The following is a speech that I proudly presented on Anzac Day, 2017. It is a message that should be shared.
At the outbreak of World War 2, Great Britain was still treating 120,000 World War 1 veterans for mental illness.
The casualty rate in wars since 1945 has fallen to just 30% of the levels experienced in World War 2. In the same time the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has tripled.
When they returned to America the Vietnam veterans returned to a home divided by its own internal conflicts.
The Vietnam veterans were the most hate veterans of all time.
They were also the most traumatised.
In Afghanistan and Iraq only 10% of American soldiers actually see active combat, yet on returning home 50% of them suffer some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
On average 22 American veterans die by suicide each and every day.
We don’t have the figures for New Zealand.
For many soldiers going off to war is the straight forward part, it’s in coming home that their real battles begin.
For my Grandfather these were the 8 further invasive operations that he had to endure to treat his wounds.
It was the near 10 year long battle with bureaucracy before he was finally awarded his full pension and was finally able to give up having to go to work every day.
It was his ongoing battles with alcoholism and depression.
This speech was originally written for my grandfather but on Thursday I received this letter from a woman who I do not know. Who I have never met. In it she tells her father’s story detailing his experiences in World War 2 and the battles he faced when he came home. Jacqueline has asked that I also tell his story.
As it turns out Jack Freeman was, like my Grandfather, a gunner. Like my Grandfather he fought in Egypt and Italy. They may have even stood a long side each other at some time.
And like my Grandfather, on returning home, Jack also fought his battles against alcoholism and mental illness.
My Grandfather managed to eventually win through in most of his battles, but in a wardrobe, in his room in a veteran’s hospital in Dunedin, at the age of 72, Jack Freeman took his own life.
So this speech is dedicated to my Grandfather and to Gunner Jack Freeman.
Huia Percy known as Johnny stood just 5 foot 2. Married at the age of 24, by the time he was 28 he had lost his father, baby daughter and his pregnant wife.
Perhaps then understandable that when World War 2 came around Johnny was the first in the queue, leaving behind his infant son and aging , widowed mother.
If it wasn’t for illness Johnny would have been on the first boat out but by God he wasn’t going to miss the second one.
They took him to Egypt and trained him as a gunner.
He fought at Tobruk and El Alamein and was injured in both battles.
Driving his truck through the desert Johnny saw a plane coming directly at them. He stopped the truck and yelled to his mates to ‘Get out. Take Cover!’
His body riddled with shrapnel, Johnny was the only one to survive.
They picked him up, brushed him off and sent him off to Italy to do it all again.
My Grandfather went to war, was critically wounded but he survived.
In those days they just stitched them up and sent them straight back out there again.
He had the scars to prove it.
When he came home he brought his scars with him.
People thought it amusing to make loud noises around him and watch him dive for cover.
If you saw a soldier cowering neath your kitchen table, would you feel pride
Scared and broken man
here in a place where no one can understand
This was once home but now it’s changed
he has changed
normal has changed
and it no longer feels like his
Back home, he sees familiar faces
but they no longer see him
They tell him that he’s okay, that he must get back to work
but he can’t because these scars that he bears
hurt him so much, every single day
He drinks to numb the pain in his body and his head
and people look at him and
all he sees is disgust in their eyes
because no one trusts an old drunk
and he can’t trust them
Over there he knew who he could trust
he trusted his mates and they trusted him
Over there his mates had his back
because he had theirs
Over there he was a part of something, he mattered
and it mattered that he was over there
Over there he had purpose and self worth
Over there he needed to stay alive
to ensure that they did too
But his mates died over there and
he should have died with them
died for them.
But back here, back at home, he wishes only
that he was dead!