Armistice Day

Voluntary Aid Detachment 503, Subiaco, 1935. My aunt is first on the left in the second row.

With so much focus, this weekend, on the armistice that ended WWI it is almost inevitable that we as individuals will give some thought to how an event that happened 100 years ago has had such a profound and lasting effect on our lives.

For my generation, growing up in the 1950s and 60s, our memories are indelibly coloured by the experiences of our parents. For the adults in my family the expression ‘after the war’ came to mean after both WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. These three catastrophic events seemed to roll into one long nightmare in their minds as so many of our relatives across two generations served in the armed forces both at home and overseas. Many did not return.

Although I did not witness any of this directly, it left  my mother with an habitual austerity that the relative affluence of the years that followed could never erase. This, in turn, rubbed off on me. I could never be part of the throw-away society. To  waste anything is akin to a criminal act. Every sheet of paper with a blank side must be saved and re-used. Every piece of clothing, crockery, cooking utensils, every drop of petrol, watt of electricity. Even the peelings from the fruit and vegetables we eat can not be simply thrown away. After all, why would I buy fertiliser when the earthworms will convert these scraps into food for the garden? In spite of that, I have always marvelled at the generosity of such frugal people. I remember once asking my mother how they managed to survive the deprivations of food rationing, shrinking pay packets or no pay at all, for such a long time. She shrugged. ‘We helped each other out,’ she said matter-of-factly. ‘Everyone was in the same boat. We shared what we had and just got on with the business of surviving together.’

If only we could just get on with the business of surviving together today.

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