Hilda Oakley

Australian author and poet

   Mar 07

Healing the Wounds of War

A loud KABOOM! Split the quietness of the air.  The ground shook and shuddered beneath our feet.  Eric started to shiver and shake.  In a flash, he was down on his hands and knees crawling under a wooden, garden bench.

It was a beautiful sunny day.  I had driven around to pick up my friend Eric from the Prince Henry Hospital, where he was a patient.  He had a day-leave pass so that I could take him for a pleasant drive to a pretty little park in the country.  Little did I know there was a quarry nearby and on that particular day, they were blasting gravel in the quarry for road re-surfacing.  In the 1960’s we had not heard of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  With a lot of persuading, I managed to coax Eric out from under the bench and we moved on to find a quieter location.  We drove back in to town, ending up at the local Botanical Gardens.

The blasting in the quarry had brought back vivid memories of bombs exploding all around Eric whilst he was on active duty in Gallipoli and the horrific experiences he had encountered on a daily basis that forever seemed to haunt his mind.  He continued to share his war-time experiences with me, including how they were told they had landed on the wrong beach and the Turkish soldiers were already dug in on the cliffs above waiting for the barges to land. Then they opened fire on our soldiers as they disembarked, with many caught out in the open, unable to reach cover.

Eric had no visible wounds, but we couldn’t see the pain he held in his head.  Vivid, traumatic nightmares and flash-backs haunted him and tormented his mind, including hand-to-hand combat using bayonets and then hiding from the enemy.

While at the Botanical Gardens I found myself sitting on a rock, meditating on past events and experiences that Eric and other servicemen had shared with me.  There I was, ironically, surrounded by a field of red poppies that danced like flamencos, swaying to and fro in the breeze.  The sun was streaming through the fluffy white clouds.  The sky was Crimson.  My thoughts extended back to that first landing of the ANZACs on the beaches of Gallipoli during World War 1, where bodies were left where they died, lying on the beaches, with many more floating in the sea.  The small waves that lapped the shore turned the colour of red from those bodies and the blood that was shed.

Born in New Zealand and now living as an Australian citizen, I was privileged to have nursed at the Wellington Public Hospital in New Zealand and also in the Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, Australia, where servicemen from World War l and World War 2 were brought for medical and psychological help.

With connections from both countries of the Pacific, I have experienced the memories of those brave men who fought as one, to make this world a better place for all.

Ivan was a man that I nursed at the Prince Henry Hospital.  He had been hospitalized for agonizing pain associated with the wounds he had suffered while fighting in Belgium on the Western Front, so many years ago.  Ivan had not been visited by anyone for weeks.  I wondered about his family and if he wanted me to contact someone.  Ivan told me that due to injuries he sustained in the war, he had been unable to father children and because of this he had lived a very lonely recluse life.  I could only attend to Ivan’s physical needs.  Tears streamed down my face as I thought on his sad loss.  How many men have suffered just like Ivan?

In another ward on the Legacy Wing, a man who was lying in his bed asked for an extra blanket as his legs were cold.  I went to get him one.  On returning with the blanket, the sister in charge enquired who the blanket was for.  I told her it was for Vince in room 326, as his legs were cold.  She informed me that Vince didn’t have any legs, as he had lost them from treading on a land-mine whilst on active duty in Vietnam.  He later told me that in his brain he still felt that his legs were there.  He knew they had been amputated, but the sensations remained.

These were my introductory experiences to the personal tragedies of both wars and the fighting and cruelty which affected those soldiers so badly.  The impact of war, no matter which one, still plays on my mind.  To me, all wars seem senseless.  What I have experienced through the eyes of these men has brought me to tears.  They were heroes, every one of them, and we should always remember them.


Eunice Hilda Oakley

Copyright © 28.09.2015

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