the hell that was no man’s land.

The previous night was restless. Skirmishes occurred across the line and shelling was exchanged between both sides.

“What the devil?” A call came from down the line. Off to Jacko’s left.

Jacko looked in the direction the call had come from. There was no great commotion, he did not think much of it.

Some laughter came from the same direction.

Jacko looked where it was coming from, he couldn’t make out anything through the fog.

“Stupid Kraut bastard.” This call pricked the ears of all the men in Jacko’s section and everyone nearby was now looking into the distance.

A figure could be seen moving in the distance the light was improving. Jacko could make out the silhouette of a man. He wore a German helmet, yet no one was shooting. What was going on?

A man closer to Jacko started chuckling then another.

Jacko saw the ghostly figure stoop down, he picked something up. An arm. “What on Earth?” Jacko thought to himself. He looked at Mick who was still bleary eyed. Nudging him he motioned Mick to look towards the figure.

The man bent down and lifted another arm.

“Scheisse.” He cried in anguish.

“Mick, what the hell is he doing?” Jacko whispered.

The man walked further along and stooped down again hauling up another arm.

“Scheisse.” He wailed again.

Men in Jacko’s section were laughing raucously still no one fired. Jacko looked out he studied closely the German, then he saw the man only had one arm.

“Is he looking for his arm?” Jacko quizzically asked Mick.

“Stupid kraut serves him right.” A man two down from Jacko muttered.

The German was completely disorientated, Jacko could not believe the sight. He seemed so casual like strolling through a park on Sunday. Not walking in the middle of no man’s land.

The men around Jacko continued to laugh, the best entertainment they’d seen in a long time.

“One armed bandit!” Someone yelled.

CRACK! A rifle shot fired, and the silhouette dropped to the ground instantly.

“Now which one of you stupid mongrels did that?” Willis called.

“Me, Sir. I fired upon the enemy.” One of the newer men stated.

“You just killed the best entertainment we’ve had up here Private.”

“I was concerned he was a threat.”

“He was unarmed with one arm! You dumb bastard!”

“I thought it best to put him out of his misery Sir.” The Private’s voice was breaking with worry.

“Kraut bastards can suffer. You hear me!” Willis finished.

“Jacko!”  Mick hissed in a low voice.

“What?”

“Stand to’s done mate, let’s have a cuppa tea. Don’t let em catch you nodding off.”

Jacko looked out at no man’s land, where was the one-armed bandit? Did that just happen or was it a dream? This place had invaded every part of Jacko including his sleep. The persistent noise, the lights everything was haunting and now it haunted him awake and asleep.

Jacko jumped down next to Mick took his cup of tea and drank it. Men were chuckling down the line. Jacko thought again if it all had been a dream or real.

Next chapter click here.

Chapter 19 – The man Jacko Killed

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

His name was Schneider. His lifeless body now lay on the Western Front. A bullet hole through his skull. That quickened his inevitable death from the abdominal wound he’d suffered. This was a world away from where he called home.

Home was a beautiful village on the edge of the Black Forest. In the summer he would swim in the nearby lake. In the winter the snow made the forest a magical playground. A world completely different to where his corpse lay. A land that was barren. Torched of anything natural.

He worked as a baker. He enjoyed the work. The smell of the bread he would make. The fact he would finish and have the afternoon to spend outside in the beautiful surrounds of his small village.

He would make pretzels, dark bread, light bread all different kinds. His bakery also specialised in sweet treats including Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake).

He was one of the older men in his company aged 34. He had signed up early in the war. He felt it important to protect the Fatherland. Protect his village, his family.

His family of four. His wife son and daughter. He had barely seen them for over two years now. He had been at the front that long. Lying on top of his lifeless body was a photo, the most recent he had. Sent to him by his wife.

Scrawled on back in her hand writing was, “komm nach Hause gesehen” (Come home soon).

That would not be happening now. He would be buried in a mass grave with the others who’d come to the same fate as he had.

Over two years at the front Schneider had seen it all. Bullets, bombs, planes, bodies and bits of bodies. He had killed men. He’d seen them drop dead. He had his luck, many times had he been a little to the right or the left he would have died long ago.

No longer did he think of protecting the Fatherland all he thought of was getting home to his family.

His son would soon start high school. He was thinking of becoming an apprentice baker. His daughter was at school and doing very well. He wanted to go home and explore the forest with them. Forage for mushrooms and cook them.

He had thought of deserting many times. Other men had and returned to their families. The strict punishments threatened were rarely enforced.

He also had hoped for an injury that would see him not fit for service. Ideally something to his leg. He needed his hands as a baker.

Until the day of his death he’d barely received a scratch. He’d been over the top. Run at enemy fire in major offensives. Men had fallen right next to him. Shot through their heads, chests and died instantly. Bombs had landed and blown his comrades to bits. He’d been splattered in their blood. But his own had never been spilt.

Now after a minor patrol he was dead. He had been on patrols many times before. He volunteered he was hoping to build up good service and avoid the first major offensive of the spring.

He still didn’t know what had happened. Out of nowhere the enemy appeared. Fire had come from everywhere. Trying to take cover he felt something bite him. He fell into the shell hole where he now lay.

The pain was horrendous. He tried to move but couldn’t. His legs wouldn’t move. Blood came into his mouth.

He was always well kept. With a moustache that was moulded carefully. He had maintained a hygiene practice as best he could at the front. It was a way to separate himself from the daily goings on.

But now he was soaked in his own blood. He realised quickly he was done. He fumbled around with his remaining strength to find the picture of his family. The pain was intolerable. He took the photo and viewed it a last time as best he could in the intermittent light.

He thought of writing a note to his wife, but he had neither the tools nor the strength.

He looked around wondering where his weapon had gone. He wanted the pain to stop. Then the Australian fell in the hole.

He had no bayonet thank goodness.

The Australian was white he seemed terrified. Schneider spoke no English. He tried to speak but words would not come. He knew the enemy solider would not understand when he asked “erschieß mich bitte” (Shoot me please).

After finally getting his attention and pulling the gun barrel to his head. He wondered why the coward took so long to pull the trigger.

Finally BANG! The pain was over.

Schneider would never see his village again. His wife would not know of his death for months. His son would become a baker to honour his father. But they would never see him again.

As parts of his body now splattered over the man who ended his torment. It occurred to him what a macabre circle of life and luck the front was.

If no ceasefire was called to bury the dead, Schneider’s body would be left to the rats. The blasted animals were the only thing that thrived at the front. Thriving on death and destruction. They were fat bastards to as they feasted on the torment of the world at war.

Next chapter click here

Chapter 18 – The Enemy

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Another day in the trenches had been and gone, it was Jacko’s second day back at the front. He had not found any relief in the reserve line. The noise remained loud and endless. Add on the endless training which seemed completely pointless. It was not possible to totally relax.

Mick spent most of his time behind the line trying to procure a second tunic and other warm clothing that didn’t belong to a dead man. He had not succeeded.

This day so far had been like any other replacing duckboards, breaking ice and trying to amuse oneself as much as possible. Late in the afternoon the call went down that tonight men would be required for an important patrol.

“Jacko, you’re in. You’re the smallest target.” Willis barked. Jacko hated him, he suspected the feeling was mutual.

Six men were chosen as usual. It was suspected a German listening post had been setup nearby, the men were tasked with finding and eliminating it.

The men chosen waited for darkness, collected their gear and rifles. Over the top they went. Jacko took a deep breath and climbed out. Back into hell. He hoped they wouldn’t find anything and be back soon.

It was unusually quiet for the front. It was nearing spring and both sides were awaiting spring offensives. The more experienced men said that this was the calm before the storm.

The patrol proceeded through no man’s land. Nothing had been found and the men prepared to return. The patrol leader stopped.

“Oi hear that?” He didn’t quite get to finish

“ACHTUNG!!!” All hell broke loose. Flares shot into the air and Maxim guns began firing.

“Take cover!” The patrol leader yelled.

Jacko hit the deck fast.

The quiet no longer existed, gun shots cracked from what seemed every direction. The darkness was gone flares were shooting into the sky at regular intervals. Jacko felt his time on earth was done. He was already in hell. Maybe the afterlife would be an improvement.

CRACK! Rifles continued firing. Jacko snapped back to the present. Survival kicked in.

Jacko took out his rifle, rested it per his training and began firing. He had no idea where he was firing to or what he was firing at. He was just following the rest of the men in his patrol.

FLASH! CRACK!

Jacko started to feel spits of mud hit him in the face. Bullets were landing in front of him.

BOOM!

An explosion.

“Shit, that was close.” Jacko wasn’t sure if he thought or heard.

From somewhere a bomb had come. The man next to Jacko pulled out a bomb of his own and returned fire.

CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

RATATATATATATA!

More mud flicked up into Jacko’s face. The German Maxim guns were now locked onto the patrol’s position.

“TAKE COVER!” The patrol leader screamed. The men quickly disbanded fleeing the fire.

Jacko crawled and crawled for what seemed like a mile. He found a shell hole and jumped in it. He decided to take cover until the worst of this ended and then scramble back to the trench. Wherever though was the trench, Jacko was completely disorientated.

He clutched his rifle close to his chest and stayed flat and quiet.

What’s that noise he thought to himself. He quickly dismissed it. There was a noise. A deep, heavy, laboured breathing. Jacko shook his head trying to clear it. He was hallucinating.

He looked up. There on the other side of the shell hole. Sprawled out was a German. Jacko could make him out in the flare light.

His face drained of colour. He had a moustache. He’d lost his helmet. Jacko looked the man’s eyes were open. His gaze was fixed on Jacko. Jacko jumped up and knocked the man’s weapon out of his reach. The man did not move. He remained staring at Jacko.

Jacko saw the blood. He could not see wounds, but his clothing was covered in blood.

Jacko thought about jumping out of the shell hole.

RATATATATATATATATA.

Maxim guns continued to rattle above the hole. That ended the thought of leaving the hole.

Jacko stared at the man. He was not a threat. He waited. Hoping the guns would stop and he could scramble out.

Jacko moved as far away as possible. He watched the dying man.

BOOM!

“Shit what was that!” Jacko thought to himself. He quickly reverted his gaze back to the man across the shell hole.

He stared at the wounded German then the bastard moved. He reached towards his weapon. Jacko kicked it further away with his boot and grunted at the man.

The German looked at Jacko square in the eye. With his last remaining strength, he reached up towards Jacko’s rifle.

“Oi.” Jacko grunted again.

“Bitte, Bitte.” The German’s voice was strained it was taking all the effort he had.

He grabbed the barrel of Jacko’s rifle. With the last remaining strength, he pulled the barrel. Rested it on his temple.

Jacko’s eyes were popping out of his head.

“Bitte, Bitte.” The German persisted.

Jacko was frozen.

“Bitte, Bitte.” The German said firmer and firmer.

“Shut up!” Jacko said as loud as he dared as the war continued above his head.

“Bitte, Bit..”

BANG! Jacko pulled the trigger both he and the German fell to the floor of the shell hole.

Jacko was splattered with blood and other body matter.

He looked across at the lifeless man with a large hole in his head.

Jacko had a horrible taste in his mouth. He spat out whatever was in there. He dared not think what it was.

He sat back. What the hell had just happened?

Everything was silent. Everything was dark. Jacko snapped to and realised he needed to get back to his trench. He grabbed his rifle and climbed out of the shell hole. He headed as fast as possible back to his trench.

“Tea mate?” Mick greeted him on his arrival.

“Took you a while to get back? Shit what’s all over your face? There’s blood and grey stuff.”

Jacko grabbed the tea. He drank quickly. “You got any more?’ He looked at Mick.

“Yeah mate. You right?”

“Just a bad taste in my mouth.”

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Chapter 17 – The rats

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

SQUELCH! Jacko extracted his foot from the mud. The mud here was like nothing he’d ever seen. As winter dragged on it got worse. During the day men struggled as they sunk down into the mud. It enveloped them much like every living thing in this god-forsaken place.

It was not uncommon for a man to pull his foot up and have his boot remain stuck in the mud. You would then struggle on one leg to pull the boot from the mud. If you left the boot there it would freeze and then you’d have to light a fire in it to defrost the boot to get it back on your foot.

Of the typical 4-day stint in the trench 80% of the time was now spent doing this dance of pulling one’s self out of the mud.

Whilst walking about men had to make sure they stayed on the duckboards a step on either side and one could fall into the abyss of the mud and be sucked down. It was not uncommon to know of men being dragged down to drown in a black sea of mud with a stench of death dragging them down to theirs.

The mud contained body parts, full corpses, horses, bully beef tins, personal effects, rifles, it enveloped everything. Swallowed it to never be seen again.

Jacko pulled his boots out of the mud, his feet were freezing, along with his hands. He probably had 15 mins before he sunk to the point where he would once again have to extricate his boot from the mud. You could not move about to get warm as that meant you sunk down faster.

Jacko scratched behind his ear, lice came down and one stuck to his finger. He threw it down into the mud to be sucked down. The more senior men said in the summertime you could delouse for amusement. You removed your clothes and burned them. But in winter it was too cold and wet to think of removing any layer of clothing. Jacko would have to deal with the latest infestation until returning to the rear lines where men had the chance to wash.

How the hell had he ended up here. What the hell was anyone doing here? Standing in freezing mud that stunk of death, as lice infested your body.

A rat appeared. Jacko grabbed his trenching tool and hurled it in the direction of the rat. He missed. Mick tried missed.

“CRACK!” a pistol shot went off. The Sergeant picked up the freshly shot rat and threw it towards the German trenches.

“Greedy bastard.” He muttered as he threw the creature.

Somehow the rats evaded being caught in the mud. They moved everywhere. Unstoppable. They were fat, fat on the flesh of the mates of those in the trenches. They were despised more than the Germans.

Horrible things with sharp teeth and aggressive bastards. They walked around without fear or a care in the world.

Feasting on death and bringing disease the rats were treated with no mercy. The only thing the rats provided of any value was entertainment.

Men shot them, struck them, threw them, burned them. A game of particular enjoyment was to catch two rats. Set each on fire and then race them to see which one would win.

Another rat appeared Mick grabbed his bayonet and with a fine shot impaled the rat. He removed the rat and placed it on his trenching tool took out his lighter set it on fire and hurled it towards the Germans.

“Here you go Fritz!” He yelled.

“Smoke Jacko? Got the French ones still.”

“Righto.”

Mick pulled out 2 cigarettes not the standard army issue ones which the men smoked only in desperation. Mick had, had a good lot with 2 up on the last relief period and still had a good stash of the much-preferred French ones.

 Jacko pulled his boot out of the mud again scratched off some more lice.

“CRACK!”

A man three places down dropped part of his skull missing. Dead.

“Kraut sniper! Let him have it”

A Lewis Gun opened in the direction they thought the bullet came from a debris pile not too far distant. The man with the longest throw hurled two bombs in that direction.

“ARGH!” a distant cry was heard.

“Take that you bastard!” Someone yelled.

Jacko took a long drag on his cigarette he was completely unmoved by the events of the past 5 minutes. He pulled his boot out of the mud.

“Mick, Jacko. Get rid of the dead bloke, get his ID.” Willis called.

Another drag on his cigarette, without a word he and Mick walked over. Took the identity tags from the dead man. Jacko placed his cigarette in his mouth. Then Mick and he carried him through the communication trench to an area for burial.

“Where’s the brew up round here?” Mick queried those around.

“30 yards that way.” Another pointed.

“Come on Jacko lets get a cuppa before we head back up.” Jacko yanked his boot from the mud and followed Mick toward the brew up to get a cup of tea. Most likely it would taste like petrol given the water was carried up in petrol cans but a brew up is a brew up.

Next Chapter click here.

Chapter 16 – The routine

Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here

The gas subsided and the order was given down the line to remove gas masks. With that the routine of trench life begun. Jacko begun learning about life at the front.

“Hop to it lads!” The order went down the line, Jacko watched as men took out trenching tools and repaired any damage. Any broken areas from the shelling were seen to.

Many tasks were done daily for trench maintenance. These included breaking the ice at the bottom of the trenches. The trenches were not high enough to provide protection if the ice was there. So, it needed to be broken, this meant Jacko’s feet were forever immersed in freezing cold slush. His feet ached constantly.

At the base of the trench duckboards were placed so that men’s feet were out of the mud. This system was not always effective. The mud at the front was constant. Jacko had never seen such a thick slop that enveloped everything. Duckboards regularly had to be replaced as they were consumed by the slop or were broken by shells or worn down as men walked over them.

The routine of constant trench maintenance at the front though monotonous, broke up the otherwise complete boredom. It was not uncommon for men on watch to fall asleep. This was a capital offense but, sleep was hard to come by and watch generally was boring as nothing happened. It was not uncommon for a man to drift off for 15mins.

Mick’s common cry was “Fuck it’s cold!” Jacko agreed with him. He’d never heard Mick swear or even use anything close to foul language but being at the front knocked decency out of the men.

Mick often talked to Jacko about a moral dilemma he had.

“Jacko, if there’s a dead bloke is it wrong to nick his tunic?”

“I dunno mate but I wouldn’t where something a bloke died in.”

“Yeah you’re probably right but it’s fucking cold here and the dead blokes aren’t really needin em now are they?”

Jacko was somewhat amazed how quickly one became accustomed to death. This included a man’s own mortality. But when you saw a corpse or multiple corpses daily one had little choice.

When the skies were clearer it was not uncommon for planes to fly above the trenches. It provided a show for the men on the ground and broke the boredom. Typically, the planes did not threaten the men below. The occasional bomb would drop but not accurately. Men would watch and cheer the pilots on their side.

Jacko was now 22. His birthday came while moving up to the front lines. No celebrations were had as he told no one it was his birthday. So, no fuss was made which, was the way Jacko preferred. He thought about the pub and being back there and being able to have a drink someday. But that day seemed far away. Jacko could not see passed the next day as one could not think too far ahead, when one did death often came. All you could focus on was what was in front of you which was either being on watch, repairing the trenches, ducking from shells and maybe the occasional patrol.

Jacko like most of the new members was called up early in his time at the front for a patrol. A working party of six was chosen to go out and repair damaged sections of barbed wire. Newbies were called early to go on these patrols as a way of acclimatising to the front. More senior men avoided leaving the trench at all costs and were smart and connected enough to do so.

“Righto you lot.” Said the leader of Jacko’s first patrol

“We go over in the darkness right. If fritz puts a flare up, you keep your arse still understand. You move you’ll kill yourself and fuck the rest of us. Even if you’re standing up it’s harder for em to see you if you don’t move.”

“Private you’re a small target. Send you over a bit.” The leader turned to Jacko looking at his stature. Jacko ignored it collected his tools and went with the men.

Jacko crawled out following the others in the crew. Walking in no man’s land for the first time made it was stranger than just surveying it from the trench. The ground was uneven and hard to maintain balance. Jacko’s boots would slip on the mud or be sucked in.

Helmets, bayonets, rations, letters and other personal effects littered the area. Limbs and dead men were also everywhere. It was horrific up close, details that could not be seen unless over the top, came into view.

The stench of death was heightened. All one’s senses were on alert when in no man’s land. You listened for any noise. Watched for any movement.

Jacko’s eyes were getting used to the dark as he followed the team of men as they reached an area of wire to be repaired. Upon reaching the wire a flare went up Jacko and the others froze, they were low to the ground.

Jacko dared not even breathe. He waited for the noise of gun shots. He was certain they would come. What was that? Nothing came. The Germans must know we’re here he thought. He was sure he heard the cock of a weapon but still no fire came.

The flare light faded. Jacko was completely blind in the now pitch black. It was a moonless night which Jacko was thankful for but with no light it was difficult to repair the wire. However, the more experienced hands in the crew made light work of it.

 “Hightail it outta here lads.”

Jacko and the others moved back toward the trench. Jacko climbed down into the trench and went back to his spot and found Mick.

“What’s it like out there?” Mick welcomed Jacko back and presented him with a cup of tea. Jacko took a sip. Everything up here tasted like mud particularly the tea.

“Not as bad as you think.” Jacko lied.

“Bullshit! Really?”

“Remember Macallan always said don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to? You don’t want to know the answer.”

“Alright mate, get some sleep stand to only a couple hours away.”

“Cheers for the tea.”

Jacko went and tried to rest but adrenalin was flowing through his veins making it impossible.

Soon the battalion would be relieved, Jacko survived his first foray to the front. Only then did Jacko allow himself to daydream more about home. He thought about Doris, he thought about her cooking. She was never a great cook but compared to the stuff they were fed at the front it was fine dining. The food at the front was the only thing that smelled worse than the overall stench of death and rot that forever lingered over the battlefield. Oh, how he wished for a decent meal at home at the dinner table. He knew his place would still be set and he’d be expected home for dinner.

Next chapter click here.

Chapter 15 – The arrival in the trenches

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Evening arrived and it was time to head to the reserve line.

Jacko boarded a lorry with Mick and the journey to the trenches continued.

They disembarked the lorries some distance from the reserve line. They would march the rest of the way.

“Few green ones here!”

Jacko heard this as he was getting off the lorry. “Quiet move along.”

Jacko and Mick got off.

“TEN SHUN” was yelled by the commander and men formed a line. The march then began until reaching the reserve line. Another small town, well it had been a town. All Jacko could see was rubble.

Amazingly there were still locals living there. Jacko was stunned that anyone would remain in this area of their own free will.

The noise had grown louder with every step closer. In the distance you could see the battle occurring. Particularly at night as the sky lit up with flares and explosions. It was strangely beautiful in a grotesque way. Jacko found the light show spell binding but would jolt himself when he realised what it must be like closer to where the shells landed.

Training was ongoing to keep the men busy along with work details to repair damaged areas after the daily shelling.

Mick always had his hands in his pockets. He jumped on the spot. Anything to keep warm. He was freezing. He would often talk to the veterans and ask them what they did to keep warm. He stopped doing this when one day one of them said “German shells are bloody warm and hell’s hotter.”

The veterans of the front were not all mean. Most were ordinary blokes and would help the new recruits where possible particularly behind the lines. But none wanted to be responsible for them in the trenches, the fact was the newer you were the bigger the liability.

Every morning the men would stand to and await their daily orders.

“TEN SHUN” the battalion commander stood up and addressed the men.

“Men today prepare your gear and be ready to move out. We will march this afternoon and head forward.”

“Where to?” Mumbled someone.

“The trenches you, dickhead.” Quipped one of the veterans.

Willis gave the company their orders. Jacko prepared his kit ready to move out. The afternoon arrived and the march begun. They would march through the afternoon and move into the line under the cover of darkness.

As dusk arrived whistles could be heard and then a scream of “TAKE COVER” Jacko and Mick jumped off the road into a shell hole.

BOOM! The first shells begun to land.

“What the hell?” Mick yelled

He grabbed something he’d landed on. It was a boot, it still contained a foot. Its owner was in pieces somewhere else. Realising what he was holding Mick immediately dropped it. Then vomited everywhere.

BOOM! Shelling continued; the men took cover. The noise was unbearable, but all that could be done was to endure it until it stopped, and the company could move again.

BOOM!

“AGHHHH!” A scream came.

BOOM!

Jacko saw a man fly in the air. He landed not far. He did not move. Jacko looked closer. His head was missing. The first man to be killed in front of Jacko’s eyes at war.

BOOM!

Mud and slush poured down. Jacko could taste the foul mixture. It went up his nose. But he dare not move to clear his face.

BOOM!

Jacko huddled tight. His hands gripping his helmet. With his arms he tried to block his ears from the noise.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Mud. Slush. Noise. Flashes. Every sense was assaulted.

The shelling stopped. “FORM UP!” Willis commanded the men regrouped quickly.

One man was missing, he was spotted cowering in a shell hole. He’d curled up and was rocking back and forth.

“Get up Private!” The order came, the man did not move.

“Get your arse up or you’ll be tried for treason.” The man still did not move and remained rocking back and forth.

“Leave him lads one will get him soon enough. We stay here we’ll all end up in little bits n pieces.”

The march restarted, Jacko was struggling to comprehend all that had gone on. His ears rang. His eyes saw stars. His nose had slush in it. His mouth mud. The taste and smell both vile. He was witnessing things he couldn’t comprehend. His brain was going a million miles an hour.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mick kneel. Washing his hands in a puddle.

“Bugger it” Mick called.

“What are you doing? Get up and stay in line.” Jacko urged Mick to march.

“The boot mate, I had to wash my hand can’t walk around with that on me fingers. Blasted puddle’s got blood in it.”

After a time, the men were called to a halt. Runners were sent forward, they’d arrived. The runners would alert the patrol in the line they were being relieved.

Guides returned and the battalion prepared to move forward. The trenches were a maze, a jumble. Without the guides the men would be completely lost. The trenches themselves were cut in zig zags so a shell blast would be stopped and only kill a few men not all of them standing in the trench.

After a time they begun to pass the men they were relieving.

“Have fun lads.” One cried

“Gees, they’re getting younger and greener.” Another said.

Jacko stayed near Mick as they funnelled into the trenches and took up positions.

Before they could settle, the sky erupted again. Explosions rained as shells poured down on the positions being taken up.

Whistling noises would be heard and then BOOM! The whistles grew louder BOOM! BOOM! Shells got closer.

BOOM!

More mud! Jacko shut his mouth tight.

BOOM!

“STOP IT! MAKE IT STOP!”

“STOP IT! MAKE IT STOP!” One of the men Macallan had warned Jacko about was hysterical.

“HOLD THAT BASTARD DOWN!”

He began crying and struggling as three men held him down.

“I wanna go home!” He wailed in vein.

BOOM! More mud rained down from all directions.

BOOM! Jacko clutched his helmet tight. He looked to Mick who was doing the same thing.

BOOM!

The bombardment continued without any sign of ceasing.

“How many shells can they possibly have?” Jacko thought.

BOOM! BOOM!

Finally, the shelling stopped. The men bunkered down, Jacko looked for Mick and saw he was OK, Mick smiled at Jacko. It was not his normal smile. It was nervous. But if one did not smile one may cry.

“Welcome home lads.” Willis said.

“German hospitality wishing you well for your stay. That should be all for now.”

The sun rose, Jacko looked across and saw Mick, he was huddled up inside his jacket trying to keep warm. Jacko turned to see the man who he had spent the night next to, he recognised his face. He had come to the pub after arriving with the recruitment march. He’d been one of the worst behaved, Jacko looked at him. He looked back “They always shell us on the changeover.” It turned out Fritz had learnt the signals of battalions being relieved and would send a welcome message.

Stand to, was called, this would occur every morning on the front. Men stood ready in case of a morning attack. Jacko stood rifle poised with the rest of the company. He looked out for the first time at no man’s land.

What a God forsaken place. It was mud with mounds and craters from shells, barbed wire a mist hung over the battlefield in the freezing morning air. Jacko could make out bodies and limbs littering the horrific scene in front of him. What the hell had he signed up for maybe that’s just what, hell. This must be hell because he no longer felt that he was on earth.

Noises went up shells landed but this time no explosion only some pops were heard.

“Kraut bastards!!” Jacko heard a cry come down. “Gas Masks!”

Jacko fumbled around and found is mask and placed it over his head as per his training. He saw Mick had put his on.

Jacko sat back and breathed as calmly as possible.

Welcome to hell.

Chapter 14 – The desertion

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Jacko was stunned. He stared at Dick.

“What the hell happened?”

Dick began the story.

“Was our second week at the front. Tiny had been quiet ever since we left Australia. He’d barely said boo. Wasn’t eatin nothin either.

Anyways we got to the front. Tiny he didn’t seem scared or nothin, was just quiet.”

Dick paused. Jacko sensed that he was guilty.

Dick continued the story.

“They get the greenies to head out on patrol pretty early, fixing the wire and stuff. Also go out to check for German patrols. You head out at night. You shit yourself when you first go over.

First patrol we went out to fix the wire and went all well. Tiny did well, seemed to almost relax him. Gave him something to do.

He was most relaxed when he was busy working. Fixing stuff.”

Dick paused again.

“We got called out on a second patrol, but this time it wasn’t to fix nothing. It was to just go on patrol and check for Germans. We crawled out and went on patrol six of us.

Sometimes when you’re out there the krauts send up flares. Bright as the sun. When this happens you gotta freeze. Move and you’ll bring fire.

Another bloke on patrol saw something out the corner of his eye, asked for a password. The reply was “Achtung!” Then things got messy. We’d run into a German patrol.” Dick paused.

“Thankfully our blokes didn’t open up. Then we’d all been dead. But all of sudden we’re basically in hand to hand combat with these kraut bastards.

Tiny ended up face to face with one of em. “Hands oop” prick yelled.

Tiny had his rifle and shot the bastard. Was reflex. Had no option, he was dead if he didn’t shoot Fritz. Kraut fell down dead instantly.” Dick drew breath

“Fight broke up. One of our blokes got it in the neck. We retreated back to the trench.

When we got back Tiny was shaking. I tried talkin to him but he wouldn’t talk. He just looked down and shook.”

Jacko noticed Mick had come up behind him. He had no idea how long he’d been there.

Dick continued “Couple days later we went back to reserve line. Woke up after our first night there and Tiny was gone. He was reported AWOL after not coming to morning stand too.

Three days later MP’s found him in a barn. He said he wasn’t going back to the front. They tried to detain him, but you know what a strong bastard he was. He grabbed one the MP’s pistols and shot himself in the head.”

Jacko was speechless. He just stared at Dick.

“Keep your head down up there Jacko.” Dick walked off.

“How you know him?” Mick asked.

“Worked together.” Jacko replied.

“The dead bloke to?”

“Yeah. He was a good bloke that never wanted to be here.”

“So, why’d he come?”

“I’ve got no idea.”

Next chapter click here.

Chapter 13 – The backlines

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Jacko arrived in France. Behind the front lines. They were over the border in Belgium. Men of the 2nd reinforcement were placed in their billets. Jacko made sure he stayed close to Mick. They would have a brief rest before heading to the front for the first time.

Currently they were in the relief line, soon they would move to the reserve line and then onto the front line. The intention was to spend a week in each section in reality that was unlikely.

Although technically not at the front, they were not out of the reach of German artillery. All had to be wary in case of a barrage of fire. There were scars everywhere and many buildings had been razed. Amazingly in this small village so destroyed by the war locals remained. They lived amongst the soldiers and helped them where possible. This included providing food. The men liked this as it was much better than bully beef and army rations.

The landscape was horrific nothing natural was left. Only mud. Trees, flowers, grass, crops were completely gone. Replaced by shell holes, debris and the occasional corpse of a horse or worse.

The train ride to this area had not been enjoyable, locked in carriages with no windows and crowded. Jacko had stayed near Mick but remained in complete silence for the entire journey.

Some men chatted or sang, many tried to sleep. Jacko just sat and endured the ordeal. The train crawled along as the track integrity could not be guaranteed. Gunners were stationed on the train in case of enemy aircraft attack, thankfully none was forthcoming.

Leaving the train, the men had a short march to the relief line.

Jacko recognised many faces. Men from the first deployment of the battalion. Men from the recruitment march who had been so feted upon their departure. The bumpkins that were so full of bravado that had been loud and quarrelsome. The men who had ruined his pub and town. These men no longer had the same demeanour. They appeared tired. They had expressionless faces and their eyes were missing the life they once contained. These men had arrived at the front only a couple months prior but, already the war appeared to be sucking the life out of them.

The new arrivals assessed their surrounds, those who upon leaving England that had been loud and cocky had subsided. The arrival of a cargo of coffins passed nearby, reinforced the seriousness of the situation.

Men begun unloading this cargo. Soon followed a second truck carrying wooden crosses, one man vomited and some gasped. The more experienced men sniggered at the reactions of the newbies.

Mick was quiet, Jacko asked how he was to only have the reply “Freezing.”

Whilst settling into their billets Jacko noticed two men chuckling and making notes. The men wore ANZAC shoulder patches meaning they were Gallipoli veterans. Jacko would later find out the experienced men of the front ran a book on the newbies. Who would shit themselves first when they got to the front. This was in many ways sick and perverse but entertainment at the front was thin. Jacko would also find out later that Mick had been the favourite.

Coming up towards evening the men were fed and split into companies. Jacko along with Mick stayed together and were appointed to C Company. They were introduced to their company commander a man by the name of Willis. He told the men to get some rest as it was important to rest when you could out here.

As Jacko and Mick were bunkering down, an enormous roar was heard. Shells began falling all around. This was their first experience of being under fire. It would not take long for the book to be won with one man becoming hysterical and shitting himself. In training he’d had one of the loudest mouths full of grand proclamations of what he’d do. The German shells knocked that out quickly.

The noise was like nothing Jacko had ever heard. It was horrifying. With each deadly explosion a man knew a little to the left or right and they were done. Jacko faced his mortality on his first night in France, an experience that he would grow accustomed to.

“FUCK!” Someone yelled. Jacko had no idea where from.

“MUM!” Another man wailed. He continued screaming hysterically.

“Shut that bastard up!” Willis cried. Two men grabbed him and held him down.

BOOM!

“Shit, that was close Jacko.” Mick tried looking him in the eye.

BOOM!

Dust fell on Jacko’s face. He tried to curl up tighter, his hands tight on his head. His brain felt like it was trying to get out of his head to escape the din.

BOOM!

More dust. Another man begun to scream.

“ALL YOU BASTARDS SHUT UP!” Willis screamed.

“GET DOWN AND KEEP QUIET!” He followed up with.

BOOM!

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Finally, after what seemed an eternity the deadly rain ceased. And the noise was replaced with an eerie silence.

“That’s the Germans sayin ‘ello boys.” Willis spoke quietly.

“You new lads got a bit to learn. That ain’t half of what ol’ Fritz got in store.”

“They won’t bother us again tonight so get some sleep.” Willis concluded.

Mick looked at Jacko “You right mate?”

“Yep, you?”

“Yeah all good.”

A restless night ensued, tomorrow evening under the cover of darkness the battalion would move further forward. Some returning some for the first time.

Morning came and the men were called to stand to. Prior to moving up the line under darkness. Work details were set to clear the damage from the overnight shelling. No men had been killed but there was a large amount of debris that needed clearing. The coffins had taken a direct hit and now lay scattered everywhere. The men tasked with cleaning up the coffin mess were not happy.

Whilst clearing the road Jacko saw Dick. He was weathered, his face grey and he had aged since Jacko last saw him which wasn’t that long ago.

“Dick!”

“Jacko.” Dick walked up to him.

“How’s it been out here?” Jacko asked not sure if he wanted to know the answer.

“There’s a few things they didn’t say in the recruitment pitch.” Dick still had a similar manner and sense of humour.

“Where’s Tiny?”

“Dead.” Dick paused and looked down.

“Shit. Hope it was quick. Did he see it coming?”

“Given he did it himself, yeah.”

Next chapter click here

Chapter 12 – The Old Country

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Upon arriving in England, the boredom of the ocean journey from Australia subsided only briefly. The extra space was a relief and the food improved. For Mick the floor no longer moved, he had slowly grown sea legs but would be happy to never see a ship again. Soon though the grind of training began.

The first day of training the camp Drill Sergeant addressed the men, Sergeant Smith. Jacko thought he looked like someone who had no idea about the war let alone someone who’d been there. He addressed the troops at the morning stand to. He spoke the King’s English. This irked Jacko even further.

“Gentlemen, welcome to England. Soon you will heading to wage in glorious battle to triumph for King and the empire.

You will hold back the evil invaders and liberate our allies in France.

The initial contingent of men from this battalion have arrived in France and our now on the front line. These men worked hard and our now becoming the heroes you all will soon be.

Some of you may sacrifice everything but it will be a glorious sacrifice never forgotten. Looking at you, I see men willing and able. Men who’ll fight off the evil monster before us.

Your training begins today, it will be much harder than anything you’ve experienced. This insures that you will be totally prepared. Pay attention to your instructors as what they teach could well save your life or the man standing next to you. For King and Country!”

Some men gave a cheer. Jacko did not, he was not motivated or comforted by a speech from a bigot. As far as Jacko was concerned, he had not seen the war and genuinely had no idea. After the uninspiring speech it was straight into a long march.

The training was much harder than in Australia. That now felt a lifetime ago. The marches were longer in cold conditions. Trench digging with cold hands on cold ground. Dealing with bombs, gas, rifles and other weapons training.

The hand to hand combat drills were awful, Jacko always seemed to pitted against a bloke twice his size.

“USE LEVERAGE!” The instructor yelled.

Jacko was ready to use leverage on the instructor.

Jacko begun paying attention in training when they were introduced to a Scottish trainer by the name of Macallan. He had a scar running the length of his cheek and was missing three fingers on his left hand. His broad Glaswegian accent brought comfort to Jacko. He knew he was watching a man who had experienced the war. Macallan did not have time for bravado. He would say;

“You gonna kill yourself a German are ye laddie? Well best thing to do is shut the fuck up and listen to me. Maybe ye only lose one finger.”

Some men would ask him about his injuries, which Macallan would reply;

“Me boy dunna ask things ya dunna want the answer to.”

Jacko grew a deep respect for this man who had no time for fools. His training was detailed and practical. His words were minimal and his rebuke sharp.

“Yea’ll only do that once laddie! That pretty wee head of yours will be blown off before you can try it a second time.” He would call when someone made a critical error in training.

Part of the training involved specialist courses for sniping and Lewis Gun crews. All the recruits shooting would be tested. Those deemed the best would be given extra training in these areas. The night prior to the test Jacko was in his bunk with Mick.

“Don’t try tomorrow Mick.”

“What’ya mean?”

“Don’t try, you don’t want to be a sniper or part of the Lewis Gun squad.”

“Why not?”

“Because it puts a big target on you.”

“Target?”

“Think about it if you’re the enemy. Who ya taking out a guy with a machine gun? Or a rifle first?”

“Never thought of it like that. But there’s more money.”

“Danger money. You think couple extra bob’ll help you over there? Just keep your head down and get outta this thing. And the best way to do that is be basic infantry and not walk round with a machine gun.”

“Ok.”

“So don’t try.” Jacko ended.

Morning came. After stand to and another load of drivel spilled by Sergeant Smith. Macallan took the squad for shooting. He called out Jacko.

“Alright Private off ye go.”

Jacko took his first shot.

“Gees, you be more of a danger to the battalion on ye right flank than the Germans.”

The next few shots were much the same and Jacko was stood down and sent for further bombs training.

Later that day Macallan came up to Jacko.

“Ya, dinna try did ye laddie?’

“No idea what you mean Sir.”

“I can shoot better than that with half a hand, I know ya dinna try.” Macallan continued.

“You may just be the smartest man ‘ere. I dinna tell yea this ok. But you keep your head down over there lad alright. Forgot all these smart arses, they’ll have their arses blown above their eyes if not by the Germans by their own men. You on the other hand, keep your mouth shut. Keep it that way and learn off the men there and ye gonna be OK. She ain’t pretty over there but the smart ones learn quick, and ye dunna have much time to learn. Good boy, I’ll see ye tomorrow.”

Macallan got up and went to leave. He turned.

“Ye mate Mick was the only one who shot worse than you, the two of you in a trench the flanks better watch out.” He yelled with a wink and walked away.

***

Macallan walked away, he liked Jacko. He was smarter than most of the brazen ones that came through the training camps. Too many were not willing to show the fear that was needed to survive.

He took out a cigarette and held it between thumb and the stub of one of his missing fingers. There was a good reason he did not tell anyone the way his hand was damaged. He’d only planned to cause a “Blighty” injury to get himself home. Some respite from the never-ending noise and mud at the front.

He’d planned the incident meticulously. On an occasion going over the top. He jumped into a shell hole that contained a dead German, he plunged his bayonet into the dead man’s chest and grabbed the German’s weapon aimed it at his hand and squeezed the trigger. He had no idea the firepower and when he looked down he saw fingers strewn across the shell hole. He picked them up, put them in his pocket and screamed for a medic. He was found with the “bayonetted” German and had his hand tended to.

Arriving at the medical tent he showed the doctors the fingers and asked they be put back on. The bastards laughed.

So now he was left with the three stubs, but he’d learned to live with them and decided it wasn’t the worst thing. Being found with the German protected his reputation and he managed to be looked after and got the training role.

***

As time went on the weather grew colder, Mick’s worst fears begun to be confirmed. He asked Jacko how much colder it would get during the true winter months of December, January and February. Jacko did his best to calm Mick, but it was difficult. Mick still hadn’t seen snow and ice and Jacko had no idea how to prepare him for their arrival.

The training continued day after day and men often required treatment on their feet and other injuries. Jacko with his hardened body from labouring thankfully to this point hadn’t experienced any problems.

The men received very little news either from home but particularly from the front. There were few updates on the progress of the war and how the war effort was going. Were we winning or losing Jacko had no idea, all the men in the camp knew was training. Performing the same exercises over and over.

December arrived, another Christmas had come. The War continued. Another Christmas with sons, husbands, fathers, brothers away fighting for King and country.

As Christmas approached Jacko thought about Doris more, last year they’d spent Christmas together just the two of them. He wondered if she had found someone to spend Christmas with that year. He hoped that she was not spending it alone. Hopefully she was at Arthur’s for Christmas lunch. Christmas for the men was celebrated with a ration of pudding and rum, this was well received by all concerned.

The boisterous nature calmed somewhat on Christmas. Men talked of their families and Christmas traditions. Those with Children spoke of them fondly. One could sense the air of homesickness.

Mick was terribly homesick over Christmas. He missed his small town and his big family. The only son in a family of seven children, he thought of the fun of Christmas Day’s passed. Jacko and Mick ate their pudding together and sat quietly.

With some Christmas leave granted Jacko and Mick decided to go to a local pub, they were not granted entry. The Brits did not like the Australian soldiers and too many fights had broken out between soldiers from the two countries. “Two bob tourists” the English would cry in reference to the better pay and conditions for the Australian men. “Stuck up” or “Pom bastards” was the only retort from the Australians.

Jacko had ben singled out for attention given his still thick northern English accent. “Should be over here you Jordy!”

For these reasons the pub owner had banned Australians. So, the whole platoon of men proceeded to urinate on his wall.

Jacko chuckled to himself, he could only think of his father. The Church Pisser. And now Jacko was himself urinating in public. At least it wasn’t a Church.

It was not long after Christmas. Orders to head to Europe and the front were issued. It was France or maybe Belgium, Jacko didn’t know or care. By now the winter had set in. It would only be colder when they reached continental Europe.

It was at this point Jacko began to take stock. His secret hope that the war may end prior to his time arriving to serve at the front, was not going to happen. He would be going to the front. He would have to use a rifle in anger. His small stature would need to clamber over trenches and through barbed wire. Bullets would be shot at him. He may kill someone, he himself may be killed or potentially worse grotesquely injured or maimed.

He would face gas, mortars, bombs, planes, cold, disease and many other factors. All this and he still wasn’t quite sure what for. He couldn’t explain why the German’s were the enemy. He only knew the propaganda he was exposed to, was it true? Was it false? He didn’t know. Was he doing his duty for the King? Maybe but it didn’t feel like that. Was this now better than life on the docks? Suddenly this as a career path didn’t seem the opportunity he once thought.

He thought of Doris, sitting having dinner. The weather would be hot. The window would be open to take in the sea breeze to cool the apartment. Truly a world away from where he was.

He stopped it was not time to be sentimental. Now was time to prepare his things and ship out. He looked at Mick he could see etched on his face he had many of the same thoughts. They each other in the eye and completed their preparations.

In the background men were boisterous. Appearing excited that it would be their turn to get stuck in and give the Fritz hell. The men who made the Lewis Gun crews and snipers in particular. Soon they would find out if this confidence was misplaced or not.

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Chapter 11 – The Journey

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Jacko and Mick rose early, prepared their kit and assembled with the men who formed the 2nd reinforcement. The order was given and the march to the station began. Marching down the main street there was some fanfare but, nowhere near the amount that had occurred when the original battalion departed. People still had the appetite to support the troops but marches of men through the main street were no longer novel.

The men were split into sections, assigned carriages and boarded the train to Sydney.

As Sydney neared Mick’s eyes grew wider and wider, he’d never been to a big city and couldn’t believe the buildings and facilities around. As they arrived at the port Jacko was impressed by the size, similar to the areas he had worked in prior to leaving England. Men marched off the trains and onto the troop transport ship. Embarking onto the ship was chaotic as men clambered for the best available beds and spaces.

The ship was much more cramped than the one Jacko had traveled to Australia on. Jacko managed to arrange that he and Mick could be near each other. Mick by now was silent, his eyes wide. The size of the city was a shock. He’d never seen a ship, nor had he spent much time around water certainly not the ocean. He had played in a creek as child but nothing like this, it was all overwhelming. Mick would barely say a word for the first week of the journey as he slowly processed what was happening.

Life on board was rough with crowded conditions and the food was awful. The main issue was boredom. Men played cards, told stories (by far Jacko’s least favourite part) or would sing songs.

Some men talked of how many Germans they’d kill and the things they would do at the front. Jacko as always kept to himself. He regularly checked on Mick who was slowly acclimatising to his surroundings.

However, Mick was seasick constantly on the first leg of the journey. He hated every moment of those first few sea-faring days. He couldn’t eat and had few moments without nausea. Mick was not the only man struggling with sea sickness, a large majority of the ship was. This made life on board unpleasant for everyone. The smell was a mixture of body odour and vomit. If one did not watch their step, they could stand in another man’s vomit.

Just as Mick was getting used to life on board, the ship stopped at Albany to take on more men and supplies. Jacko and Mick were unsure where they would put the extras on the already crowded ship. They squeezed in heading for a longer journey to Columbo.

Arriving in Columbo Mick was terrified. He thought Sydney was crazy but that was nothing compared to Columbo. During their period onshore, their senses were assaulted with sights, smells and sounds a young boy from the country could not comprehend. Mick was glad to return to the relative safety of the ship. The journey continued through Suez and Alexandria by now Mick was calming down around crowds as he slowly learned about the world outside his small town. He tried to send letters home regularly to explain to his parents and siblings about these strange places he had seen.

Whilst in Columbo Mick asked Jacko;

“It’s not cold here mate?”

“We’re not in Europe yet.” Jacko replied.

“Yeah but ain’t it coming to winter here to?”

“It don’t get cold here mate, it’s the tropics.”

“Darn right hot here, maybe it won’t be so bad after all.”

Jacko didn’t burst Mick’s balloon, he had finally begun cheering up. He left him in blissful ignorance about the temperature that they were heading for.

After seemingly endless days of sailing England appeared on the horizon. Jacko thought the day he had left, he would never step foot again on English soil, let alone this soon. As they neared, he told stories to Mick about England and growing up there. He sanitised them considerably, he omitted details of his father and his drinking. He did not open up about his family or friends, as to be honest Jacko had no one in England he would have considered a friend. He missed nothing about the Old Country.

As they neared Mick asked many questions about the weather, he had noticed the air had a chill. It was October now and the European winter would soon set in.

“Bit fresh Jacko.” Mick said as they were standing on the open decks of the ship.

“The sea air makes it cooler than it is Mick. Also, they’ll give us winter tunics.”

“Ok so it’ll be warmer in the trenches then. I don’t wanna freeze Jacko.”

This remained Mick’s fear. Stuck freezing in a trench. Jacko spoke honestly about winters in England but comforted Mick as best he could. He said the equipment, they’d been issued would suffice to keep him warm. He had doubts about this statement.

The ship steamed into port, Jacko had returned to England. He gathered his things. He thought of Doris sitting at the dinner table with an empty place setting looking back at her. “How was your day?” He thought to himself and paused, then proceeded to collect his kit and prepared to disembark.

He walked down the gangway and stepped back on English soil. He looked around, England was grey the same colour it was when he left. Orders were given to move forward, he joined the company and marched forward to their billets for the evening.

Next chapter click here.

Chapter 10 – The Order to Go

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

With the first group of men gone the camp numbers were more manageable and made life more enjoyable for those remaining. The numbers would grow, and the camp would swell again as more men joined the war effort. In the interim Jacko and Mick enjoyed the extra space and relative peace of the camp in its current state.

Weeks passed the training continued its endless grind performing the same tasks over and over. It was a cool day at the morning stand to. This cool morning was a fateful one. Orders had come through that this contingent of men would form the 2nd reinforcement of the battalion. The men would be shipped to England in one weeks’ time.

Jacko had hoped that maybe he’d seen the back of most of the men who’d left. Soon he would be joining them, his life would soon rely on them. Overall the 2nd reinforcement was made up of good men, quieter, many signing up with similar motives to Jacko and Mick. Most importantly Mick would be going with Jacko to Europe.

Mick had never left the tiny town he grew up in. A country Australian boy. He felt some trepidation about leaving and going so far away. His family would not be able to locate France on a map and in 6 months he’d be there. Fighting against an enemy that, prior to 1914 he did not know existed. Fighting for reasons he could not explain. Mick asked questions regularly to Jacko about England and Europe, and about traveling on a ship. Jacko’s answers were somewhat soothing but also raised more concerns. Most notable of his concerns was the European winter. Mick had never seen snow or ice, in many ways the thought of sitting in a cold trench was a bigger concern than German bullets.

It was too late to turn back now.

Mick sent a telegram to his family to say that he would be coming home for his final nights before deployment.

The men were granted leave prior to departure, Jacko went to the pub the only man left he really knew was the barman. He shouted him a round on the house, Jacko drank it quicker than normal. He finished it and begun the walk home for dinner with Doris.

“How was your day?” She asked

“I’m off this week Mum”

There was not much discussion after that as Doris sat and reflected on her life so far and what may be the last dinner with her Son. They finished dinner “I’m going to leave a place set at the table for you, make sure you’re home for dinner.”

On his last night of leave Jacko picked up his kit, he would sleep at the camp ready for the march to the station in the morning.

On his way back to the camp Jacko walked past Arthur’s house. He had written him a letter. He dropped it in the letterbox and walked on.

The letter read;

Dear Arthur,

I’m off to the War tomorrow. Sorry I couldn’t tell you before I left and play cricket, but I didn’t have time and was leaving before Church this week.

Cecil at Church will play cricket with you on Sundays. Keep practicing and maybe one day you’ll be as good as Victor Trumper.

I’ll try and write to you from the front when I can. You can write to me to. Give the letters to Doris she knows how to send them.

If I get back, I’ll take you to Sydney to watch Australia play.

Your mate,

Jacko

Jacko arrived back at camp. Mick was already there. He bedded down next to Mick.

“We’re gonna be OK aren’t we Jacko?” The words just fell out of Mick’s mouth.

“I’ve got no idea.” Jacko was not in the mood to humour or offer comfort.

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Chapter 9 – The Day Off

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Whilst in camp men were granted leave on Sunday’s. This was Doris’ favourite day. Jacko would come early and get ready to go to Church.

Many men would wear their uniforms to Church, Jacko didn’t. He wore his normal Sunday best including the dreaded tie.

Doris liked that he didn’t wear his uniform. Her boy was not a solider, he was simply her son. She still had not come to terms with him going to war.

She could not picture him in a trench on the other side of the world. Why would men make her boy kill other men? Worse why were men trying to kill her son? She liked him smart in his tie and jacket.

Arriving at Church the message was the same as nearly every week. Jacko watched Arthur as he squirmed in his seat with the occasional tug on his ear by his father.

At the end of the service Doris and Jacko filed out past the minister.

“Peace be with you Doris.” He said.

“Thank you minister.” She replied.

“Jacko, how’s training going?” The minister turned and asked.

“Good thank you sir.” Jacko replied.

“Why don’t you wear your uniform to Church? We like to show pride in our boys going to war?”

“Good chance to give it a wash.” Jacko knew Doris preferred him in civilian clothes, he did to. He didn’t feel like a solider, he certainly didn’t feel any pride in being so.

“God will give you strength at the front. Fighting this most evil of oppressor. Strength be with you Jacko.”

The irony was not lost on Jacko that he was no longer farewelled with the traditional “Peace be with you.” The men of peace were now men of war. Did they truly believe that this was a righteous fight?

“Come on Jacko!” Arthur ran up behind him. Cricket bat in hand.

Jacko was enjoying cricket more each week with Arthur. Arthur was one of the few who didn’t see him differently since joining the Army. To Arthur, he was still the big brother he never had. More importantly, he was an English fast bowler that needed to be dispatched to the boundary.

Jacko went with Arthur to play. It was going to be a long afternoon in the field as always. Arthur was both batsmen and umpire so was very rarely out. Jacko didn’t mind though it was an enjoyable escape from life.

“Do you get to play cricket Jacko?” Arthur asked this nearly every week since he’d joined.

“Sometimes, we play different sports.” Jacko responded.

“What else do you do?”

“Marching, trenching, things like that.”

“Do you shoot guns?”

“Sometimes.”

“Dad says one day he’ll take me to shoot rabbits. Is shooting guns fun?”

Jacko was struck by the innocence of Arthur’s question. He’d never thought about it. He’d never shot a gun until he joined the Army.

“It’s OK. Playing cricket is better.” He responded to Arthur’s questions.

“When I join the army and go to War, I’m going to play cricket. Maybe I’ll get to play at Lords.”

“The War will be over soon.”

“But don’t you go to War to have an adventure?”

Jacko was stumped by this question.

“My Dad didn’t go to War. This War will mean there will be no more wars so you can just play cricket.”

Jacko had no idea where this answer came from. Maybe he’d heard it in training along the way. Jacko was feeling uncomfortable with the direction of this conversation.

“I can’t wait to hear about all the adventures you get to have. My Dad has never left here, and you get to go England.”

“England’s not that great. The weather is better here and the people are friendlier.” Jacko spoke from his personal experience.

“The Army seems like more fun than my Dad’s job.”

“It’s pretty boring to be honest mate. And you have to do what you’re told all the time.”

“Boys it’s time for lunch.” Doris called out.

Doris had cooked lunch for her, Jacko and Arthur’s family.

“Well that’s Lunch Arthur.”

“Not a bad start to the days play, Trumper on thirty seven not out.”

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Chapter 8 – The Camp

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Just as Jacko was introducing himself to Mick, a buffoon he’d worked with came in. “Jacko!” he yelled.

Jacko’s spine tingled he’d hoped to avoid nicknames, but he was without such luck. He turned and nodded to the intruder.

Jacko and Mick would start training the next day. They spent the first day getting to know the camp and where everything was. Eating their first army meal was an experience. Others in the camp said the food varied greatly depending on the cook on duty. Today was not one of the good ones.

Jacko caught up with Dick and Tiny, who welcomed him to the camp. The camp was crowded as had been warned. Soon the first contingent of men from this newly created battalion would be heading to the front.

Jacko did not like those around him. In the short time since arriving at camp his original opinions of them had only been reinforced. They were still rough and undisciplined. The general demeanour was one of bravado. Men were raucous and most bragged about how many of the Fritz they’d kill. Many hoped that the war would not end prior to their arrival. They expected to wreak havoc on the Fritz. Many talked of the medals they would win and how that would impress women when they got home.

Most of the men were unmarried. They would dream of what French women were like and English girls.

Jacko did not share the same sense of confidence as the others around camp. That made it hard to fit in. As always, he remained the quiet one. Mick though was proving to be the friend Jacko felt he would need. A friend would be necessary to make the next few months maybe even years tolerable. Mick was a farmhand from nearby, he like Jacko was quiet and did not share the same ideas about the war as many in the camp. He was looking for adventure, but he couldn’t explain why he’d decided to sign up.

Training would start at 5am the next morning so Jacko and Mick tried to bed down well before lights out. Noise in the camp remained high until official lights out was given.

Jacko and Mick woke up and prepared themselves. They put on their new uniforms and headed out to the parade ground for the first time.

“Stand to!” Was yelled

The drill Sergeant stood up to give his morning address.

“At ease men!”

“Welcome to our new members. You have joined the greatest fighting force ever assembled to fight towards a glorious victory.

For men forming the first wave from this battalion your orders have come through, you will be leaving in one week.

For our new members you will all form part of the second reinforcement. Buckle down men and train hard.

This Great War is heading towards a Great Victory and you are all preparing to play your most magnificent part!”

That was Jacko’s initiation to the Army. Training began marching, calisthenics, rifle training, bayonet training and then some games of football and other sports to break the monotony.  

Jacko was used to routine work and this was easier than labouring so overall it wasn’t a bad life, other than having to put up with many of his colleagues in the camp. One aspect of training Jacko did not enjoy was bayonetting. Charging at a lifeless scarecrow filled with straw strung to pole did not seem realistic. The thought of bayonetting someone or worse himself being bayonetted gave Jacko the willies.  

The first week drew to a close. The first wave of men was due to leave. Jacko saw Tiny on the night prior to the departure. Sitting by himself. Jacko went to wish him well, arriving he saw Tiny was quiet, his leg was shaking uncontrollably.

“I don’t wanna go Jacko.” Tiny was quiet. It was a whisper so no one could here.

“They want me to shoot someone Jacko.” He stood up and put his hands-on Jacko’s shoulders.

“Tell ‘em mate.” Jacko tried to counsel him.

“Tell ‘em what? You think they’ll let me out now. I can’t go. I don’t wanna go over there, I don’t even know where it is and why they want me there.”

“Maybe it’ll be done before you get there.” This was all Jacko could think to try and calm Tiny.

“All the best Jacko.” Tiny said and walked off.

The morning came, the initial contingent of men were issued full kits and marched to the station. They formed a new battalion. The region’s own battalion.

Jacko and the others in camp watched as they left. Jacko saw Tiny in the formation; his face was blank and emotionless. Jacko couldn’t tell if he was scared or simply pressing everything as far down as possible, trying not to feel anything. The battalion was given quite the send-off as they marched to the station. Pride swelled in the people of the region. Their own battalion. This bunch of fathers, sons, brothers, husbands and friends would go off and come back heroes.

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Chapter 7 – The Decision

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Time passed the men who had come into town were becoming more disciplined and now were rarely seen at the pub. Leave was more tightly controlled, although when leave was granted the pub was descended upon. Jacko would quickly depart when this happened. He didn’t hang around to see Dick and Tiny, they weren’t really his mates and he wanted to be as far away from the bumpkins as possible.

The patronage of the pub continued to dwindle as more men joined training and the Australian Imperial Force. Many like Jacko were not legally old enough to drink or vote but could be sent off as part of the war machine, they either received parental consent or faked it. Many even under the age of enlistment were turned away after having lied on enlistment forms and being discovered. There were reports boys as young as fourteen were trying to enlist some succeeding and ending up at the front. Stories like this made Jacko concerned for Arthur but thankfully he was yet to grow. He looked about 10 years old, nowhere near the age of 18 (the minimum age to go with consent).

Jacko sometimes would walk past the camp, the men seemed to be treated well. With decent food and recreation activities. Military wages were decent considering food and lodging were included.

Maybe this was a chance to get out of the docks? Jacko didn’t know much about the war, he didn’t really have any moral objections to it. He didn’t really know what it was about honestly speaking. He’d heard rumours of the horrors but would this be his only chance out. A chance to change his life?

The medical rules had been relaxed somewhat since his last attempt to join in England. His sunken chest may no longer hold him back. He was also about to turn 21 the age at which he would not require Doris’ consent, which he knew she would not give.

He did not want to lie or forge Doris’ signature. In fact, not being of the age to enlist had been a convenient reason to not think about signing up. But that excuse was about to pass. The looks from people in the street that Dick talked about were coming, they’d already started.

Around all this there was the pressure of the white feathers that would occasionally show up. Jacko himself paid no real attention to them but was concerned for Doris. Being in a new country he didn’t want her to be smeared as the immigrant single mother with the cowardly son.

Another month passed work at the docks was getting harder. Summer was coming to an end but the loss of experienced men and having to deal with greenies was growing tiresome. Walking past the camp the day after his twenty-first birthday, Jacko decided maybe it was time to sign up.

Heading home for tea that evening with Doris was much the same as normal. “How was your day?” She asked.

“I’m joining up.”

“Thought you might.”

And that was that, Doris’ fears were becoming reality. She’d heard the other women talk. She knew that there were few other options for a man of Jacko’s age.

The next morning Jacko went to the camp.

“Good morning my boy!” Beamed the recruitment officer

“Here to sign up?” He followed up with.

“Yes sir.” Jacko responded.

“Complete these forms and sign your declaration to the King. Then head over that way to the medical tent. You are doing great service to your country and the empire.”

Jacko completed the forms and was directed towards the medical tent. A short man in a white coat with glasses was waiting there completing forms. He looked up at Jacko.

“Strip down to your jocks.” He commanded. Jacko saw on his coat that he was a doctor.

“Your paperwork says you’ve been declined service. Sunken chest let’s have a look.”

The doctor examined Jacko, “That’ll be fine.”

“Right identifying marks, tattoo on right shoulder, heart with arrow threw it.” The doctor jotted this down on the assessment forms.

Jacko was embarrassed by that tattoo. Thankfully he hadn’t added the girl’s name who he’d got it for. Thankfully no one knew the story and Jacko wasn’t keen to tell it.

“Right a prick here, immunisations don’t want you getting sick over there now.”

The needle stung. Jacko didn’t like the hint of sarcasm in the Doctor’s voice as he administered the shots. Small pox was what it was for.

“Right dental records then we’re all done here” The doctor directed Jacko to go to another tent.

“FIT FOR ACTIVE SERVICE”, was stamped on Jacko’s papers, and next it was off to the quartermaster to receive his uniform.

 He was issued with his uniform and boots. Along with his slouch hat.

“Don’t forget the most important part.” Said the quartermaster and handed Jacko his pay book.

“Don’t lose that. Not much point doing this without getting a dollar out of it now is there?”

Jacko looked back at him smirked and shrugged. He collected his things.

“Welcome to the battalion, proceed down that way to the tent number contained in the paperwork. We’re a bit full at the minute but the lads who’ve been here a while will be shipping off soon.”

Jacko strolled down the line of tents finding the one he’d been assigned. Given it was mid-morning by this stage most of the men were out on training duties.

Jacko opened the flap on the tent. He looked up and saw a bloke sitting there, he appeared to have also just arrived. He looked back at Jacko and walked over with an outstretched hand.

“G’Day mate, name’s Mick.”

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Chapter 6 – The March

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Another Christmas passed, the war continued. The heat had set in. Jacko was still not used to Australian summers. Summer days at the docks were hard, what made them worse was the number of people in town currently. Recruiting marches from the surrounding towns and farmland had been organised, these finished at the local showgrounds. The men would start a training camp soon and hopefully that would mean they would no longer frequent Jacko’s pub.

Jacko thought they were bumpkins, country folk. They were rough and this coming from a dock labourer said something. Ill-discipline was a feature of the men which was something the military would have to knock out of them quickly, Jacko thought.

They were brutish around town particularly towards the women. They argued with the military personnel who chaperoned them. Pay and leave were their main gripes. To Jacko the men seemed more motivated by being paid and being fed than any sense of patriotism.

Although the men themselves did not seem to be patriots the locals received them patriotically. “Doing their duty” would be a cry from many. “Give those Fritz hell.” Others would say.

Men from around the district were now joining regularly, this included the dock workers making Jacko’s days harder as he was forced to work with teenagers who knew nothing. Working with the “greenies” was hopeless. They were slow and Jacko needed his wits about him in case they dropped something or did something they shouldn’t. Jacko was feeling the loss of Dick and especially Tiny, he was now the ablest of the experienced hands meaning more heavy lifting.

For Jacko life ever since the arrival of the men on the recruitment march had been totally miserable.

The conversation at the pub solely revolved around enlistment, “You going to enlist?” someone would say “I’m thinking I’ll join up.” Most of the boys saying this were that, just boys. They couldn’t join up given they were under the age of 21.

Bluey didn’t like having so many youngsters to look out for. “No bloody respect these kids.” He would cry, they didn’t listen to his stories he hadn’t got through the dolphin one once.

Jacko had no real desire to join the military now. He had attempted to sign up prior to his departure from England. The war had not yet begun, and Jacko saw the military as a way of getting out of the docks. A way of being more than his father ever was. The military at the time had offered a form of career path and way to advance.

Jacko had gone with a friend to enlist as a cadet. During medical examination he was denied entry due to a sunken chest. Since this point Jacko had not reconsidered the military. Since the war broke out he thought about it less.

Keep your head down work on the docks was now his only thought. Maybe one day he could become the foreman if he played his cards right.

Dick and Tiny would regularly come down to the pub. Jacko delighted in excusing himself from the boys he was stuck with. Tiny and Dick looked smart in their uniforms a world away from the docks. They had some training during the day but were able to do much as they pleased in the evenings. The formal training camp would start when all the marching recruits arrived.

Jacko would ask questions about the army, because there was not much else to talk about.

“What are you going to do Tiny?” Jacko queried.

“Infantry, same as Dick.”

“But that means you have to shoot people?” Jacko was surprised.

“There’s a lot of grunt work though. Besides too big to be a stretcher bearer.”

“Too big?”

“Bloke explained to me I’d be dead in ten minutes. Stretcher bearer you are moving slowly on uneven ground, trying to carry some poor bastard that’s probably dead anyway. All the while the war continues around you. Said given my size they’ll pick me off quickly.”

“Shoot a stretcher bearer?”

“Bastards’ll shoot anything that moves.”

This all seemed strange to Jacko he partly wondered if Tiny had been spun a story. Given his size he imagined the recruiters wanted him in the infantry.

What struck Jacko was how calm Tiny seemed. There no longer seemed the concern about killing people. Was it just that hard training hadn’t started, and the money was good?

“Out the way lads!” One of the bumpkins yelled.

Tiny stood up he towered over the bloke. “Problem here mate?” Tiny said.

“Yeah there is!” The bumpkin said and belted Tiny on the chin. Men jumped from everywhere and it was the bumpkins verses the dockers. This was a big brawl. Even by the standards of this place. Jacko had never seen Tiny like this. He had the bloke who punched him in a choke hold.

Jacko tried to escape but had no luck and felt a blow come across his right cheek he had no idea where from. He fell done lack a sack of potatoes.

“You lot. Piss off ya bastards! The lotta ya get outta here!” The barman screamed the brawling started to disperse. The barman pulled out a cricket bat and continued yelling.

Jacko picked himself up he had no idea where Dick and Tiny had gone, he dusted himself off and walked home.

Walking in the door Jacko was greeted with “You better have a good explanation for that?” Doris lashed.

Jacko hadn’t realised his cheek was swollen quite badly. Violence whilst out drinking was not tolerated at all by Doris given Jacko’s father.

“The bumpkins mum.” Jacko didn’t feel like elaborating.

“Well go clean yourself up and get back for dinner it’s getting cold because you were late brawling.”

Jacko retreated to the bathroom.

“What the bloody hell is going on round here?” Commented Doris.

Something strange was going on, there was a tension in the air, and it wasn’t pleasant. Hopefully with the training camp would soon see the out-of-towners brought into line.

Next chapter click here.

Chapter 5 – The Church

Photo by Lidia Nikole on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Doris was not a strict woman, she hated her Aunt being strict with her and did not want it for Jacko. The one non-negotiable though was that she and Jacko attended Church on Sunday. Jacko also had to wear his Sunday best. This included a tie which Jacko hated and his Sunday jacket which he had to wear if it was 0 or 100 degrees.

On the walk to Church Doris would always say the same thing.

“I think you should speak to Mary today, she’s a lovely girl.”

Mary was a girl of 17, her father was a clerk in town and Doris had grown to be friends with her mother. Jacko felt that she was not the kind that would be seen going with a dock worker. He spoke to her on occasion but was terribly shy and as far as Jacko was concerned, she seemed to have eyes for another Church goer called Cecil.

“I was speaking to Mary’s mother the other day and she thinks we should go over for tea one night. I think that would be nice, don’t you?” Doris always chirped away happily on the way to church.

“Ok, mum.” Jacko didn’t argue and Mary’s mum was one of the best cooks in the region, so any invite he would not turn down.

The person Jacko spent the most time with at Church was twelve-year-old Arthur. Arthur was the son of a building site labourer. He had taken a shine to Jacko when he first arrived. Arthur had made Jacko feel more welcome than anyone else in Australia. Jacko had no idea why. He liked young Arthur who seemed like a little brother he never had.

Arthur was obsessed with Cricket. His most prized possession was a cricket bat his father had made for him. He adored Victor Trumper, he would read newspaper articles about Trumper and his great feats of smashing English bowlers all over the field. He loved to tell Jacko about Trumper’s centuries against England.

Jacko didn’t actually like cricket, it was a game he’d always felt that was played by snobs. He didn’t tell Arthur that and did enjoy playing with him after Church most Sunday’s unless it was raining.

Sure, enough one block from Church Arthur came racing up to Jacko!

“How are ya, mate?” He yelled excitedly.

“Arthur, good to see you.”

“Good morning Mrs. Doris.” Arthur looked up at Doris

“Hello, Arthur. Where are your parents this morning?” Doris responded.

“On their way mam. Mum said you can come for lunch if you like.”

“That sounds lovely.” Doris responded.

“And we can play cricket Jacko! You’re England and I’m Victor Trumper.”

They arrived at the Church door and were welcomed by the minister. Jacko and Doris took their seats. Jacko looked around. Draped over the pulpit was the Union Jack which had been since the outbreak of the war.

The service began the organ played and the congregation began singing. Jacko mouthed. He did not sing. He had to at least mouth the words. If not Doris’ elbow would be in his rib.

With the singing complete, it was time for prayers.

“Heavenly Father blessed be thy name. We praise you eternally and thank you for your mercy and grace. We pray for continued strength at this time for our community, our country, our empire as we fight a just and holy war against an evil aggressor.

We pray for the men you have emboldened to fight this war and that they will have strength to win this war in your name.

We pray for those who mourn, we all mourn with them. But may they know that loved ones they have lost are now in paradise with you. Having given all they have fighting for you.

Good be with us as you are always.

Amen.”

Jacko was still puzzled by prayers like this. But that is how they were every week since the war began. Prior to the outbreak of war God was love and saviour to all men. The minister talked of the sermon on the mount and blessed are the meek, but these sermons were not given now.

How could a God that came to save all men now pick sides?

That day’s sermon continued along the same lines that God strengthened those in battle. That the Great War was crusade that God would help the empire win. That as Christians we needed to stand and fight against the great German aggressor.

The service ended and Jacko and Doris got up, shuffled out with congregation. Greeting the minister on the way out.

Doris and Jacko went back to Arthur’s place for lunch. As soon as lunch was finished Arthur looked at his father “Can Jacko and I play cricket now?”

After receiving approval, Arthur raced to grab his bat and ball. With a piece of chalk, he drew a set of wickets on a brick wall.

“Australia have won the toss and chosen to bat.” Arthur called to Jacko.

Australia always won the toss and batted but Jacko didn’t mind. He was hopeless at batting and bowling. He was getting better at bowling though given the amount of practice he got with Arthur on Sundays.

The game begun.

“Hey Jacko. Are you gonna go to war?” Arthur looked down and asked.

He’d never asked Jacko this question. To be honest no one had with such directness.

“I don’t know mate, not old enough yet.” He replied

“But you will be soon, then you gotta go don’t ya? That’s what Minister Brown says.”

“Minister Brown ain’t totally correct. I don’t have to do anything.”

“Sounds like an adventure to me.”

“I’m not so sure about that Arthur.”

“Are you a coward if you don’t go? People say cowards don’t go.”

“Is your Dad a coward?”

“He can’t go cause he can’t see out his right eye. Otherwise I’m sure he’d go.”

“Everyone’s gotta do what’s best for them.”

“Can you play cricket in the army?”

“I don’t know mate.”

“If you can play cricket, I’ll go to war.” Arthur’s innocence was beautiful and terrifying.

“You gotta do a few other things in war.” Jacko didn’t know what else to say. He ran in to bowl and continue the cricket game and get off the conversation of war, which was making him uncomfortable.

“Four runs. Fine shot there by Trumper.” Arthur yelled excitedly as he stroked a beautiful cover drive.

Next chapter click here

Chapter 4 – The Persuasion

Photo by Teo Do Rio on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

It was late spring. As the weather heated up the pub was the best place to be after work. It was no different on this evening as Jacko sat with his work crew.

Pirate brought back a round of drinks, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, all the men lit up and sat enjoying their evening ritual. Bluey was recounting a story about a dolphin he saw in the port area one day. Everyone had heard it a thousand times before, but everyone tolerated Bluey. He was a larrikin who meant well even if his stories did all bore them to tears.

Dick then piped up, “Tiny, we gotta go mate.”

“Go where?” Tiny replied

“The War mate.”

“Piss off, Dick.”

“We can’t just stay here mate, people look at me in the street.” Jacko had never heard a dock worker speak in such a sincere tone.

“I’m not going Dick, I ain’t shootin’ blokes.”

“But they’re bastards! Tiny ain’t you seen what they do to women and kids. We gotta go and help the lads at the front.”

“If you wanna believe the propaganda bullshit Dick fine! But leave me out of it.”

“The Krauts ain’t human mate.” Dick would not stop.

“They got two eyes, two arms, two legs and look human to me. I ain’t shootin’ no one, no matter how much of a bastard you think they may be Dick. Shut up. Drink your beer, or I’ll chuck ya outta here.”

Dick looked disappointed but not surprised.

“Well I’m signing up, you should come with me while you can Tiny. Look at you mate you’re built like a brick dunny. Do you think those in town ain’t gonna look at you strange to?”

“I don’t care what they think mate, I ain’t shootin’ people.”

Dick now turned to Jacko, “Your turns comin’ to Jacko, you nearly old enough you is.”

Jacko looked back and said he’d been denied for military service previously. Dick replied, “It’s different now mate, and they won’t buy that in town.”

Dick finished his personal recruitment effort “I’m tellin’ ya lads, better to do this on your own terms.”

“Enough Dick, you interrupted me dolphin story. I was getting to the good bit.” Bluey intervened he was expert at sensing tension rising in the crew. He knew a settled team was best and it was no different at work or in the pub. He proceeded to finish his dolphin story.

“Guess you better be getting home to Doris, Jacko. Give her me regards!” Bluey said at the completion of his story. Jacko nodded, and said “See you” to the others.

“Your time’s coming Jacko, you can’t hope it don’t.” Dick said as Jacko put his hat on and walked off.

Arriving home “How was your day dear?” Doris welcomed Jacko in.

“OK, looks like Dick is gonna sign up to the War. Says he can’t walk down the street here.” Jacko replied.

“Blasted people in this town.” Doris responded.

“Wants Tiny to go with him.”

“Well from what you tell me of Tiny, no way he’ll go.”

“That’s pretty much what Tiny told him.” Jacko finished his sentence and tucked into dinner.

Arriving at work the following morning Jacko looked around. “Where’s Tiny?” He questioned Bluey upon arrival.

“With Dick.” Bluey replied.

“The War?” Jacko said stunned.

“Yep, amazing what five beers will do. He weighs 19 stone that bloke but can’t hold his drink.”

“But he’ll have slept it off now?”

“You know what Tiny’s like about his word young fella. Drunk or not he promises something he sticks to it.”

“But he don’t wanna shoot people?”

“That’s what we all know but I guess we’ll wait and find out if that stays true.”

Jacko couldn’t believe it. Tiny the gentle giant was off to War. Was it the beer, the peer pressure? Jacko didn’t have much time to think, the day’s work awaited. Bluey rounded up the crew and a couple of greenies to replace Tiny and Dick. This included the biggest bloke he could find although he had a long way to go to be as useful as Tiny.

Next Chapter click here

Chapter 3 – The Docks

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Another day dawned, Jacko arrived at the docks. He enjoyed working by the sea. Given Australia didn’t have the harsh winters he experienced in England, meant that year-round it was good working outside.

The port was large and handled mainly coal but also timber and other commodities. Jacko tried to avoid working with coal, nothing good came of it. He’d be black for weeks. Hair would go black. When you blew your nose, it was black. Ideally, he liked to be on timber duties.

If someone asked him what he did Jacko would say, he lifted heavy things. Loading things on and off pallets connecting things to cranes before they went on ships. The days were long at least ten hours, six days a week. Sunday’s were for Church with Doris.

Jacko’s co-workers were a mixed bunch. Jacko had worked his way into the experienced crew who got the best jobs. This was mostly thanks to his ability to keep his mouth shut and work hard.

Since being in the crew he’d managed to pretty much avoid the coal dock and not turn black.

Most of the members of the crew had not escaped the nickname curse. There was Dick whose name was Richard and Bluey who had red hair.

Then there was Thumbs, why Thumbs? From years of labouring all his fingers other than his thumbs were either bent, missing or not their original length. He had developed unique grips to load goods but more importantly hold his beer glass after work and his cigarette during smoko break.

Pirate had a club foot so hobbled around, he looked like a pirate walking around on a peg leg. Despite his disability he was a solid worker on the crew and one of the best to work with.

Tiny was six foot five and weighed nineteen stone. A man mountain Tiny was by far the best at lifting heavy things. Despite his size he was a gentle giant who despised violence, he would often be the one to break up fights at the pub. Regularly he fed some of his lunch to a magpie that lived at the docks. Maggie as the bird was known would sit next to Tiny waiting for her portion.

It didn’t take Jacko long to see that this crew was the working party to be in. Bluey was the leader. He had been on these docks since their formation and at sixty-three knew all the tricks. He’d been lucky to avoid major injuries and kept his head down meaning he could still perform this demanding work. Bluey spoke with the foreman each morning and got the plumb jobs. All the men in the crew valued this immensely so, they’d spare him the most back-breaking labour. Where possible this was left to Tiny.

Jacko tolerated most of the guys in the crew, none he would consider friends. However, they were a hell of a lot better than most of the other men who worked here. They were complete riff-raff in Jacko’s eyes.

It was a transient workforce due to injury, death or joining the war. The crew that Jacko worked with remained constant and this was comforting for all of them. Working with experienced men was safer for all involved, having a “greenie” with you was a disaster and could lead to accidents. Newbies didn’t know what to look for which could land a whole crew of men in trouble.

The men in the crew were mostly relaxed about the war. For most it was not something of their concern. Thumbs and Pirate wouldn’t pass a medical. Bluey was too old. So that only left Dick and Tiny. Jacko was not sure about Dick, but he knew Tiny didn’t want to go. His aversion to violence meant he did not want to kill anyone.

This day on the docks was no different to most others, Jacko and the crew were loading goods on a timber vessel. It was due to depart later that day heading to Brisbane.

It was coming up to late afternoon when a scream was heard. This was not uncommon as Thumbs mangled hands testified. Normally the men would not pay attention, but this event happened close by. After checking Jacko could see the incident had occurred slightly further down the vessel he was loading.

Jacko and Tiny walked to where the incident had occurred. There was always a risk leaving your assigned post. It was considered slacking no matter the circumstances that were going on around.

Arriving at the scene all that could be heard was a man screaming in agony. Approaching they could see him lying on the ground. Jacko had no idea who he was or the man attempting to calm him. Both were new. Jacko looked above him it appeared as though the victim had fallen from a platform several feet up.

As he approached Jacko saw the screaming man’s leg. It was bent. The bone had pierced the skin. A pool of blood was forming around the broken leg. To many, it would be a gruesome site to Jacko it wasn’t the worst injury he’d seen at work. The same could not be said for the man trying to assist the poor bugger, he was white as a sheet.

The injured man looked up at the other. His face to was white with shock. Fumbling around in his pocket he pulled out a white feather.

“I can’t believe that bitch Daisy.” He was strained as he spoke.

“Bitch, gave me this saying I’m a coward.”

“Calm down mate relax.” Said the first aider.

“She doesn’t care about the war she just wants to dump me for that bastard Col Perkins. Gutless bitch, did it like this.” He paused.

“I’m not bloody going over there.” He grabbed the man standing over him, his knuckles turned white. Looked him straight in the eye and said.

“I’m not bloody going there alright!”

“Calm down mate, let’s get you to a hospital.” The first aider looked around seeing if the more experienced men could help. Tiny went to retrieve something that could be used as a stretcher.

Tiny came back quickly with wheel barrow, the injured man was lifted into it. Tiny then proceeded with great speed but not caution to get the man assistance. A chorus of screams were heard with each bump Tiny encountered.

Jacko stood back assessing what he’d just seen. It was the first time he’d seen a white feather. A movement started by women, the feathers were meant to be a sign of cowardice for men that were of age and physical standing to enlist and had not done so.

However, some used the feathers as a way of breaking up with a man they didn’t wish to be with.

Jacko looked up again at the platform and it became apparent this man had not fallen he had jumped.

Next chapter click here.

Chapter 2 – The Mother

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here. For the previous chapter click here.

Doris was still coming to terms with life in Australia. It was hot and dusty compared to where she’d lived most of her life. She never expected to leave there. After the death of her husband, she felt a fresh start for her, and her son was needed. Free of the stigma that her husband had brought upon the family.

Brought up in a strict house Doris was one of four children. Three girls, one boy. Her mother died while giving birth to her brother who would not live past the age of two. Her father would pass away from pneumonia four years later when Doris was nine.

Orphaned, Doris and her remaining siblings were brought up by her Aunt. She saw them as nothing more than an annoyance. Her Aunt showed no love and expected the girls to pay their way from a young age. Doris entered service aged twelve and worked in kitchens and as a maid in several locations across her home city.

She had a natural beauty but was weathered. A fair complexion and blonde hair, she was only five foot tall. She tried to look after herself and would sometimes indulge in beauty treatments when possible.

At the age of sixteen, she met the man who would become her husband. He was twenty-two and she thought good looking. She would have said he was tall, dark, and handsome. Most people were tall given her stature, even when they were only five foot seven.

Doris had no idea what love was. She had never really experienced it since her father’s death. Certainly nothing like it from her Aunt. For her formative years, Doris lacked a decent male role model. This man showed interest and he seemed caring and kind. He was in a strange way romantic and he doted on her. With no real comparison, she thought she was head over heels in love.

She would be married at seventeen and pregnant at eighteen. Her Aunt was glad to have rid of her. Problems in the marriage started early. Her husband could not hold down a job. He had a sharp tongue that would typically see him in trouble, a quip to his superior and he would be out of work again. His tongue was not reserved for misbehaving only at work. He would regularly direct abuse at Doris about her looks, that she didn’t do enough at home, her cooking, nearly anything.

He was terrible with money the little he did make was pissed against a bar’s wall or worse. He had been arrested on multiple occasions for public drunkenness. The most embarrassing occasion for Doris he was collected by police for urinating on the local Church.

For Doris, it was better he was collected by police than when he came home. As then Doris experienced more than just a sharp tongue, she would be grabbed, scratched, beaten and occasionally raped.

Doris hoped with the birth of their son would be the chance for a new start. She thought it would encourage her husband knuckle down and hold employment. Maybe come home instead of going to the pub every night. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The drinking, the beatings, the arrests simply continued.

The beatings got worse when Doris was accused of hiding money away. How dare she, he said. She denied it, this was a lie but if she didn’t hide money the family would not eat.

Doris tried to work when possible but her main role was trying to protect her son from her husband. She hoped that he would not be subjected to the treatment that she suffered. Thankfully he escaped the worst of it, and her husband took his frustrations out on her.

Her life would change on a fateful winter’s day. It was a rare day her husband had a job, he’d had one for two weeks. This was even rarer. Doris was home preparing dinner, slightly more exotic than normal. Given her husband’s solid string of employment, she wanted to reward him. It was then she heard a knock at the door. Men from her husband’s work stood in the doorway. They advised he wouldn’t be coming home.

He had been killed that day, crushed by a load that was accidentally released from a crane. They did not go into details. Doris offered them tea, but they didn’t accept, she thanked them for telling her the news. She was shocked but, she did not cry.

She was now a widow, but she had been released from a prison without walls. She planned the funeral. Ironically her husband would be buried at the same Church he had years earlier defecated. At no stage did she shed one tear prior to the funeral or during.

She wondered about her now sixteen-year-old son and how he was coping with his father’s death. He also had shown no emotion. Although her husband had never been violent with him, he had not been fatherly in any way. She knew he was also aware of how she was treated.

It would be a year later that she would find out the truth behind her husband’s death. A man who had been at the building site working with him the day of his death, took an interest in Doris. One night after being plied with some drink, he told her the truth of her husband’s death.

Her husband’s sharp tongue had been causing problems for the two days prior to his death. He had been making comments directed at two of the other workers on site. On the day of his death he’d made comments about the wife of one of the men. Shortly prior to lunch break, the two men took a metal pipe and struck Doris’ husband across the back of his head, he fell to the ground dead instantly. To cover their tracks the men with some help lifted a crane load over where he lay and released it. Given Doris’ husband was not well-liked questions were not asked, and the story that the load released accidently was accepted.

Doris did not feel anything hearing the story. Her husband had been murdered. She would be lying if she said she hadn’t thought of doing it herself. She assured the man she would not tell anyone what he had said, but also that their relationship would be progressing no further.

She had sought answers to her husband’s death as rumors had been circulating. They never progressed. Doris would never tell a soul she knew the truth, she was happy with the narrative of him dying in a working accident compared to, the widow of a man killed with a pipe because no one liked him.

Her son was holding down steady employment and had proven to be a hard worker. But it was hard for him to progress in any job locally. The son of a drunk who pissed on a Church, it was hard to escape the stigma.

Doris saw an opportunity advertised, Australia the great land of opportunity. A world away no one knew them or their back story.

Doris spoke to her son and they agreed to save the fare and immigrate to Australia. It was a good time to get out of Europe, tensions had been steadily rising and people were on edge. The fare was raised. They booked their tickets.

Doris didn’t farewell anyone, they all talked behind her back, so she didn’t consider anyone her friend. Only one of her sister’s remained alive but they had not spoken much since leaving their Aunt’s house. Doris and her son boarded the ship, they went with a quiet hope that this would be the chance to start anew.

Now she was in Australia the horror of her life in England felt like a lifetime ago. Australia had shown to be a harsh land, but it was still better being here without baggage. The chances for her son were already showing to be significantly better than if they had stayed in England. This was both in his employment and socially as he was no longer known as the son of the Church pisser.

Sure, he spent too much time at the pub, however, he always came home for dinner and was never blind drunk. It was important he go there to cement relationships with his co-workers which was helping him have a better career outlook.

He attended Church with her on Sunday and she hoped he would meet a nice young lady there. Hopefully, life would turn out for him better than she had ever dreamed.

Doris herself had gotten involved with Church programs and picked up employment in a local hotel working as a maid.

The only concern she had was the war, currently, her son was too young to sign up without her consent. She would never give it, he was all she had left. She knew he would not forge her signature. He was caring and knew that would hurt her.

She hoped that the war would end prior to him turning 21 so she would never have to face the prospect of him going. She did not know if he wanted to sign up, she never asked, and they never spoke of it at their evening meals. Even if he didn’t, there was pressure on young men to serve King and Country.

She had time before she had to worry, so she would enjoy her son and pray the war would end soon.

For the next chapter click here.

Chapter 1 – The Pub

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here

Jacko sat at the pub, the usual one he went most evenings after work prior to going home. He didn’t know why they called him Jacko and, he didn’t understand the Australian love of nicknames or for that matter how they came up with his. One day they just decided he looked like a Jacko.

Jacko was still getting used to many things in Australia after arriving only a couple of years earlier in 1914. He had arrived from the north of England, immigrating with his mother.

She’d wanted a new start after the death of her husband, Jacko’s father. She didn’t grieve in fact she was happy to be free of the man who’d made her life nothing but misery. A drunk and violent man she was enjoying the freedom to start again, a new life, in a new country. Doris was her name and prior to embarking on her voyage to Australia had barely ventured beyond the city of her birth.

Given his father’s drinking problem Doris didn’t like Jacko attending the pub as often as he did. She begrudgingly accepted the practice given, he was trying to make new friends in a new country.

He was not old enough to drink. He carried good favour with the barman and some forged paperwork should it be required. Jacko had no issues being served and his money was the same colour as the men of drinking age.

A raid by officers was unlikely in this district anyway. The pub stood near the docks. It was not an area police frequented. Most disputes were dealt with by the men themselves. Bruisers and brawlers. The pub had many scars from “wharfie justice” being metered out regularly. Broken tiles, chips and dents in the bar, the barman himself sported an eye patch after having glass fly into it from a previous fight. Despite only having the one eye he had the vision of a hawk and, if you didn’t have a drink in your hand, you’d best get one or move on, no chit chat, more drinking.

The interior was a mixture of red leather also with many scratches and tears, and stained cream tiles. Men sat around in their various work groups and drank their cares away.

Jacko didn’t make friends easily he was a loner. Doris encouraged him to be sociable and hopefully find a wife one day.

Finding a wife was one thing Jacko wouldn’t achieve at the pub he sat at. A domain filled with labourers and dockers fresh off the day’s shift only metres from where he now sat. Jacko didn’t like his work colleagues but, having a drink and gaining favour with them helped gain the better jobs.

He’d worked there over twelve months now. Labouring was hard, long days filled with heavy lifting. The foreman was sceptical of Jacko when he first arrived given his small five-foot four-inch stature. But after being granted a trial he showed he was more than up to the work and had now gained respect among his colleagues.

Labouring was all Jacko knew he’d been a labourer from an early age. He was forced to leave school to help the family income given his father’s inability to hold down stable employment. His father spent a large portion of the small wage he did receive on drink.

Jacko had enjoyed school but knew he would not be able to attend for long. So now he was forced to do what he knew which, was labouring.

The dock had been a natural fit when he and his mother arrived in Australia. They’d moved into a small flat nearby. A small two-bedroom, nothing fancy but compared to their home in England both Doris and Jacko thought it was luxurious. Situated walking distance from a major regional port in Australia and the areas main employer. Jacko had gone there the day after arriving in Australia and managed to arrange his trial and then be put on full time.

Jacko sat quietly with his small group of co-workers and finished his beer. He was known as the quiet one, most of them were boisterous louts. At some stage soon, a fight would break out. That was the typical nightly routine at this place. Today most were in a good mood. No one had been injured or killed. This was not uncommon for the work they did. But no matter what mood the men were in at some stage a fight would break out.

The conversation that evening was no different to normal, these days it focused around the war. Coming up to two years of involvement and with no end in sight it was turning out much different to those who expected it to be finished by Christmas in 1914.

Gossip about the war was what filled conversation. Men who knew others who’d been and told stories of what they’d heard. There would be talk about family members killed or gassed. Or other people they knew.

Walking around the streets you would see returning veterans in various states of injury. Most would not talk of their experiences, but all were changed, all had faces that showed they had seen things that could not be unseen.

Getting real information on the war was difficult, the press was limited in what could be printed and letters from the front were censored.

Whenever walking near a recruitment officer though, you would hear that it was time to sign up and join a glorious victory. That your country and the empire needed you.

Jacko checked the time, he needed to get home. One thing Doris always requested was he be home for dinner. The excuse worked conveniently for Jacko as it enabled him to excuse himself before the evening’s fight broke out and spared him conversations, he did not want to be a part of.

He finished the remaining portion of his beer said he’d see his colleagues in the morning and begun the short walk home. On the way out a drunk was thrown in front of his path, then he was beset upon by another man who accused him of trying to steal his money, wharfie justice in action.

Arriving home was the same as every night “How was your day?” Doris asked, and they sat down to dinner.

For Chapter 2 click here

Private Jacko goes to war…

2018 marked the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War. I’ve always been interested in the history and stories of this conflict, and am left saddened at the sheer brutality and senselessness of much of it.

In the lead-up to the 11th of November 2018 I began thinking about what my life would have been like if I had been born 100 years earlier so in 1886, not 1986. If I had there is a good chance I would have been in the trenches in World War I and if not the trenches some form of other involvement.

Stoking my curiosity I started searching service records of the War Memorial to find someone who was born on the same day as me. I found this difficult but searching for names was easy so I instead looked up someone with my name and given I have a very common name found a young man from Newcastle in New South Wales.

I started researching the battalion he was with as his service records don’t tell you much other than when he left Australia, then the UK for Belgium and his subsequent date of death. He did not serve long in fact he was killed on his first time up to the front which was a fate experienced by many. He was not killed in a major battle or action but in a minor thrust by the German forces.

During the years after I traveled to Newcastle on a couple of occasions for business and visited the street that he came from, the local Cenotaph where his name is etched as well as a larger memorial as he was part of a Battalion made up of men from Newcastle and surrounding regions.

I grew an odd connection to this man and would one day like to visit his grave. His story seemed like so many from the war, his stay at the front was short, another statistic, another one slaughtered but he had a mother at home who must have wondered the point of it all.

He performed no great heroics he just got trained and went and then was killed.

In response I began writing and ended up with a tribute of sorts to this man and the many like him who served in that war. I now publish what I wrote in full starting from Nov 11 (Armistice Day) I’ll release a chapter a day.

Please note this is a work of fiction, I studied bits and pieces but really it’s me writing what I think life may have been like (and I may be way off the mark). This includes the language (there’s swear words) much of if I believe was not used at the time, but I wrote imagining myself in the shoes of a young man in a country he’d never seen seeing sights one should never have to see.

So enjoy Private Jacko goes to war (if you don’t, don’t read it!).

For Chapter 1 click here

The 21st 50 in support of people waiting for a successful Bone Marrow Donor

The Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) is the only Bone Marrow Donor registry in the developed world that is shrinking. Donor registries are used to find lifesaving stem cell matches to treat and cure blood cancer patients and other diseases. Cheek Swabs are best practice test used to join global registries but not in Australia. Cheek Swabs have been waiting 5 years for both State and Federal Government approval, whilst waiting for this approval people are dying waiting for a matching donor.

After my Mum received a stem cell transplant to cure her of Leukemia, I joined the registry using the current method in Australia; a blood test through Lifeblood.

This test creates barriers to entry as many cannot give blood. There is also a limited budget for Lifeblood to collect samples. Cheek Swabs are cheaper and remove the barriers for people to join the donor registry and enable us to get enough donors to meet our requirements.

Cheek swabs should be a simple solution for Government as;

  • The money is currently sitting in an account waiting to be used
  • The method is proven both internationally and here in Australia through the Strength to Give trial which recruited 6,000 donors
  • This will save money for the Government in the long term

Currently Australia relies on overseas donors for 85% of our donations, my Mum’s was from the USA, with COVID collecting overseas donations has become problematic. The reliance on overseas donors is also problematic for ethnically diverse and indigenous people who are unlikely to find a successful match.

To raise awareness on this issue earlier this year I completed the 20 50 challenge running/cycling 50km a day on 20 separate days. This was representing the need for 20,000 donors required annually in Australia for the 50 people diagnosed with blood cancer every day.

During the 20 50 people were asked to sign a petition this has now reached 5,000 names. To celebrate this milestone along with the change in Federal Government a 21st 50 has been organised. On the 18th of July I will be running another 50km to deliver a copy of the petition and supporting letter to Assistant Federal Health Minister Ged Kearney and the Victorian Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas. This effort will be supported by volunteers across the country delivering the petition to State Health Ministers and Federal Health Minister nationwide.

This is being done to request the urgent approval of Cheek Swabs for tissue matching. This includes requesting the new Federal Government to release its share of the already allocated funds which would enable the recruiting of 60,000 donors across the country.

Full details are given at;

https://www.urthecure.com.au/events

Run can be followed on Instagram @biffrunner and Strava

Our Volunteers!

Queensland – Damien

Damien is delivering the petition to the Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath. Damien has been dubbed “the bionic man”! In 2011 Damien had a stem cell transplant using his brother’s donated stem cells, only 30% of patients find their match with a family member and the other 70% rely on finding their match on the Australian or world-wide donor registries. He developed Graft vs Host Disease and subsequently went on to have a double lung transplant and a double hip replacement. He has since founded the Chimera Legacy Foundation which does amazing work and he continues to work on his own health and fitness with his eyes set on competing in the Transplant Games!

Western Australia – Diana

Diana is delivering the petition to the Western Australian Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson. Diana’s son struggled to find a stem cell match due to his culturally diverse background. Patients with diverse cultural and indigenous backgrounds often struggle to find a match as these groups are under-represented on the donor registries (ie – Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern etc). Her family started “Jordan’s Fight Club”, a campaign to educate the public about the bone marrow registry. Their search luckily came at a time when the Strength to Give pilot program was being run which meant they were able to run over 11 successful donor drives using cheek swabs and recruit over 1000 people from these under-represented groups onto the donor registry! Unfortunately, Jordan never found his match and had no choice but to undergo a riskier “half matched” transplant using his sisters stem cells. Thankfully Jordan was very lucky to make it through the transplant and is currently in remission and slowly regaining back his health.

New South Wales – Javeria

Javeria is delivering the petition to the New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Javeria’s 2 sons were both born with immunodeficiencies and needed a stem cell transplant. Stem cell transplants can cure not only blood cancer but a range of different blood disorders and immunodeficiencies. Due to their Pakistani background it was very difficult to find a match. Sadly after a long search and no match, one of her sons passed away at only 15 months old. Javeria wasted no time with her second son, rather than searching for a match he underwent a riskier “half matched” transplant using his fathers donated stem cells. It has been a long road to recovery for the family, having to live in isolation for years. Javeria has done a lot of advocacy work for the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry and the Immune Deficiencies Foundation Australia.

South Australia – Sophie

Sophie is delivering the petition to the South Australian Health Minister Chris Picton and the Federal Health Minister Mark Butler. Sophie was diagnosed with Leukaemia when she was 29 years old. She was able to find a match on the donor registry and underwent a transplant which saved her life. She has been a big advocate for the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry and the Strength to Give cheek swab program. She is the brilliant person who started the change.org petition which has reached over 5,000 signatures, so it’s very fitting that Sophie is the one to deliver the petition to the Federal Health Minister!

The 20 50, for Cheek Swabs…

We can do better for people suffering with blood cancer and other diseases who require a bone marrow transplant. Currently the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (AMBDR) is shrinking, and we are the only registry in the developed world that is.

We require 20,000 donors to sign up every year to meet demand in Australia, we currently have around 6,000 people join. Our shrinking donor registry has made us more reliant on overseas donors which has complications that have been heightened by the Pandemic.

I learned about this when I tried to join to do my part after my mother was diagnosed with Leukemia. Finding out how to and then becoming a donor was not the easiest process.

These issues mean we have a small domestic pool of donors. This is particularly problematic for people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and indigenous Australians.

Waiting for a donor can be a rollercoaster ride as I saw through family experience. Donors can be found and then not an option due to many reasons. With most donors based overseas this adds complexity and confusion. The donor that ended up giving in my Mum’s case was from the USA and we will be forever grateful to them.

The good news is that there is a fix for this. Cheek Swabs! Through the AMBDR Strength to Give campaign.

Cheek swabs are a cheaper, easier, and less invasive test to allow donors to easily join the AMBDR.

Cheek swabs are currently awaiting approval by multiple levels of Government in Australia. They have been waiting on approval for many years!

To raise awareness for this and get Cheek Swabs approved I will be undertaking a challenge I have dubbed the 20 50.

In Australia we require 20,000 donors per year to meet our requirements. Every day 50 people are diagnosed with blood cancer these people will often require a bone marrow transplant.

So I will be doing 20 x 50km runs. As we need 20k for the 50 per day.

I will be running from March 11 to 31 finishing at Willinda Park in Greensborough home of my athletics club.

I invite anyone who wants to run with me to join please send me a message and we can arrange for this to happen.

For any runners wanting to be involved on their own time any run, you do title with “X km for Cheek Swabs” tag me on Strava comments or share on Instagram with #The2050 to show your support

To raise awareness and put pressure on Governments I request people to give some of their time, I want your 2 mins more than your $2 to send letters as per templates below;

https://www.urthecure.com.au/letters

Let’s flood our health ministers with requests to get this done!!

Please also sign the petition;

Petition link

If you want to assist further in helping this cause you can donate to U R the Cure and support their advocacy work to get cheek swabs approved.

https://www.urthecure.com.au/dollar-donations

Please also follow U R the Cure on Instagram to keep up to date with developments

I do encourage anyone between the age of 18-35 to join the donor registry through Redcross Lifeblood in the interim! No need to wait to become a potential lifesaver! Note you will go on a global registry as much as this post is about serving our needs in Australia it must be stressed this is a global system and that is pretty cool despite the complexities with international borders.

To follow my progress I will be posting on Instagram @BiffRunner and Strava.

A Bone Marrow transplant saved my Mum! I want other families who need this to have the opportunity to receive it not die waiting for a donor!

Let’s work together and make cheek swabs available in Australia and get our bone marrow registry pumping to help those requiring transplants.

Bone Marrow Donor Registry Information…

It’s been a while since posting on here but that’s because I haven’t had much to say but now I do. Someone close to me has been undergoing treatment for Leukemia which has led to them requiring a Bone Marrow transplant.

Waiting for a donor is a real rollercoaster ride!

Seeing this I wanted to join the registry as I am still within the age profile of 18-35. I wanted to join so that if I’m a match I can help someone and stop the anxiousness of waiting for a donor. What I was shocked about when I went to join at the Lifeblood service was that the registry was not promoted at all. Only because I knew about and was able to ask did I get on.

Doing my research I have since found that Australia’s registry is shrinking whilst the rest of the world is growing. This makes it harder for people in Australia needing transplants particularly those of Indegineous or culturally diverse backgrounds to find a match.

The good news is there is an easy solution to raise awareness and get more people to sign up, this is moving away from blood tests and moving to cheek swabs which are used globally.

The bad news this has been stuck in Government red tape for 5 years.

So what can you do, it would be great to add your name to this petition;

https://www.change.org/p/australian-federal-government-want-to-save-a-life-government-says-no/psf/share?source_location=combo_psf&psf_variant=combo&share_intent=1

And if you want to help further, tell young people in your life to sign up (this can be done currently by giving blood, which is something those of us who can should do).

You can also write to your member of Parliament (both state and federal). A template for this I will put below.

Further information can be found at U R the Cure.

Thanks for your help and hopefully soon Australia will have a very full registry!!

Letter template

Dear <INSERT MP NAME>


Re: Funding for Strength to Give cheek swab program (Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry)

My name is <YOUR NAME> and I am writing to you regarding an urgent cancer healthy equity matter.

Situation:
Many people who have a blood cancer or other type of blood disorder rely on having a bone marrow transplant as their chance for a cure. This means they need to find a match. The Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) is a register that people voluntarily join, so doctors can search for lifesaving stem cell (bone marrow) matches for cancer patients.


Unfortunately, if a person has a culturally diverse background or are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander they have a very slim chance of finding a donor.

With around 85% of Australian patients now dependent on overseas donors, the need to grow Australia’s pool of donors is as real as ever, and currently this is a major issue due to the pandemic.

To find more lifesaving matches for all Australian patients, we need to target people with diverse backgrounds and young people to join the donor registry.

Background:
Until recently, joining the ABMDR could only be done by attending Australian Red Cross Lifeblood. This meant that gay men, people who were in the UK during mad cow, people who live a long way from a donor centre or people who can’t give blood for other reasons were not able to join the register.

Eligibility for joining via cheeks swabs is much simpler. The Lifeblood service is not effective enough on its own to successfully recruit people onto the donor registry for these reasons and many more.

The ABMDR (Strength to Give) has been trialling cheek swab collections which has made it easier for people to join and better target the groups needed to join. This is an internationally accepted and reliable method for collecting donor specimens. BUT they have recently ceased this due to lack of funding.

Assessment:

By stopping cheek swabs, the Australian Government is saying they don’t value the lives of people from multicultural and Indigenous backgrounds as much as they value the lives of white Australians; and in fact all Australians searching for their match.

Cheek swabs have been under review for 5 years by Federal and State Governments and should be urgently approved.

Request:
I respectfully and URGENTLY ask you to consider whether you might be able to add weight to our advocacy that cheek swabs cannot disappear. This has always been a cancer health equity issue that is now getting lost in the pandemic. Imagine knowing that your chance of survival is linked to a genetic match and that your proud culturally diverse heritage makes it nearly impossible for you to find a donor.


I am happy to discuss this further as is U R the Cure (https://www.urthecure.com.au/). UR the Cure reference number from past government contact: MC18-021892.


Warm regards
<YOUR NAME AND CONTACT DETAILS>

My year in running 2020…

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

2020 is nearly over and good riddance. A year of lockdowns which started out all sourdough bread and novelty and turned into cabin fever and single malt.

I think like most people I’ll be glad to see the end of 2020. A year which has basically had very little good news and just wave after wave of worse news.

Running this year is different from most years but in many ways running remained the same. It remains a constant. It does not change. The quietness and stillness remains. The creativity is still there when I venture out.

It still provides simple and precise feedback as to how I’m progressing. If I put the work in I get results. If I’m lazy I don’t.

Running provided an escape from the four walls that trapped me much of the time this year. It enabled me to feel alive and that the world was still there.

As racing disappeared people did their best to build community and competitiveness through virtual racing and apps. After competing in several virtual races and pacing my wife for her virtual half marathon I do hope I never see them again.

I have run nearly 4,300km this year which is slightly under my normal distance but close enough. There have been many lulls as motivation waned. As I lost all inspiration to do anything. As my mind became so fried I just wanted to stay in bed in the morning and eat chocolate at night.

My brain couldn’t handle much this year after dealing with the information tsunami of numbers, active cases, rolling averages, restrictions and dates. The main reason I’ve barely posted on here in the last few months. My brain is fried.

What my mind needed this year was to go running. To free itself and be quiet for a period. So when I wrestled against every feeling to stay in bed and get out it was the best thing for me. This motivation was aided by aiming for the Surf Coast Century, massive kudos to the Rapid Ascent team this occurred in December. To have this goal kept me getting out of bed when it was hard but then rediscovering it’s the process of getting fit that is the true enjoyment. To then be able to finish the year with this race was a great fillip leading into Christmas.

2020 has sucked generally but there have been silver linings. I have developed a taste for Single Malt Whisky (enjoy responsibly). But on a bigger note I feel closer to my wife and family from spending more time at home. I think we can all take learnings from the first lockdown when it was novel and we cooked, planted vegetable gardens and we just were. I’ve come to appreciate many things I previously didn’t.

I’ve changed my working arrangements to try and find more balance in my professional life. Working one day a week in non-profit social enterprise has been life giving and helps and develops me for my other vocation.

This year has built some strong foundations that I hope to build on them 2021. What does 2021 look like? I have no idea I think we are all a little wary of it. But I think we should enter it with hope. Take the learnings from this year. Bring back the good things we had but we can also park some of the stuff we didn’t need.

The environment for instance has had a great time without humans in it so much. Maybe we can have less stuff enjoy experience and simplicity more in 2021.

Whatever 2021 brings running will be a constant again, I may race I might not. I hope to develop coaching further and use my running for some higher goals, but we will see. If this year has taught me something it’s to hold things loosely.

The main thing is running will be the quiet place I think, I create, I relax.

Happy New Year everyone!

The Pandemic Cup 2020…

Photo by Jeff Griffith on Unsplash

It’s Melbourne Cup week. For those of you unfamiliar in Melbourne (Australia) where I live we take a horse race reasonably seriously. So seriously we have a holiday for it.

This year’s Melbourne Cup will be unlike any other with no crowds due to COVID. I think they probably could have had a crowd but a public backlash after going to early to try and get crowds at another race (the Cox Plate) killed that idea.

Melbourne is thankfully coming out of lockdown (the longest in the Western World). And some are hailing what a “success” it’s been as we’ve crushed a second wave. And that is great and hopefully means life should go back to normal but we will not know the true cost of this lockdown (over 240 days) for years. And the fact is we should never have come to this as the second wave was caused by a major bureaucratic bungle that lead to the disease getting into the community.

After what’s been a crazy year I have decided to commemorate it with my own version of the Melbourne Cup the Pandemic Cup. The call of the race is below. Hope you enjoy.

For any readers not in Melbourne you will probably not get most of this and may want to come back next time.

The Pandemic Cup 2020

We’re all set here for this historic race the Pandemic Cup 2020. All horses in the barriers in the starters hands and, RACING!

Hopes For 2020 has not got out of the barrier and has fallen a long way behind. The Virus unknown until recently is away well in the leading bunch settling nicely along with Border Closures. Border Closures is now getting caught up with Ruby Princess and dropping back.

Lockdown One looms up to The Virus and is running well now along with What A Time to Be A Toilet Paper Company and Dan Murphy’s.

Hotel Quarantine is in the lead bunch and moving up with The Virus and Lockdown One. Security Guard and Returned Traveller loom up on the outside. What’s this? It appears Security Guard has mounted Returned Traveller and is now showing how foals are made. This has impeded Lockdown One and Hotel Quarantine who have now fallen out of contention.

Contact Tracing needs to run on now if it is to keep up with The Virus, but it appears Contact Tracing is a donkey no chance of keeping up in this race and is now too far back.

Quarantine Inquiry is still at the starting gate running in circles chasing its tail. Seems to have been misled by officials down there. The connections of A Horse Called Dan wanted Quarantine Inquiry in the race but it won’t be a factor given its been delayed.

A Horse Called Dan is bunched up with Mikakos and Eccles.

There’s a collision!

A Horse Called Dan has run into Mikakos and Eccles and they are out of the running. Accountability was in that bunch as well but appears to have nothing to do with the incident or A Horse Called Dan.

Running on now The Virus is streaking away with no challengers coming from the chasing field. Sutton needed to run well today, but it appears his hoofs have been tied together and is struggling, the connections of A Horse Called Dan may need to be questioned on that.

Victorian Morale and Economy are flagging now as Second Wave begins to race up to The Virus and those two are running on strong. Dan Murphy’s is also running very well.

The main challenger appears to be Lockdown Two, a huge horse, a horse which has been said appears to be able to run forever. Lockdown Two streaks past Victorian Morale and Economy as they can’t keep up with the enormous mare.

Coming down to the business end of the race and it’s still The Virus running strongly with Second Wave, Lockdown Two is making inroads and Dan Murphy’s has never been far away in this race.

A Horse Called Dan is tucked in behind Science & Data, he’ll have to hope they run on well so he can get a run at The Virus. Blame The Public and Follow The Rules are right in behind.

Lockdown Two is now running stride for stride with The Virus and Second Wave. Streaking down the outside is Crowds At The Races, he’s flying, but he’s fading now, oh dear he’s gone far too early and dropping back badly now, the jockey Pakula is pulling back on the reins.

Face Masks is having some effect in the race but is effecting Victorian Morale as it tries to stay stride for stride with Easing Of Restrictions and Rolling Average.

Five K Radius was running well but Legal Challenge fast behind it and Political Will are hampering it’s run. Curfew was also in that bunch but those horse are now squabbling amongst each other..

Karen From Brighton has just run across the track. Appears the horse became bored of the race and had run this track too many times.

Donut Day has come from nowhere and Victorian Morale runs on behind her now. A Horse Called Dan has also latched onto the run of Donut Day. Although it appears the jockey is now enjoying a whisky. That may be the end of A Horse Called Dan in this race but amazingly he remains popular with the people.

One horse who would have come on strong was AFL Grand Final but it decided to run in Brisbane instead.

We come down to the final lengths and it’s The Virus, Second Wave is flagging now but Lockdown Two runs up to The Virus, Dan Murphy’s right there to. Stride for stride they come down toward the line, they lunge. OH! IT’S A PHOTO!

I think Dan Murphy’s may have it! The conditions were perfectly suited for him and he ran well cheered on by the public.

Lockdown Two ran on so well truly a horse you feel could go on forever. The Virus another strong horse not easily defeated.

Running on behind are Revamped Contact Tracing which remains unproven at this distance, Donut Day had its moment but then faded, Victorian Morale just had no chance of a consistent run and turned to Dan Murphy’s to often. A Horse Called Dan despite drama comes through followed by Daily Press Conferences which hung around during the race but never threatened. Then it’s a long we back to several disappointing runners and complete carnage left behind.

What an amazing race, you’ll never see anything like it again.

I’m so bored and my brain isn’t working…

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

This is what my daughter said to my wife a couple of weeks ago. I feel much the same.

I’ve hit a lockdown wall.

It’s not that my mind isn’t working most of the time it races. I want to do something, but following through is hard. I’ve written many drafts for blog posts but none will be published mostly because they’re a rubbish thought jumble and because part of me doesn’t want to get involved in politics or debating anything to do with the virus.

I feel the need to put my energy into something but I’ve lost the energy to do so.

I’ve done my best to work with others but at times they seem busier than me, or they’re stuck in a bigger rut than me.

I want to be a better friend and support to people during this time but I’m not sure how.

I watch and read too much in the news but fear I’ll miss something if I stop following. But the endless cycle of numbers, restrictions, opinions, theories becomes draining.

A friend told me you can’t do anything about the grand scheme of things so don’t worry about it. That’s sound advice to not worry about what we cannot control. But at the same time, part of me feels if all of us just tune out at some point we sleepwalk into oblivion.

With a small loosening on exercise restrictions, I’ve tried to get back into heavy training ideally for a rescheduled Ultra in December. But the likelihood of this happening seems remote so the drain from training at times feels a little pointless. I do feel fitter and better for the sessions but Ultra training is hard physically and mentally, and with no race reward at the end is difficult. People say love the journey, but a journey without a destination I’d probably structure the journey differently.

This is all made harder by the fact that 2019 was a great year! My son was born and I achieved some things which made me realise barriers I thought were around me could be broken (one of these was breaking three hours for a marathon).

2019 I always viewed as a building year, I felt during 2019 that 2020 would be a big year. But never in this way. I had big plans for 2020 the biggest one was ruled out before COVID, but I was planning other things. I have long service leave due, the plan was to use it for some once in a lifetime, life-changing experience. Well, I got a once in a lifetime (at least it better be once!) experience but sitting in my house and trying to ween myself off a chocolate and junk food habit was not really what I was planning.

I feel I have tried. I think I still really am trying to use this time as most effectively as possible. I’ve engaged in some athletics coaching development, looked into the Enneagram, tried being more proactive in organisations I’m involved with. But now the desire to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime is large, and the wish to sleep is powerful.

Let’s hope this is all over soon and racing minds can be put to real use and that we don’t resort to writing thought diarrhea in a blog post and posting it on the internet (if this one makes it that far).

Wishing everyone the best. This will end at some point and hopefully we come out better people than when it started.

*I wasn’t planning on posting this but I got a message from a friend feeling similar to me. No motivation, racing mind but can’t focus and other similar ideas. So thought maybe there was some value in putting this up.

Isla and the Rainbow Cave…

I have not posted here for a long time now. I’ve written different drafts of things but they never felt right to share. COVID world has been difficult to navigate in the past couple of weeks as Melbourne has gone into harsher lock down.

I’ve felt bored, restless and a lot of the time that life has become quite pointless. I don’t think the world we live in at the moment is easy for anyone.

I’ve been trying to do some “good things” the most notable of these has been baking cakes and dinners for people and giving them away. This has made me feel useful on the weekends and hopefully spread a little joy in what feels at times quite bleak.

The other thing I have done recently is write a little story based on drawings my daughter did. She did all these drawings of “The Rainbow Cave” and she would tell me about it. The Rainbow Cave has become a special place that she’s dreamed up and she talks about going there with her friends.

Something inside me felt like writing a little story of this place that she could remember later maybe. So I did and put in some of the things she mentioned were in the rainbow cave and added a few of my own.

I read her the story and she loved it. I asked if she wanted to change it and she said “No Daddy!” I then said we could print it of and she could draw the pictures of the story in it (you can see the main picture attached to this post). She was extremely excited by this idea and worked hard on a Sunday afternoon drawing the pictures on the different pages.

The book now lives in a plastic pocket and my daughter says it’s “the most special book!”

I’m glad I could bring this small joy to a four year old. I need to try and take more enjoyment in simple things like this. And maybe I need to find my own Rainbow Cave as we navigate through this crazy time.

So without any further introduction below is “Isla and the Rainbow Cave” by Isla and I.

“My name is Isla and this is my dog Patch.”

We’re going on an adventure to the Rainbow Cave. I have a younger brother Ben but he’s too little to come on adventures.

To get to the Rainbow Cave we go along the path past the creek, over the hill and through the fence. And then you have to look and listen to find the entrance.

When you find the entrance you wave and say “Hello!” to fairy that waits at the door.

Inside the Rainbow Cave it’s bright with all the colours of the rainbow over the walls. The walls flash as you walk by.

You go past the strawberry plants and the apple trees down to the green lake where the unicorns live.

On the way Patch sees the magic white bunnies and wants to chase them. The bunnies disappear and then jump out and say “Boo!” and Patch barks and the bunnies disappear again. “Peekaboo!” The bunnies jump out from behind a rock. I tell Patch to “come” and she leaves the bunnies to play.

In the Rainbow Cave it starts to rain, it doesn’t rain with water in the Rainbow Cave but rains GUMMY BEARS!

We pass the friendly furry snakes as we run through the mystic fields and roll down the colourful hills.

The Rainbow Cave is a magical place special for me but its time to leave and go home for tea! Maybe a snack before we leave of rainbow berries with special ice cream. Patch has a rainbow bone and now it’s time to go.

Back past the hills and the green lake and waving goodbye to the furry snakes.

The bunnies play “peekaboo” as we go past and see the unicorns still down by the lake. I put some gummy bears in my pocket and smell the strawberries and apples, then I go back to the door and say “Bye” to the fairy.

Then back through the fence and to the other side of the hill where home is past the creek and up the path.

Back home to Mummy and Ben, he’s not ready for adventures not yet anyway. And he has to find is own special place his own Rainbow Cave.

 

7 Things to consider in the post COVID world…

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

The world has had enough of lock down and now we’re ready to get moving again. Well that’s what it feels like, in Australia anyway.

In Australia we have escaped the worst of the virus. Thankfully. Now though people are not talking of flattening the curve but moving on with life.

We have moved onto the bigger task, getting back to “normal” and restarting life as we knew it. It would however be remiss of us not to sit and take stock of what we want this “normal” to look like.

Life is going to be different, hopefully it will be good different. But based on the noises being made I am not sure that we will gain all the benefits we could from this “reset.” These are some thoughts on things i think worth keeping in mind as we “snap back.”

1. Stay outside

Everyone has been outside during the lock down. Be it family bike rides, walks, running people have been enjoying the outdoors to escape the lock down. Being outside is beneficial for our physical and mental health. I also believe it gives us a better perspective on life. It makes us more environmentally conscious and I think nicer people (maybe I’m naive, but when you’re out walking in a beautiful area you say hello to strangers as they pass. When else does that happen?). So I hope people stay outside and active as we move into the new world.

2. Experiences are better than things

During lock down people have been doing puzzles, knitting, learning new skills. Some of these new hobbies will carryover and bring much joy (the productive ones anyway). The things that we’ve all missed during this are experiences. Going to the football, doing parkrun, going to a restaurant. We’ve been stuck in our houses with all our things and we’ve desperately wanted to get away from them. Life is about experiences. In the new world lets crave experience from simple to complex, over material things. We don’t need more stuff we need more life.

3. Think of the dolphins

The environment has had a huge benefits as it’s biggest destroyer (the human race) has been forced to twiddle their thumbs. Dolphins have been spotted places they haven’t been seen, some animal species have bread in huge numbers. Pollution levels have dropped. Unfortunately we’ve upped single use plastics! But on the whole the environment has benefited. Let’s look at how we can continue this. Look for greener ways, more sustainable way. Bear in mind that this virus is a warning sign from our planet which becomes more stressed every day. Lets continue to think of the dolphins.

4. Don’t be too germophobic

This may be controversial. It wasn’t long ago that the scientific community said that germs were important. Books like “Let them eat dirt” were brought out extolling the virtues of kids getting down and dirty. Being too clean was leading to more colds and allergies in kids. Humans need germs, our bodies use them to build our immune system amongst other things. Doctors warned of super bugs, resistant to antibiotics, antibacterials and antiseptics. We are now sanitizing everything all the time. Single use plastics are sky rocketing. We may be creating a bigger problem. A doctor ridiculed Donald Trump for mentioning injecting disinfectant into the body, then told someone I knew to disinfect her grapes when bringing them home. That seems confusing to me. So don’t be completely lax, but let’s not get too germ crazy.

5. New capitalism

My wife shared a quote with me ‘The world economy crashed when people purchased only what they needed.” Find that striking? Capitalism has given us a quality of life that our ancestors could never have imagined. I hope that we can continue to make people’s lives better all over the world. Capitalism is the best way to do this, but let’s do it in a more conscious way. A more sustainable way that’s not all about consumption. A fairer way.

6. Stimulate things that give us the world we want

Stimulus is a word being used widely. We need to stimulate the economy. This is one of the greatest chances we have to stimulate the economy we want. Be it sustainable technologies, transport infrastructure, smart manufacturing. Let’s stimulate what we want the world to be not just throw money at things that reinforce the old. Let’s use stimulus to promote the world we want, not just rebuild what we had.

7. Stop looking at people like they’re radioactive

Thankfully this is already abating. It is important to follow social distancing and other protocols but I do hope the worst of that is over. During lock down going to the supermarket became a paranormal experience. Every person you walked past didn’t want to be anywhere near you and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them. Many common courtesies disappeared. People seemed more selfish. It was strange. But hopefully with fear of the virus in the community subsiding we can sensibly be more courteous to all our fellow humans.

This is the chance for a reset mankind may never have again. People want life as we knew it back. But wouldn’t life as we dreamt it be better?

So enjoy getting back into life but don’t lose the chance to learn lessons from Coronavirus craziness.

The life giving power of death…

Pulpit Rock Norway

One day I will die. You will too. It’s a fact of life. One day we’re here. One day we’re not. I’ve discovered  living knowing you will die impacts on how we live.

Recently I wrote my eulogy. No I’m not depressed as one friend asked. It was a exercise I heard about on a podcast. The advice was think of yourself at 90 years old sitting on a park bench on your last day on Earth. What do you want people to say?

Writing your eulogy gives perspective on your values and what’s important to you. You can find out what achievements you might want to achieve. From this exercise you can see clearly what legacy you want to leave. From there you can go about working on the important things.

The same podcast guest (Shane Parrish for those interested) also says list the 4 main things you want to achieve in life. If you are not working on those most of the time fix it.

The picture attached to this post is of Pulpit Rock in Norway. I took this picture after hiking up to the rock. The area surrounding this landmark like most of Norway is breathtakingly beautiful. But the major attraction of Pulpit Rock is to sit on the edge.

I sat on the edge and looked down at my feet dangling over. Below my feet was a vertical drop straight down. My wife was nervous about going up to the rock let alone sitting on the edge but she did. She felt it was in many ways death defying. I did not think this. You’re cautious near the edge and one slip and it’s all over.

What is the attraction of the edge? To look down. What happens at the bottom? Certain death. But that is morbidly satisfying. It makes you feel alive.

Knowing you will die shows how precious life is. Knowing you will die and realising that time on this Earth is finite is powerful.

Not knowing how many tomorrows you will have increases action you take now.

So what do you want to achieve? What do you want your legacy to be? Not sure? Write your eulogy and get comfortably uncomfortable with the fact you’ll die. Find the four most important things you want to work on. Don’t immediately do an Instagram post about them. Simply work on them. Then go about creating the best life possible and work on the most important things you want to leave behind when you’re gone.

Easy peasy cashew cream…

Photo by Syed Hussaini on Unsplash

What to do about dairy? How to make things creamy? All things that one considers when changing to add more plants to their diet or give up animal products altogether.

When moving to eating mostly plants dairy was by far the hardest thing to give up specifically butter and cheese. Dairy is added to pasta sauces, soups, cakes etc.

Dairy also contains no fibre and high amounts of saturated fat, no fibre.

So what to do?

One of the first things I learnt from a plant based cooking book was how to make cashew cream.

Cashew nuts contain;

  • fibre
  • protein
  • iron

They also have a low carbon footprint (although they do take a significant amount of water to grow, but so do cows).

Making cashew cream is super easy the base of it is 2 ingredients cashew nuts and water. To make;

  • boil water
  • place cashew nuts in a bowl (I’m not good with measurements so I normally just do 2-3 handfuls).
  • Cover the cashew nuts in boiling water and leave at least 15mins. You can leave them longer it won’t hurt them.
  • Transfer the nuts to a blender. Add water I usually start with about half the amount they were soaking in.
  • Blend until smooth
  • Add more water if you want it thinner

 

That’s the base easy! For savory dishes and to replace sour cream you can add lemon juice or white wine / apple cider vinegar. Flavour it with garlic, chives or other herb and season with salt and pepper.

For sweet you can add maple syrup or agave to taste. Make it vanilla using vanilla extract.

A significantly healthier alternative for you and the environment and super easy.

Enjoy!

COVID-19 musings…

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

It’s been a while since I posted and the World is now a very different place. Something microscopic has managed to stop society and life as we know it. This post is a collection of thoughts and musings as I’ve worked through COVID-19.

It took me a long time to get my head around COVID-19. I had many questions. How is this different to the flu? Is it as bad as they make out? Is it worth stopping life for? Will we have COVID-20 and 21 and isolation becomes an annual thing?

I found the information conflicting and unclear. From our Prime Minister for instance “This is a very serious disease, but I’m going to the footy on the weekend.”

After some good content released by the BBC I began to understand the threat this disease poses. Due to its higher rate of transmission compared to normal flu, this leads to a potential overloading of the healthcare system.

After seeing this I understood the lock down and why it may be necessary. Then I began to wonder if we were locking down hard enough.

Mum’s birthday was the hardest day of this so far. Not being able to give her a hug and share a meal on her birthday I found extremely hard.

In the end fair play to the Government they seem to have got it right so far and we’ve stopped the disease from overrunning our hospital system. This allows us flexibility in the next steps. Now however comes the tricky part getting society moving again. This is a job that I do not envy in any way as any decision has inherent risk. Good luck to those in charge!

It will be most interesting to see what comes out of this. In many ways this is a chance to push reset on society. Change the system and fix the broken bits.

I’ve had many thoughts on this. The following is a collection of them.

I’ve noticed people being outside more everywhere I run I see people, families out walking, running, riding (even in the early hours of the morning 4am!). I hope this is something people value and keep doing when we go back to “normal.” Being active gives obvious physical benefits but I also think it makes us more compassionate and kind people.

The environment has had a huge chance to breathe. Look at the satellite data from China if you don’t believe me. Hopefully this will help us all realise that we must do a better job preserving and protecting our environment.

Whilst thinking about the environment though. What happens with single use plastics? We’ve been on a crusade against them. We’ve been doing a good job reducing their use. But now people are using disposable gloves, masks, sterilizing devices and many other things. Can we continue reducing the use of these? Or do we go back to increasing our landfill to stay clean. Will people want disposable straws again as they don’t trust one that’s been washed.

Whilst thinking about hygiene. I’m concerned we’ve accelerated the Genesis of the real super bug. The one with death rates of 25%. The one they warned us about that was resistant to antibacterial, antiviral and other drugs. Experts said we were too clean and needed germs. Well now we sterilise everything all the time and I don’t see that stopping quickly.

Do we start to consider what it is to live life well? Is sitting in our homes well lived? Is dying on a respirator better than dying at home? Do people terminally ill want to be separated from their families to protect them from something, meaning they cannot spend their final days the way they really want seeing their loved ones.

As a society have we become to safe? In protecting life at all costs and reducing all risk have we now forgotten what it truly means to live. Risk makes us feel alive its why people jump out of planes. Do we need to assess our relationship with risk and reward?

People have seen the values that truly matter through this and I hope that they will carry this forward post COVID-19 craziness.

I will be interested to see what happens to social welfare as we have done more than ever before and hopefully this can make us more caring for those less privileged in society.

What happens to capitalism will change? Do we continue to want to consume, consume, consume or do we now step back. Do we think we maybe have driven everything to the edge and we’ve seen how fragile the system we’ve made is.

Do we now give more consideration to the 5 million children who die of malnutrition every year (many more than from COVID-19). Do we help them?

Do we start to think about health wider. And look at our lifestyle to reduce lifestyle illness (diabetes, heart disease etc). Will this lead to a society that makes healthier choices?

This is a chance to reset and hopefully we do it well. I hope that we don’t go back to “business as usual.” Because many parts of the system we’ve been running around in suck. So why not try to fix those.

This disease has shown we can act quickly and decisively. We have shown nothing is impossible and be bold in creating society as we move forward. We just spent $130 billion trying to keep the country afloat. $4 billion on the environment now doesn’t sound like a big number.

COVID-19 has clearly shown individuals true character. As one person posted on Twitter.

“The assholes have become bigger assholes and the compassionate have become more compassionate.”

I hope I’m in the later and not an ass. Maybe ask my wife privately for her opinion.

Personally I wish I could do more but unsure how to practically help. If people have suggestions please leave a comment on the blog.

This has shown what people trust and don’t trust. Who people trust and don’t trust.

Its shown society at its worst as people hoarded toilet paper and pushed old ladies with walking frames in supermarkets, people being racist in the extreme. But its also shown society at its best as we’ve banded together to keep people fed people and provide for other needs.

I’ll finish this post with something that’s really made me smile during all this.

At the start of the tougher restrictions my wife took my daughter for a walk. We had heard about the “Teddy Bear Hunts” that were going on in other communities so said to my daughter,”We’re going on a bear hunt!”

For those unaware many people have been putting teddy bears in their windows as a game for children as they walk around given there is little other activity for them. People have also been doing this with rainbows.

During the walk they only spotted 2 teddy bears. The next day my daughter decided to make some “letters” with Mummy’s help. So with the computer they made some flyers, my daughter cut them out and hand drew teddy bears on them.

On a family walk my daughter delivered these in letterboxes around our neighbourhood.

The next day there were many more teddy bears out. Some people printed off teddy bear pictures and displayed them with my daughter’s flyer! This really brightened her day. She went home, made more letters and did a second delivery. Now you can’t walk past 2 houses without seeing a teddy bear. People who’s houses are not visible from the street have placed teddy’s near mailboxes so they can be seen.

I was so happy my daughter’s effort was rewarded. The simple act of people reading the flyer made by a little girl and putting a teddy bear out has shown me humanity isn’t so bad.

So thank you to all the people who are helping in this from doctors and nurses, to politicians, supermarket workers, bakers, cleaners, garbage truck drivers, delivery drivers, food bank and everyone I’ve missed. Also thank you to those who’ve put a teddy bear out as maybe we cannot do very much else. But we can brighten the lives of small children and in lighting up their lives they can light up ours.

Thanks for staying with me on this random collection of thoughts!

Money the most overrated thing on the planet…

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

“Cause it’s a bitter sweet symphony that’s life. Trying to make ends meet you’re a slave to money then you die.” Are the lines from The Verve song Bitter Sweet Symphony. The song would ultimately lead the breakup of the band and a court case with The Rolling Stones.

The Beatles on their second studio album would cover the song “Money (That’s What I Want)” whilst on their third studio album was “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Money is the most amazing narrative that humans have created. Historian Yuval Noah Harari explained once if you gave it to  a monkey he would not know what to do with it as you cannot eat it or use it for shelter. It’s just a piece of paper or these days a series of computer code. But thanks to the narrative humans have built around money it has become something we’ve killed for, lied for and some even died for.

It has lead to people coming up with wonderful ways of leveraging it forming more stories about what other pieces of paper are worth and that $1 becomes $20.

Money makes some people go and buy as much toilet paper as they can. They then put it on eBay to sell it at a profit to take advantage of people who can no longer buy it at a supermarket. The low measures we sink to, to get more money astound me at times.

I write this post as a middle class, white, Australian who thankfully has never had to worry about money or money troubles. I am truly thankful for this. But as I get older I have grown to see the fallacy that chasing money brings.

Every single day I talk or think about money. Whether at my job and how much something may cost the business. At home talking about family budgets with my wife or giving my daughter $4 a week in pocket money and teaching her to be responsible with it.

Money is here to stay the human race has created such a wonderful story around it that it’s place is with us forever. We don’t have a fair and sensible alternative. We should be responsible with it, and there is nothing wrong with striving to obtain it but, if this is our sole aim in life or if we think “I just need an extra $X” then we’re wrong.

With money we build ourselves wonderful cages. With more money we make the cages golden or bigger or we add things. But in the end it’s still a cage.

When we have money we take on debts or buy things or commit to obligations. This forms the bars of the cage. The bank owns most of my house I then pay the bank every month so that one day they won’t own it at all. In the process the bank makes a large amount of money, that makes their shareholders happy as they get some of the money and the wheel continues.

Once the house becomes mine then I will have more money of my own right? As I won’t have to pay the bank. So I could buy another house (well the bank could) and I will pay them again every month until I fully own that one. The bank gets money the shareholders get money, and I have a new cage but maybe this one is by the beach.

Maybe I just need a bit more money I don’t need another house but a bit more money would be nice wouldn’t it? I could use that to do nice things with the family? Or I could drive a Mercedes instead of a Subaru? That would be a pretty cage wouldn’t it.

This is why money is a trap as in western society we will never have “enough” someone will have a nicer house, a nicer TV, gold earrings, a better car, or a boat (that would be an aquarium not a cage :)). We get more, we want more, then we’re a slave to money then we die and as a Scotsman I worked for said regularly “There are no pockets in a shroud!”

In my last days I can’t imagine sitting being glad I managed to get a bit more money so I could afford new curtains.

Recently there have been two podcasts with people who I was extremely jealous of. One was a “dirtbagger” she lived in a van which she parked in carparks to sleep in. She would use McDonald’s carparks to get free WiFi. But she went to every national park in America whenever she wanted and scaled mountains and had amazing experiences.

The other was with a guy who rode his bike around the world (that is not a typo). He had experiences money cannot buy and his happiest times were in the places where the people had “nothing by western standards” but they were happy.

Many of the happiest people are some of the poorest they thrive on love and community.

So am I going to sell my house and buy a van? No. But I am jealous of the freedom. Yes. Am I going to try and free myself from the cages I’ve built? Absolutely as fast as possible.

I’ve done much life assessment recently and freedom is something I crave. Part of that is being free of money and the problems it brings.

Money is overrated, but it is necessary. It is something that can do much good, but also extreme evil. It is something we must be responsible with, and I think part of that responsibility is seeing it for what it is and that is that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. But if we use every dollar wisely we free ourselves to be ourselves.

Running injury psychology…

Image courtesy of Photo by Jane Sundried on Unsplash

Last Thursday was a great day. I had the best running session in ages. I felt fast, I felt fit, I felt flow. The next day on a a recovery run, I genuinely felt my fitness was coming back. Saturday I set a parkrun PB and life was grand. The only drama was a nagging pain in my foot.

Sunday I saw my sister who is a doctor who said “What you describe is plantar fasciitus.”

That was not good news as this I have heard many horror stories about this injury. So for the next few hours I tried to live in blissful ignorance. However the pain in my foot continued to nag away.

Monday I texted Jo the miracle worker. I’ve seen Jo for many years her biggest claim to fame was enabling me to walk out of her studio after my first 100km when I could barely walk in.

Jo said to make an appointment and come and see her. Lock in a Tuesday appointment. I asked if I could run in the meantime as “my foot doesn’t hurt when it warms up.” This was met with a no.

The remainder of Monday was horrible, I felt stressed. It was not the pain in my foot that was manageable. However, the stress came from the thoughts of what it could mean. This was all coinciding with Tuesday being my birthday “Happy birthday to you, your foot is stuffed and you won’t be running ever again.” This was all exacerbated by the fact I’ve never had a major injury.  My mind has a tendency to run wild if left unchecked and that’s what it was doing.

Adding to everything was that I’d been battling with running for a long time (see here if you want to know more) and now everything was finally clicking again. I was feeling excited and planning projects that would bring other people into the sport and life was looking up. Would it all be derailed by a pain in my foot? Would I have to have major treatment?

I had to stop thinking! I had to come to peace with the fact I couldn’t do anything and let go of everything. I had to let Tuesday be what it would be.

Tuesday came. It was my birthday and my daughter was an excited distraction in the morning. Finally the time came the reckoning! Time to see Jo to find out what was going on and what we were going to do.

Jo is a miracle worker and worked on my foot and legs. They felt better the next day. However I still do have a condition that needs to be treated with some care. But we caught it early and all being well it won’t cause a major issue and I’ll be able to get training for Surf Coast Century in the next couple of weeks.

This has been a good learning experience. One listen to my body! Blissful ignorance is not a good state to be. Seek out people you trust, don’t let your mind wander or worse “Google it” and don’t let me mind wander to the worst possible scenario as most likely it is never that.

Looking forward to seeing you when I get running again in a couple of days hopefully pain free (if not then a bit more work to be done, but we’ll get there).

Easy Peasy lunch made easy, my roast vegetable soup…

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

One thing I want to do with my blog this year is write about simple things that can help you be healthier and help the planet. So today lets start with lunch.

Food waste is the third biggest contributor to climate change according to Project Drawdown. Reducing food waste will reduce global greenhouse emissions. I personally am trying to reduce the food waste I produce and compost anything leftover.

So today a quick post that will make you a healthy lunch, save you money and reduce food waste.

Typically every week we have some vegetables leftover be it a bunch of spring onions from when we only needed two, a zucchini, extra tomatoes, anything.

Buying lunch everyday when was costing me approximately $100 a week and I probably was not always eating the healthy options.

So this step kills two birds with one stone. My easy peasy roast vegetable soup.

Heat your oven to a high heat (200C), take a large roasting tray.

Cut up your leftover vegetables roughly and place in the roasting tray. Add some garlic, herbs, spices anything you like (I like paprika, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, experiment it’s fun) and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil (leave out if you want to be oil free). Toss everything together.

Place in the hot oven and roast til vegetables are tender and have some caramelisation.

In a large saucepan, boil some vegetable stock between 1-1.5l (depending if you want thick or thin soup).

Take the roasted vegetables pour into the pot of stock, then blitz (I use a stick blender). Blitz to the texture of your liking.

This will make a large amount of soup that will serve you lunch for a week. I serve it with toast.

Easy. Cheap. Save time. Stop food waste. You can make a different soup every week. Its a winner.

Please don’t ask me about running…

In the final part of 2019 things were going well. Then events happened and they weren’t. In a moment my world was rocked, I lost my love for running and all my dreams around it shattered.

I lost all desire to run. I lost the thing that only ever gave and never took. I lost the activity that enabled me to think clearly, energised me, reflect, worship, pray and just have “me time.”

Everything I achieved in the sport became tarnished. The dream of running Western States died, Tasmania died.

My world was not the same as it was. My faith in my abilities was tarnished. My whole outlook on life became questionable.

I lost the thing that I liked to talk about socially. I didn’t want people to ask me about running because I wasn’t a runner anymore.

I tried to run as I knew I needed it, but when I went running it was no longer a freeing activity. It was complete torture, stuck in a world of negative thoughts that ate away until I stopped running. The thought of running felt selfish, stupid and pointless.

When I could actually focus on running, I mainly berated myself with how slow and unfit I was.

It got to the point where I wished for an injury that would take the decision of running away from me and I could just move on.

Since arriving at this point I’ve had many conversations and counselling with many people. I’ve worked through the events that brought me to this point. I got to see that what I perceived is not the truth. See this was not how things were supposed to play out.

I’m slowly learning to again love running. Have it not be a negative experience. It’s not quite what it was but at worst it’s just quiet without the negative thoughts.

I’m feeling the burn in my legs as I write this after a session at the athletics club and enjoying this sensation again.

I’m slowly getting my love back but it’s complicated.

It’s complicated because the dreams I had are still dead. Western States, Tasmania, 24 hour racing, last man standing racing. I don’t feel I can race again but part of me so badly wants to strap a bib on or start a new challenge such as Tasmania.

Part of me wants to chase all the dreams I had but it doesn’t feel right. So I am stuck in an internal conflict of trying to be satisfied but part of me is not.

Maybe I can find satisfaction in just enjoying running for what I mainly love it for. The stillness on a quiet morning just me and Patch the wonder dog. Maybe not having a race will be freeing, no need to be stressed about being ready for something, the stress of training that needs to be done.

However without racing, can I motivate myself to push my boundaries? Racing helped me make better decisions when I just wanted to eat hamburgers, without it will I let my healthier habits slip?

Without racing I fear I will become my biggest fear. My fear of “being normal.” Running ultras was a questionable part of my life. People asked me why. I loved telling my story. I loved hearing about their stories and history with running. Some people say they were inspired by me and tried running or other things to improve their lives and that I find deeply satisfying.

I don’t want to be “normal” by that I mean, get up, drive to work, work, go home, watch Netflix, go to bed, repeat until the weekend when maybe go to a football game. I want to stretch every single sinew of body to see what it’s capable of and I don’t know if I can do that without dreams and goals. 

Maybe it’s a season or maybe this is life now I don’t know. The main thing is I want to crave running again. Have it be all it used to be the life giving force that put life in balance. Have running return to being something that I want to talk about socially and not have to say “Please don’t ask me about running.”

 

 

Australia can be the Phoenix rising from the ashes…

Photo by Ben Kuo on Unsplash

The bushfire crisis in Australia this summer has been  horrific to watch. People stranded on beaches with nowhere else to escape the flames. Some taking boats to avoid the flames.

The statistics on the fires are frightful. Some 80% of the Blue Mountains National Park burned (a word heritage site), a total area larger than two times the size of Belgium burned, over one billion animals killed, homes lost and unfortunately loss of life including volunteer firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice trying to help.

Add to this, these fires started earlier than normal and we still have a long time before the bushfire period ends.

The recovery will be long and slow with the pain to be felt by local businesses who lost their busiest time of year and of course the natural environment. Thankfully mother nature is resilient but she keeps giving us warning signs (including crazy hail storms the last couple of days).

Australia can rise from the ashes and use this as a turning point in our history, I hope this will be the case.

This event has shown that it can have a galvanising effect. It’s shown people band together to help those effected, this is not just people in Australia but all over the world.

It can also galvanise us to make positive change as the simple fact is most of the population want action on the environment and climate change.

Most people no longer find comments like “it’s not our emissions causing the problem” helpful.

The time for denial is over, the time for action is now (better late than never).

It is time we looked after mother nature. Protect the one big thing we cannot replace our world.

Action on the environment and climate change has cost multiple Prime Minister’s their jobs in this country. The shear mention of action has sent a mainstream media (which is far too controlled by one man) into a tailspin, had conservative back benchers howling of the cost to the economy and that our changes will do nothing.

Well now it’s quite simple people want action. I believe this is the time meaningful policy changes can be implemented that will have monumental impacts in a good way.

Any politician who still believes that this is not our responsibility or the cost to the economy is too great has lost any political will they may have had. As for the economy  look at the numbers these fires will cost. Speak to the people who may never return to these beautiful regions out of fear or burdensome requirements to stay.

Now is the time for strong leadership. It’s the time for Australia as a nation to act in a bipartisan way and say we are going to take meaningful action on environmental protection and climate change. This also requires keyboard warriors to cease howling down the Prime Minsiter for his handling of the situation, step back and allow him to lead.

Australia can thrive in a new low carbon economy we have all the resources to. This is the chance to build the new Australia one focused on the environment, new technology and innovation. 

If there is one thing I’ve learnt from running it’s you break the body down and it builds back stronger. I hope that we look back at these fires and realise it was the moment that put Australia on a new path one better, stronger and fairer.

I hope this first post of 2020 I can look back on in many years and say I predicted the future. A note on 2020, I plan to put in some simple tricks and hacks on how simple things can make a difference for the environment, health etc. We’ll see how we go.

A final note thank you to the volunteer firefighters amazing and selfless people. The people rescuing and saving wildlife. People providing food and shelter to those displaced. Anyone I’ve forgotten the country is eternally grateful. Finally thanks to all my overseas friends who have contacted me about the situation with concern, hopefully I can see you all soon!

2019 year in running…

Finishing the 2019 Surf Coast Century

As a child I loved sports. I loved playing them, watching them, talking about them. Problem was I wasn’t very good at them. Always the last picked in the schoolyard. Thinking back to those days makes 2019 a very big year for me.

This year I was awarded Cross Country Club Champion for my local athletics club. I’m the first to acknowledge that for the club’s benefit I hope I don’t win it next year. But for me the kid always picked last, to be Club Champion is a big deal. I ran for the club’s top team and scored points to keep us in our division. I ran with runners better than me and those of similar ability. I had fun doing it, and continued improvement over past years of running.

2019 started with two parkruns on New Year’s Day both sub 20 minutes a barrier I once  thought impossible until the end of 2018. The year also saw me break other barriers previously thought impossible 15km in under an hour and the big one a sub three hour marathon (you can read about this here).

I finished on an overall podium for the first time (2nd) and won my age group at a race in the UK (see here).

I performed a personal best at the Surf Cost Century in what was one of my best performances.

I’ve honed my training and continued my steady improvement based on consistent work over several years now. I learned more about coaching through working with the team at the athletics club and watching them and me improve.

I now feel like an athlete. I’m no longer the last to be picked in the schoolyard line up. People I grew up with are impressed with my athletic achievements and when I think of the scrawny kid I was that’s a big deal.

2019 was a big year. A great year. A year that continued to show me that nothing is impossible. With work I can achieve anything. I can make myself better and push my limits. I believe that anyone can do the same thing. Chase your goals as that is what gives life a point.

So what will 2020 bring? I have no idea. It will be different. I don’t know if I can train the same. I don’t know if I can commit in the same way as I have in 2019. Running has given me so much and I want to give back to it and hope that will be possible.

I don’t know what my goals are for 2020 or what’s possible. Big things may not be possible (including running around Tasmania) so maybe I need to find joy in the little ones.

We will see what it shall bring.

Brian you’re making me look like a genius…

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Thanks to Brian Houston Pastor of Hillsong Church, this week you made me look like a genius.

For those of you who’ve read my posts previously you’ll know my opinions on the Church as a whole and it’s need for drastic reform. For those catching up see here, here, here, here and even here. My general premises is that the Church should sell all it’s Earthly possessions and give to the poor and pretty much do what Jesus said. Then love people unconditionally as Jesus said and maybe then it will become relevant again. Particularly if it stands up for good and protecting important things like God’s creation.

December 4 my theories were reinforced by the Hillsong’s Brian Houston. Brian is not having a good year, you can Google that. But today he proudly tweeted;

“God has opened the door for@hillsongnyc

to move into 3 beautiful floors of office space in the heart of Downtown Manhattan. It also includes a ‘chapel’ and mid-week hub. It’s a major miracle for us to have purchased… instagram.com/p/B5nqYwvnLHi/

@BrianCHouston

I don’t even need to write anything in this post I can let the replies to his tweet do that for me;

“No. A miracle would be Hillsong spending its free money on the needy in the world, instead of building their own list of assets and wealth. #CorporatisedReligion #AmwayEvangelicals Your institution disgusts me, quite frankly.”

@CatPurry9

And;

“Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against downturns in the market; life does not consist of missing a bargain and not turning a decent profit on investment opportunities.” Brian 12:15”

@MettaBhavana1
Also;
“Jesus would be appalled. He’d kick you moneychangers out of the temple. #auspol #MSM”
@denniallen
And;
“Serious question: can you reconcile this with *any* of the things Jesus taught or practiced in His ministry? I’m asking because I have a hard time believing that Jesus, who walked around in sandals, condemned Rome, and healed the sick would buy three floors in Manhattan”
@Sarah_Alice_X
There are hundreds more! This is just a sample. Others call on the government to remove tax free status from Hillsong. Say Jesus would turn a table over in their new building. Ask why God and Hillsong aren’t doing more to assist fire fighters battling huge blazes in their home state of New South Wales, Australia. Ask if this will help the thousands homeless in New York etc.
The response was overwhelmingly negative and I can see why. This to me is hypocritcal. It is everything Jesus preached against and will do very little to advance the kingdom.
I have no idea what this building is costing but one must ask the question. How many poor people would it clothe, feed and shelter? How many people would get medical care? How many natural acres of land could be saved? What could it do to alleviate poverty?
Brian followed his tweet today saying;
“Ignore the noise and the critics. That’s all they are. Focus on the positives, help people, love God, have fun and enjoy the journey.”
@BrianCHouston
This has been met with a slightly lower but no less savage response.
Brian the critics are God’s children and loved by him and all are calling out the hypocriscy. You best listen to them, and love them as you are called to do. Ignore them at your peril.
Hillsong has done some wonderful things in the past and could do many more. I implore Hillsong to use the money not on buildings but helping those Jesus said to.
If you choose to ignore the critics who make valid, relevant points then enjoy your new Tower of Babel which will soon come crumbling down as Hillsong with the rest of the Church slowly fades into irrelevance.
What Jesus said will always be relevant now we just all need to follow it.

I wish I was a Rock Star…

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

If I could be anything in the world it would be a Formula 1 driver or a Rock Star! Maybe some who read this expected me to say professional runner, but no. One of those 2 please! And I would keep running as a hobby.

So why a Rock Star? I think there would not be many better feelings than standing in front of thousands of people and playing a song that you wrote. Words you penned. Then stop singing and hear the audience sing. Singing your song.

You wrote something they love. Something that’s impacted them and now they sing along at the top of their lungs. How amazing!

Last Friday I had the pleasure of seeing the evergreen U2. I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

Something that struck me during the show on Friday night was the lighting. As with all these big stadium shows the lighting and production are impressive.

So impressive I thought at one point they had lights placed all through the crowd. I was sitting in a high grandstand. Looking down there was a beautiful sea of lights that changed colour with the lighting on the stage.

Then it dawned on me. These weren’t lights in the crowd they were people filming the concert on their phones. Thousands of people filming the concert that they were at.

After the concert catching the train home I watched as people were re-watching the videos they had taken. The passengers on the train sat with the people they’d attended the show with but instead of discussing it with them they watched their phones, only looking up to say “That’s not a bad one.” As they showed a photo on their phone.

On the train I talked to my wife about the concert we had just watched.

Now I shall not lie and be holier than thou. I took videos about 40 seconds in total for 2 videos of the main show. And yes I put them on Instagram along with a couple from the warm up act.

But I did not live tweet the show. I enjoyed it for about two and a half hours. I did not touch my phone.

Smart phones are wonderful devices but I fear they are taking us out of the now. We then live revisionist lives watching things we filmed. Instead of living them we film them, tweet them, Instagram them. Maybe we just need to enjoy them more. If we are not looking at our own lives we are looking at other people’s which can be even more damaging.

My wife has often said I am addicted to my phone and I will admit I have had difficulties with it. But I am consciously trying to get better and not pick it up all the time. Put more boundaries around it’s use.

Phones are addictive they’re designed by very clever people to be. Apps are designed to keep our attention. Our attention which is a precious thing. We only have one life, one chance to live and enjoy what experiences life has to offer. So let’s enjoy the moment not be busy trying to get the perfect shot for our Instagram.

So go to a concert and drink in everything it has to offer. And to my wife, yes you can use this post against me if you need.

 

A hamburger to save the World…

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

I love hamburgers! I always have! I know I’ve written many times on this blog about how great I feel eating a wholefood diet, but I often have cravings for hamburgers!

After an ultra I want a hamburger. Out and about I sometimes want a hamburger. Since switching to a plant based diet most of my old cravings I have tamed dairy, ice cream, bacon, but hamburgers still have a place. I have tried bean burgers, tofu burgers, mushroom burgers, risotto burgers and others. All had their charm but sometimes I just want a hamburger. I have managed to avoid this urge and stay plant based much of the time by just getting the chips (fries for US readers).

Driving home last week I got very excited by a sign outside my local Hungry Jacks (for those overseas this is basically Burger King) that said “REBEL WHOPPER! Plant Based Protein!”

I have long followed the progress of Impossible Foods and their burger which is available widely in the US including at Burger King as the “Impossible Whopper!” Was I seeing a version of this now available in Australia? I Googled and yes I was! The patty is made by V2 foods developed with the CSIRO (Australia’s Science Research Body). Where does the name V2 come from? It means food version 2.

V2 like Impossible are working to eliminate animals as a food source. The reason it’s an incredibly inefficient way of making food. They grow many inedible bits, and you have to keep them alive, this uses much land, water and resources which the Earth is running low on. By biomass there are more cows than wild creatures, more chickens than all other wild birds.

The founder of Impossible foods says that replacing animals as food is the number one challenge facing the planet today. Animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change and environmental destruction. Don’t believe me search Cowspiracy or Project Drawdown.

Project Drawdown (see here) I learnt about through a podcast with their founder Paul Hawken and have since read about them. Project Drawdown have done significant research into the leading ways to reduce climate change and take C02 and other greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Can you guess the number one thing we can do?

Renewable energy? No.

Electric Cars? No.

Energy efficiency? No.

Stop airline frequent flyer programs? Surprisingly no.

Refrigerant management! Yes your air conditioner and the refrigerant it uses is several times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Some steps are being taken to help with this, but why do we never here about it? For a full list of solutions see here.

Number 4 is a plant rich diet! This along with other food related topics will have significantly greater impact on the environment than spending millions of dollars on fanciful technologies such as carbon capture or moving everyone to Mars.

So back to hamburgers. Impossible foods and V2 do not simply want something that will do for plant based eaters and producing an anemic “veggie burger.” They are aiming at meat eaters. They want a product that is better in taste, health and cheaper. This goes for meat, fish, chicken, dairy products everything. How are they doing it? They are breaking meat down to it’s molecular levels and finding what makes meat, meat. Then replacing these building blocks with elements from the plant world.

As great as plant based food is, the world wants meat. And that includes me sometimes, I like hamburgers. So the best way to solve this is meet the need but do it with plant based ways. Use science and technology to create amazing products.

The Rebel Whopper how was it? Pretty good actually, and I think will be a guilty pleasure of mine occasionally.

If you like hamburgers try one. You probably won’t know the difference, but if we transition the Earth definitely will.

 

The importance of 20 seconds…

I sat captivated with most members of my family (my youngest went to bed) as Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line on Saturday in a time of 1.59.40, becoming the first man to break 2 hours for the marathon. I was jumping up and down and became quite emotional.

The INEOS 159 challenge has captivated me, partly because Eliud Kipchoge himself is a captivating individual. He has gone on to inspire a generation and give us all a history making moment for good.

This year there have been many celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I’ve spoken to my parents about this time and they’ve told amazing stories about where they were. The moon landing celebrations have left me quite jealous, as in my lifetime until Saturday we’ve not had a history making, world stopping moment for the good of mankind. To me Kipchoge breaking 2 hours is my moon landing. The event I’ll remember where I was (in my kitchen of all places). Remember the emotion I felt when he crossed.

Kipchoge has done everything in the sport of distance running. He’s got Olympic Gold Medals, World Championship medals, world records, won major marathons around the world. But what he did on Saturday was about legacy about history and inspiring a generation. Showing what a human is capable of. Showing that something that all thought impossible was possible.

He did all this with 20 seconds to spare. If he had run 2 hours and 1 second he would have gone faster than any man before at the marathon distance but still the barrier would remain. But now the 2 hour barrier is gone and so we wait for it to one day happen in race conditions. Kipchoge has shown it’s possible as Roger Bannister showed breaking 4 minutes for the mile is possible and now this is done regularly so lets wait to see what happens in the marathon.

Twenty seconds. A magic twenty seconds to spare.

Inspired by Kipchoge (with his catch cry ‘No human is limited’ written on my hand) I laced up this morning for the Melbourne Marathon. My plan to push my own limits and break my own impossible barrier, going sub 3 hours in a marathon. Something that until very recently I thought was completely impossible.

Today didn’t quite go as planned. On the drive to the train station I realised I had forgotten my watch. At first I thought I’d leave it. Then decided I wanted it (as if it’s not recorded on Strava it didn’t happen) so drove home to get it.

Arriving at the train station I’d missed my train but, there would be another one soon right? Not for 40 mins. That wasn’t going to work so I had 2 options drive and hope to find a car park near the race or Uber. God bless Uber!

I was now about 20 minutes behind schedule (was still calm, this wasn’t a major problem). I wanted to go to the toilet but there were queues. So I went to drop my bag. I have not done a race of this size in a long time, so forgot about long lines not helped by over zealous security (for my opinion on pointless security at events see here). So by the time I dropped my bag it was 15 minutes to race start (this was not ideal but no reason to panic).

I still wanted a nervous toilet stop, there would be toilets on the way to the start so I headed there. As with all running events every toilet had huge queues, 10 mins to start (now starting to get a bit concerned), I tried running to a toilet some distance from the start (was a good warm up), big queue. 7 minutes to start (now this really wasn’t ideal).

Finally I gave up on going and hoped for the best (I actually lost all the urge then and felt calmer!).

I arrived in the start shoot with about 3 mins to race start. This was good, no standing around getting cold. But with over 7,000 competitors I was a long way from the 3 hour pace group that I wanted to run with. I frantically ducked and weaved past runners. 1 minute to start. More ducking, more weaving. 30 seconds. More ducking, more weaving. Bang! Fireworks! Race start! At this stage I was around the 4 hour group! Oh dear not ideal. But stay calm! I took off with purpose but was careful not to be silly. I slowly caught different pace groups 3 hours 50 minutes, 3.40, 3.20, 3.10. Finally around the 3 km mark I caught the 3 hour group I intended to run with for the rest of the morning. Great as now I could shut my brain off and just run. Morning was back on plan!

Everything was going really well, until the inevitable marathon flat spot which today came about 27 km. I was some way back from the pace group and felt if I dropped further I may lose them. I wasn’t feeling wonderful at the time but dug deep.

I managed to stay in contact and then began to catch them as I started to feel a little better (caffeine is a beautiful thing).

From 37 km it just hurt and hurt a lot. I was running on my edge at points being right with the pace group and at points dropping back and using all my mental energy to catch back up.

When I was struggling I yelled at myself “You may never be here again! You have to make this count!”

At no point was I sure I was going to make it. Until the last few meters.

The Melbourne Marathon finishes in the greatest stadium in the world the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Arriving onto the ground I finally felt sure I would break three hours. But I pushed with all I had. Then finally saw the finish line and above it 2.59.40! So same as Eliud (well same except the first number!).

(*Note: officially the clock was 2.59.43, but when I looked it was definitely 40! And don’t let the truth get in the way of a good blog post!).

So 20 seconds! Officially it was a little less tight, my official time being 2.59.08 as I crossed the start line a few seconds after the start.

Today I’m proud. You do not have many days in your life like I had today, so I am enjoying it. There are very few days in your life when you can sit back and say I achieved what I once thought impossible!

I could have run today and not pushed my limits it would have been an achievement (only a small segment of the population will ever attempt a marathon). But pushing to the edge has brought so much more pride and joy. So push your limits.

Eliud you’ve made a generation believe. You’ve made me believe.

I hope maybe I can make a few people believe! Push yourself because…

 

NO HUMAN IS LIMITED!

 

(long post but if I can’t boast a little today when can you 🙂  )

A big weekend in running ahead…

This weekend an attempt will be made on something that was long thought impossible. And another guy will attempt to break 2 hours for a marathon.

It’s Melbourne Marathon week and I am looking forward to my last big race of the season before having a break from structured training and looking at new challenges.

My aim is to break 3 hours. When I ran my first Melbourne Marathon in 2014 I thought breaking three hours was completely impossible for me. But now I believe I can.

The lead up to this race is not conventional as it is not my goal race this year. That was the 100 km Surf Coast Century which I completed only 22 days prior to race start on Sunday. So the lead up to this race has been focused on recovery from that event.

But I have done the work in my legs and feel fit. I did a fast parkrun on Saturday to give me some confidence. Now I just visualise how Sunday will go.

I visualise crossing the line with 2.57 on the clock, 10 mins faster than my marathon PB of 3.07. I visualise the 3 hour pacer at the start and finding the group I will run with for the bulk of the morning.

I picture myself running in a group of runners being sucked along at a metronomic  pace. I visualise my legs feeling great with 5 km to go and turning up the speed for a strong finish.

The most important thing is I believe I can. If you don’t believe you never will.

One man who’s taught me to believe is Eliud Kipchoge. As things stand this Saturday (day before Melbourne Marathon) he will aim to do something no human has ever done and break 2 hours for the marathon. This is the new version of the 4 min mile. I will be watching this and it will be inspiring no matter the outcome because Eliud is inspiring.

He wants to show people what is possible. He wants them to push their boundaries. He wants them to be their best.

So I wish Eliud all the best and may a 1.59 be shown on the clock on Saturday. And then on Sunday through his inspiration I hope to run under the finish arch in 2.59 (or lower) as I try to break 3.

#nohumanislimited

Surf Coast Century race week…

Finishing last year’s Surf Coast Century

It’s my biggest race of the year this Saturday. It’s the culmination of over 6 months training. Afterwards I’m going on holiday. So bring on Saturday!

This has been by far my best training block ever. I’ve not missed a session. There has been significant improvement in my workout times. I’ve set personal best times in distances of 10km, 15km, half marathon, marathon & 50km (this race I also got my first ever podium finish (2nd) overall and age group win).

I now feel like an experienced runner who’s continuing to improve my limits and push them further.

So to this weekend. I want to state my goals, making goals public helps me visualise them.

So my number one aim this weekend is to break 10 hours. Last year I completed this race in 11 hours 10 mins. So this would be a massive improvement but there’s a few reasons why I’m posting this goal.

First, I heard a podcast with a top ultra runner saying that if you hit your goals every time then they’re probably not big enough, so I want a stretch target.

I didn’t think 10 hours on this course was possible for me, but then I heard a podcast with a runner who went slower than me last year. He was aiming for sub 10 and so I thought if he thinks he can so can I.

Last year the course was badly chopped up due to rains most of the week before, the day was also quite cold with intermittent rain making rhythm hard. So hopefully some dry days leading up to have nice trails this will lead to faster running.

Final point, if I can finish under 10 hours I can have dinner with my family at our normal time (5pm we get pensioner discount :))! Given we eat early hopefully the Pizza shop won’t be too busy :).

So there’s my stretch goal. With ultra running always have mutliple goals as you never know what can happen. So if I won’t make 10 hours I will go out by half an hour at a time (another tip I heard).

Finishing sub 12 hour, is a mid tier goal and get my second big stein (prize finishing the race under 12 hours)! This can then be filled with Oktoberfest Beer (great time for a sale Aldi) after the race.

If things really head south, main thing is I finish sub 16 hours and gain my Western States qualifier (as that’s the big picture!).

The training is done, now some sleep (hoping my son is compliant in assisting with this) and food (I’m good at eating) and we’re away!

On the eating as I get asked regularly. I eat 6 meals a day leading up to a race, they vary in size from snacks to large meals. Start of the week is higher protein (tofu, chickpeas, nuts, etc.) end of the week is carbs (potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, pasta etc.). To really start a war on this note high fat / low carb is a load of cr…. Plenty of research for athletes shows carbs are great!

Let you all know how it goes next week!

 

FINAL NOTE: Today is my anniversary! Thanks to my wonderful wife who supports me on all my adventures! She never says outright “No!” But just asks smart clarifying questions. I love doing life with you and love our adventures together!

Clarity. #biffrunstassie

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, and thanks to all those who have been in contact since my last post (see here). The post has been taken in two contrasting ways, so wanted to put clarity around it.

Some people have contacted me encouraging me on the challenge of running around Tasmania. Others have shown concern about what I wrote and thanks to those who did I know you care.

People seem concerned around my use of the word “failure.” This was my choice of words. This is the word that appears in my negative thoughts. Insert whatever word want it’s simply negative thoughts I have. Some may feel “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” “I’m not sure what I’m good at.” Everyone has negative thoughts I am just being honest about them, part of the post was to point out I must improve dealing with my internal dialogue. Maybe the word failure was strong but it’s the word that comes in my head so wanted to put it in here as that’s being honest.

My blog is my honest thoughts at the time of writing. It’s a place that I aim to work out how I can be better.

I am not down about things or depressed. I just sometimes have thoughts. Everybody does and sometimes I don’t deal that well with them well. By knowing they’re there, they have less power. That was part of the post. To me this part of a healthy acknowledgement.

So there is some detail around the first part of the blog. Now onto the second the big bit. #biffrunstassie

I am not running away from something, in my view I’m running towards something.

Why do I want to do this? It is hard to put this into words as why is formed in the part of the brain that does not have language. I can say that this fits with my why statement (see post here). As I want to use this to show people the impact of being active, the possibilities for anyone to push personal boundaries. To encourage anyone to be their best selves.

This week Ineos launched their third part in a series on Eliud Kipchoge (world’s greatest marathoner) in his quest to break 2 hours for a marathon. In it he says he wants to show people what’s possible, there are no limits, get them running and make the world a better place. This resonated with me and Tassie is my own way of doing this.

It’s a challenge I want to embrace, but embrace with balance. My family comes first and I want to say that if it impacts them they can tell me to stop. But this is something I want to achieve.

I want to build experiences in my life so that when I get to the end I can honestly say “I rung every last bit out of that.”

The last thing I want is to forever be wishing I achieved something and never tried.

So hopefully that brings some clarity.

#biffrunstassie