Autumn, Anzac Day and Gerard Manley Hopkins
Where we live, in the bush, by the sea, autumn for me is the best time of year. We moved to our house on the hill in autumn twenty something years ago, and it was the still air, the mellow sunshine, and the leaves dropping in the garden, that captured our hearts. The harbour is quieter this time of year, calling us to kayak. The cicadas have ceased their courtships and the wasps are out, lured by the Easter spices. I’m affected by the light, the warmth, the sense of peace that only autumn seems to bring.
And then, it is Anzac Day and the brass band, the bagpipes and the haunting bugle, bring another layer of nostalgia peculiar to my Kiwi childhood, that lovely in-between season thing where summer has ended, but winter hasn’t yet begun. I ran behind my granddaughter today on our nature walk, she was wearing a hand-knitted cardigan in strawberry, aqua and bluish hues. I watched her back running through the bush collecting special sticks so we could block the creek further up the hill. When she snuggled for a cuddle I could smell shampoo and wool and the damp soft mud beneath our feet. I bought her a poppy to wear on Wednesday and she loves red. We looked for the toadstools we’d seen the week before, and mourned their loss, wondering what had happened to them.
I was reminded of this beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that I only encountered late in life studying English Literature at Victoria University when I was 50, and indeed, I used a line or two of this poem in my first novel ‘About turns’.
To a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
My granddaughter and I will meet outside the local school on Anzac morning. Then we will march alongside the war veterans (there cannot be many left, but perhaps from the Vietnam War), and I will be stirred by the music on two counts. One because I was a marching girl in the 50’s and 60’s and two because I’ve always followed the Anzac Parade, to see my Dad in his shiny and freshly polished shoes, wearing his war medals that Mum would stitch temporarily on to his suit, so they hung straight. Now I have his medals and his Crete badge and his small barbed wire pin, remnants of his war efforts. Perhaps this year I will wear them. When he was alive, and after I was married with a family, he would sometimes come and stay with us and we would do the Dawn Parade in Wellington and then our own local parade. We couldn’t get enough of it. Nowadays, I just do the local parade and adjourn to the RSA for the home-made pikelets, sausage rolls and cups of tea, followed by an obligatory beer with my friends and we toast my Dad. This will be my first Anzac Parade with my granddaughter.
In 2002, I travelled with my husband to Greece and to Crete to retrace my father’s war journey and to Poland where he spent four years as a prisoner of war. I wrote about it and the story was published in the New Zealand Listener. Regrettably, I inadvertently wrote of Stalag VIIB instead of Stalag VIIIB, and neither the Listener nor I picked it up before it went to print.
Here is a link to the story: Looking for Curly
What prompted this post about Anzac Day is one of my favourite blogs Surprised by Time.and on reading this blog I found more information about where my Dad might have been on mainland Greece, before arriving at Suda Bay for the Battle of Crete. This is part one of a two-part blog that includes excerpts from New Zealand and Australian veterans of the Greek campaign, both on mainland Greece and Crete. It is well worth reading.