It was the year 1916 when William made his screaming daylight entry to a world in transition. Europe was at war, and many Australians had been conscripted and shipped overseas in support of the motherland. His birthplace was Brisbane, Australia.
Mother Eunice raised her head wearily to study the doctor’s face as he briefly glanced at the upside down baby in his hands and administered a customary pat to test this new baby’s lungs. They worked well!
Turning to Eunice he smiled. “You have a very healthy baby son!”
Eunice sighed and settled back in her bed to rest. It had been a difficult delivery and she was bone tired and sore. The doctor handed Eunice’s new born baby to his nurse and headed for scrubs to clean up and discard his gown. That done he glanced at his watch and headed out to deliver good news to the father pacing up and down in the corridor.
“You have a son, congratulations!”
Tom breathed a sigh of relief and clasped the doctor’s outstretched hand.
“Thank you doctor,” Tom whispered in the broad London immigrant accent of the times. “We’ll call him William.”
So Willy as he became known from childhood on made his entry into a troubled home.
Tom’s family had migrated from England to commence a coach building and ironworks business in Brisbane Australia, and the elder generation still living had clear memories of their life in London and had contact with relatives there. Their grandchildren hadn’t lost the London accent.
Tom was the black sheep of the family. He refused to apply himself to family business, and for a time tried his hand at watch making. Soon tiring of that he sought to make his way in the world of music, and began to spend days and nights with the theatre crowd. This became a source of increasing tension in the home as Eunice realized Tom was slowly slipping out of the family orbit and establishing his heart in other places.
In 1924 after a violent argument Tom packed his suitcase and moved out. Eight year old Willy had run to his parents in the midst of that argument and tried to hold both tight, hoping in his child’s mind this would make them stop. He held on to his elder brother Joseph and wept as he watched his angry father walk down the path never to enter that house again. The feeling of rejection at that moment haunted him for the rest of his life and shaped his future.
At the age of 24 Willy found himself in a world once again at war. This time he was not too young to participate and received a summons to appear before the conscription board. All of a sudden he was a soldier, and assigned to the transportation wing of the Australian Armed Forces. When the war in the Pacific commenced he was shipped to New Guinea. He was part of the front line defense of Australia
When the war ended in 1945 Willy was shipped back to Australia and spent time in a rehabilitation centre before being released. The things he’d seen and experienced were too terrible for him to share with family, and the only escape he could find to dull those memories was alcohol and the company of his similarly damaged returned soldier friends. He wandered aimlessly around Sydney looking for a purpose in life and drowning his memories in drink. Eunice tried desperately to find him using whatever means at her disposal during those years, but to no avail. Willy wanted all memories wiped clean.
Then to the surprise of his elder brother Joseph, Willy surfaced late in 1949 and moved in with the family. Eunice was overjoyed to see her youngest son after so many years, and for a while Willy seemed to have decided to join the world again. He had a great sense of humor, and was popular with those he established contact with. He was 33, still handsome and eligible. Local girls began to take an interest in him.
But the war demons returned, and Willy fled south to more familiar territory in Sydney where a person can disappear into the shadowy undercurrent of society and remain unnoticed.
Toward the end of Willy’s tortured existence Joseph learned he was a semi permanent resident at a veteran’s hospital in Sydney. He’d silenced those demons of war with alcohol for many years to the point he’d little longer to live. The family rallied in his support, but Willy was beyond interest and incapable of any rational judgment or thankfulness for this support.
He died a lonely man, and even the little personal wealth remaining was appropriated by shadowy friends he’d accumulated over the years.
When Eunice had looked at her new born babe in 1916, she’d dreamed of his potential and a long happy life. But the rejection of a father and horrors of war had ruined that potential and led him to an ignominious end.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2011”
4 thoughts on “Willy”
The story was very effective to me! I can see the character vividly and can relate it to many veterans of my brother’s age group from our armed forces who came back from action all over the world and faced the same path to that bitter ending. The story will resonate in the memories of all of our veterans who have returned from all of our other wars since 1945. Our political leaders have never faltered in sending our youth out to fight endless wars right up to this moment!!
somberly, Jim the Fee
I hear you Jim. We often treat our returning soldiers as the enemy rather than the sacrificial lambs our politicians make them. They need respect and nurture when they return, even from an unpopular war.
Oh I agree with you Susan. It was depressing for us to watch that life drama unfold too as this is based on a true story with of course names changed to protect identities. It revealed to me just how important it was to have a home where children could grow up feeling good self-worth and acceptance. It also reveals the effects most often swept under the carpet of how soldiers on the front line are affected by the atrocities they have to witness or be part of. There have been a lot of ruined lives because of that as there is little governmental attempt to help in a soldiers rehabilitation after undergoing those experiences. Providing hospital care is just not enough.
Ian this post was downright depressing.