Grandpa, What Did You Do In The War?


I'd been mowing the lawn and pulling some weeds, and slipped inside for a breather
I picked up the paper and turned on the news, not paying attention to either
When my grandson came in with a look on his face and a question that hit me full bore
An innocent question, no intention to hurt, "Grandpa, what did you do in the war"?

My skin went all creepy, I had sweat on my brow, my mind shot back fifty years
To bullets that thudded and whined all around, to terror, to nightmares, to tears
I was crawling through mud, I was shooting at men, tried to kill them before they killed me
Men who had wives and children at home, just like mine, just like my family.

"What did you do in the war?" he had asked, a question not meant to cause pain
But it brought back the horrors I'd left far behind in a deep dark recess of my brain
I remembered the bombs being dropped from the planes, the explosions, the screams, and the loss
Of a friend - or an enemy - but a life just the same, replaced by a small wooden cross.

The visions attacked me of tramping through jungles, hot and stinking, with leeches and flies
Of orders that seemed to make no sense at all - of distrust, of suspicions, of lies
I lived once again all those terrible storms, the dysentery, fever, the snakes,
The blisters that lived with me month after month, all those blunders, and costly mistakes.

But how could I tell the boy all about that, 'Twould be better if he didn't know
It's a part of my life that I don't talk about from a good half a century ago
So I gulped, took a breath and tried to sound calm, and bid him to sit at my side
Then opened my mouth to say a few words, but the tears welled up and I cried.

He cuddled to me with a look of concern, and I mumbled of feeling unwell
Then took hold of myself, blew hard on my nose, while I thought of some tales I could tell
"What did I do in the war," I began, then the stories began tumbling out
And they flowed with such ease I felt better again, and got over my pain and my doubt.

I told him of how I had made many friends, how I'd trained and had gone overseas
Made a joke of how seasick I'd been on the way, almost dirtied myself when I'd sneezed
I told of the joy of the letters from home, of the hand-knitted socks and the cake
That I got for my birthday but three weeks too late 'cause it went somewhere else by mistake.

We talked about mateship and what it had meant to trust someone else with your life
And of when I came home to my family again, to my kids, Mum and Dad, and my wife
Of the crowd on the wharf, the bands, and the pomp, and the pride I felt in the parade
But I'm not ashamed that I hood-winked the boy, a decision I'm glad that I made.

He can grow up without seeing fear in my eyes, or know of the terror I knew
For he'd not understand - and neither he should - all those memories that hit me anew
But maybe some day when he's older than now, I will tell him what war did to me
But with luck he won't ask me ever again, about wars that never should be.

Jeff Cook
Jeff Cook has written this poem as a tribute to the fallen and the returned. For many years Jeff has recited at least one of his poems at the ANZAC Day Commemoration Service at his home town of Minlaton in South Australia.



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