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Monday, April 13, 2015

The 100th Anzac Day & Other People’s Wars by John Tognolini

Australian soldiers in captured Turkish trenches at Lone Pine after the battle of 6-9 August 1915. This famous image taken by Australian journalist Philip Schuler, shows Captain Leslie Morshead, 2nd Battalion (New South Wales) looking up at the dead lying on the lip of the trench and Private James Bryant, 8th Battalion (Victoria), standing looking at the camera. In World War II, Morshead went on to command the 9th Australian Division in the Middle East and New Guinea while Bryant, who also served in that war in the 8th Division, went into captivity at the fall of Singapore in February 1942 and survived three and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese. Australian War Memorial
“My experience in the First World War and now the Second World War [his son Barney was killed in the Battle of Singapore] changed my outlook on things. It is hard to believe that there is a God. I feel the Bible is a book written by man but for the purpose of preying on a person’s conscience, and to confuse him. Anyone who taken part in a bayonet charge (and I have) [Gallipoli], and has managed to retain his proper senses, must doubt the truth of the Bible and the powers of God, if one exists. And considering the many hundreds of different religions that there are in this world of ours, and the fact that many religions have caused terrible wars and hatreds throughout the world, and that many religions that have hoarded tremendous wealth and property while people inside and outside religion are starving , it is difficult to remain a believer. No Sir, there is no God, it is only a myth……”
Albert Facey 1894-1982,  A Fortunate Life

“World War II is not simply and purely a 'good war.' It was accompanied by too many atrocities on our side – too many bombings of civilian populations. There were too many betrayals of the principles for which the war was supposed to have been fought…Yes, World War II had a strong moral aspect to it – the defeat of fascism. But I deeply resent the way the so-called good war has been used to cast its glow over all the immoral wars we have fought in the past fifty years: in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan. I certainly don't want our government to use the triumphal excitement surrounding World War II to cover up the horrors now taking place in Iraq.”
Howard Zinn,World War Two Veteran, Historian, Activist and Writer 1922-2010 in 2003.

“Who is it doing the fighting? A well-trained and professional force that’s highest collective desire is to go to war, any war. This force does not fight for Queen and Country. It fights when it is told to fight. Even when the Generals believe that a certain war is illegal or un-winnable or detrimental to the long-term security of these isles, when it comes to the crunch they always want war. What does the fighting involve?
Well if you believe the media or the citations written for medals awarded you might imagine that the fighting consists of bayonet charges, lone hand grenade assaults on enemy positions or modern-day spitfire pilots scrambling to some noble action.
In my experience the reality is a lot darker. Long periods of waiting punctuated by unforeseen moments of extreme violence. Having your legs blown off by an IED. A supposed ally shooting holes in your chest. Dying in a helicopter crash. Burning to death in a transport plane. Being beaten to death by an angry mob. Being shot in the face as you break into some one’s home.
The reality is setting up thousands of checkpoints in the country you have occupied, disrupting the lives of the people and then killing them when they approach too quickly or fail to stop in time.
The reality is raiding people’s houses, using explosives to enter homes. Detaining previously unknown males some as young as 15 and handing them over to be tortured. Whilst their families are left to fend for themselves, traumatised by your action.
The reality is killing people from the safety of an attack helicopter or drone control room. As if you are playing a computer game, with no regard for the lives of people who have been dehumanised.”
Ben Griffin, ex British soldier who served in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan as a member of the Parachute Regiment and then the SAS and served in Baghdad alongside American forces, including Delta Force personnel. He is a member of UK Veterans for Peace. From his contribution the Oxford University Union debate in favour of the motion We Will NOT Fight For Queen and Country, 2013.

“An historic shift is taking place. The major western democracies are moving towards a corporatism. Democracy has become a business plan, with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies -- socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor -- and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war. This is not democracy. It is to politics what McDonalds is to food…”
John Pilger 2009 City of Sydney Peace Prize Lecture

On the main concern of a force of Australian soldiers who after landing on a beach in Papua New Guinea during the World War Two, and mistakenly strafed by machine gun fire from American planes.
“After a while, I put my head up-to have a look around. I’ve never been so proud of my countrymen. First things first. Every bloody man had taken his tin hat off his head and clapped over his balls!”
Kenneth Slessor, quoted by Russell Ward, A Radical Life, 1988

“The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on.”
Joseph Heller 1923-1999, Catch 22

“In 1919, noted conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter presented a surprisingly critical picture of Roman imperialism, in words that might sound familiar to present-day critics of U.S. “globalism”.”
“….That policy which pretends to aspire to peace but unerringly generates war, the policy of continual preparation for war, the policy of meddlesome interventionism. There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest-why the national honor that had be insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbours, always fighting for a breathing space. The whole world was pervaded by a host on enemies. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies and it was Rome’s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs.” “
Michael Parenti The Assassination of Julius Caesar

“Either there will be a world without war or there won’t a world”
Noam Chomsky

I remember vividly as a six year old in 1965. The Tognolini family watching Winston Churchill’s funeral on our black and white television, in the lounge room of our Union St. Brunswick home, looking down on us under glass was a picture of my Uncle John/Jack Tognolini, Military Medal, Killed in Action on 25th April 1918 at the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in France. The army had his age as 24 years old. As he was born in 1900 he was either 16 or 17. I went to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to get his and my uncle Stephen’s Military Medal citations.
John/Jack from the Battle of Passchendaele says,

At Broodseinde during the period 26/27th October 1917  No  3648 Pte John Tognolini did excellent work on the morning of the 26th October. He was one of a party of eight carrying two stretcher cases to the Regimental Aid Post when a shell burst and severely wounded three of the party. Although wounded himself he continued with his work and made two trips back to get the wounded they had left on the way. He then returned to line and on the morning of the 27th October when several men were wounded by shell fire and all the stretchers in use. He dressed one man and carried him on his back to the R.A.P. All this work was under very heavy shell fire.
He set a fine example of coolness and courage to the men of his company.
Private Tognolini  has on many occasions shown great courage and devotion to duty.

When I visit the Australian War Memorial and I have done so many times. I always place a red poppy for my Uncle Jack/John, next to his name on the Wall of Honour. His name is amongst the near sixty thousand dead from Australia’s involvement in World War One. I also place a red poppy for Michael Tognolini who was killed in his first week in Nui Dat in Vietnam on 20th April 1970 . Whereas Jack was either sixteen or seventeen, Michael was only nineteen, both boys. Michael was from another branch of the Tognolini of Tirano, Italy. We have different nonni, (Italian for grandfathers) who came to Australia, my nonno (Italian for grandfather) was Antonio Tognolini who came here in 1878, Michael’s nonno was Giuseppe Tognolini, he arrived in Australia in 1905, their branch of the Tognolini were known as the Carota (Italian for carrot) because of their red hair. 

 I look at the names of nearly of over one hundred thousand dead from the Wars Australia has been in: against the Maori in New Zealand, the Boers in South Africa, World War One and Two, the hot wars of the Cold War: Korea, Malaya, Vietnam and the undeclared war between Australia and Indonesia, the Konfrontasi, the War on Terror Afghanistan and Iraq. How can it be explained? John Pilger described Australia’s relationship with war back in 1988, in his ground breaking television documentary series The Last Dream as“Other People’s Wars.” When I look at the two Tognolini here and the different wars they were killed in: Jack/John in World War One.  As member of the British Army which is what the five Australian Infantry Divisions, Light Horse and Camel Corp were parts off. Michael served as part of the Australian commitment to the American war in Vietnam, Pilger’s argument holds true.

It also applies to my father Vic’s unit in World War Two, the 2/3 Field Artillery Regiment, along with the rest of the Australian Sixth Division, made up of those who were the first to volunteer when war was declared. Their campaign in Greece and Crete was on Britain’s Winston Churchill’s orders was to impress the US Ambassador to London. They had no hope of winning in Greece.

After the defeat of the Battle of Crete, he was on the retreat with Reg Saunders, a Gunditjmara Aboriginal Man, who would not be evacuated from Greece like Vic. Reg would fight alongside the Australian, New Zealand and British soldiers who were left behind on Crete. They would fight beside the Crete Partisans against the Nazi Occupation. Reg became fluent in the Greek and was called μαύρος-máv̱ros, Greek for black. After eighteen months he along with some other soldiers was evacuated by a British submarine. After serving with distinction in Papua New Guinea he would become the first Indigenous Australian to become an officer in the Australian Army.

Captain Reginald Walter 'Reg' Saunders 1920-1999

A portrait of him hangs in Australia War Memorial from when he served in the Korean War as Captain. However, there is no recognition of the Eumerella Wars in south-west Victoria, fought by his ancestors against the invasion of their land or for the many other Frontier Wars that took place across Australia by its Indigenous Peoples against the British Crown and its colonisers.
I’ve been disgusted when I’ve seen the head of an Aboriginal man, along with the heads of Australian wildlife in the Australian War Memorial’s Courtyard, a point John Pilger made in his film Utopia. This says something Australia in 2015. The Canadian War Museum/ Musée Canadien De La Guerre show its Frontier Wars against its Indigenous People. 1.COLLISION OF CULTURES c. 1000

One  of Reg’s uncles has his name on the Wall of Honour, Reg Rawlings, Military Medal, he was killed France in World War One. Reg is named after him and his father Chris Saunders, was also a veteran of the Western Front. Reg’s brother Harry Saunders, has his name on the Wall of Honour too. He was killed on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, his unit the 2/14th Australian Infantry Battalion was one of the most decorated regiments in the Pacific War. Harry’s name is with the many names of his comrades on the Wall of Honour bear witness to that bloody distinction. Harry’s nephew Richard Franklin, who served nine years in the army, made a short film about him called Harry’s War in 1999. At the end of his film he reads these lines from William Shakespeare’s Henry V

We few, we happy few,
We band of brothers,
For he today that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother,

The work of Philippa Scarlett’s website Indigenous Histories has shown the light on this important and often overlooked part of Australia’s shared history between its Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Peoples. The First Australians who have fought and died for a nation, that they were not citizens of or even counted in the Census until after the 1967 Referendum.

The Black Rat of Tobruk is a poem by Iris Clayton (1945-2009), an Wiradjuri Aboriginal Woman whose son Bruce gave me permission to write the music for it to become a song, and to perform it. Iris was a member of the Stolen Generations and was taken to the infamous Cootamundra Girls Home. Iris’s father, Cecil, like the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans of World War One and Two, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam Veterans did not receive any benefits of service for fighting for their nation. Instead, they returned to bigotry, racism and institutionalised discrimination. They were still subject to having their children stolen from them, in many cases never to be returned.

One reason I decided to put Iris’s poem to music is that, not only is it a incredible story of injustice, but I felt like a hypocrite every time I played Johnny Cash’s Ira Hayes. Ira Hamilton Hayes was a Pima Native American and an American Marine who was one of the six men immortalized in the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima during World War II. Johnny Cash released this song on his epic Bitter Tears album.

Reg Saunders, my father Vic and his brother Bill Tognolini fought at Tobruk in the Sixth Division, which captured it from Mussolini’s army before being sent off to Greece and Crete. Iris’s father, Cecil, was in the Ninth Division, which stopped Rommel and his German Afrika Korps from taking it back. “What the Sixth took the Ninth shall not surrender.” More than 1500 members of the Ninth Division lost their lives during the 240-day siege of the Libyan port fortress before they were relieved in 1941.

The Black Rat of Tobruk by Iris Clayton
He lived in a tin hut with a hard dirt floor.
He had bags sewn together and that was his door.
He was a Rat of Tobruk until 1945.
He was one of the few who came back alive.
Battered and scarred he thought for this land.
Fighting for the rights of man.
Did not make any difference to this black man.
He returned to the Outback no mates did he find.
If he had a beer he was gaoled and then fined.
He sold all the medals he once proudly wore.
They were of no use to him anymore.
Confused and alone he wandered around.
Looking for work though none could be found.
The ANZAC Day Marches he badly neglected.
Would show to his Comrades how he was rejected.
He fought for this land so he could be free.
Yet he could not vote after his desert melee.
He went there quite young
And he came home so old.
This once tall man from a proud black tribe.
Died all alone no one at his side.

In understanding Australia’s relationship with war we first need to acknowledge our Frontier Wars and the courage of our Indigenous People who died defending their ancestral lands. 

This photograph is of Sergeant Stephen Tognolini, (back) Military Medal and Bar my uncle who is buried with father Vic. In front of him is Corporal Sergeant Major George Campbell Hunt Distinguished Conduct Medal, and was taken on June 27th, 1918 in Querrieu, France. It is part of a group photograph of the 21st Battalion’s Non-Commissioned Officers. Both served at Gallipoli. George Campbell Hunt was killed in the Battle of Hamel on July 4th, 1918.
I used to think he was Aboriginal, but Philippa Scarlet researched him and wrote on her website 

"Michael Riley, great grandson of George Campbell Hunt, has provided more information about his great grand father who was one those members of the AIF who did not fit the profile of ‘White Australians fighting for a White Australia’. The records located by Michael and others show his father also George Hunt was from Antigua in the West Indies and had arrived in New South Wales by 1877.  Available photographs of George Campbell Hunt (decorated in 1917, the year before he was killed in action at Hamel), show him in a variety of lights – the debonair, in the photograph on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour– the stern and war hardened serviceman in a 21st Battalion group portrait taken in 1918 at Picardie and the relaxed soldier amongst mates in an informal photograph of George Hunt and friends provided by Michael. In this he and his comrades wear fezes. These and the children in the photograph suggest the photo was taken in Alexandria before the 21st Battalion proceeded to Gallipoli in August 1915."

With my book I’ve used the fiction style of a novel to convey the all-too-real historical events, conditions and characters in war, whether it be:-  

the savage nature of the fighting and the major battles;

-that some senior Australian officers were just as good as their British counterparts at causing the slaughter of their own soldiers in futile charges against machine guns;

 -that what little drinking water there was at Anzac Cove tasted of petrol from the cans it was carried in;

 -that dysentery ran rampant, and that it and other illnesses took 1000 soldiers off the peninsula each week;

 -that some of the Anzacs were of German, Japanese, Chinese, Polish, West Indian and Italian decent, some were Aboriginal and others were just mere boys;

-that some played two-up with two-headed coins and ran bets on what hymns or psalms would be used on church parades.

In this story I have attempted to show the horror of war for what it is. It has been my intent to show the hardship and suffering endured at Gallipoli. Stephen Tognolini had his brother Andrew Tognolini there in the 24th Battalion. After surviving Gallipoli, they would be joined by their two other brothers John/Jack Tognolini in the 57th Battalion and Henry/Harry Phillips 60th Battalion on the Western Front in France and Belgium. 

I can understand the 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli being commemorated but it has become a mindless, jingoistic celebration. We've had $400 million spent on it, far more than what is spent on Veterans and very little time thinking about why we were going to all these wars. The ANZAC's were fighting for Britain's empire. They were not defending Australia and World War One was all about that, empires and colonies. The main reason Germany went to war was to gain colonies like Britain and France. 

The Turkish Ottoman Empire was massive. It was nicknamed “The Sick Man of Europe.” because it was crumbling, before World War One it had lost its colonies in the Balkans. Britain and her allies France and Russia wanted to carve the rest of it up. Russia would get Constantinople and access to the Aegean Sea, France would get Syria and Lebanon and Britain would have Palestine and Iraq. Even then Iraq’s massive oil reserves were highly valued with the British navy converting from being fuelled by coal to oil. And as proved by Australia's role the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq Britain's imperial relationship has been replaced by the United States. 

1 comment:

Metta Bhavana said...

#‎lestweforget‬ Sacrifice. Vast sums are being spent to ensure we are not permitted to forget. Yet the ones who were there wished to forget - no, that's not quite true, they wished they had never had to remember at all. They mostly burned their uniforms and never spoke of it again. Quite right, too. We should honour them and let it go at that. But who cares what a lot of now all dead old timers would wish? We are the ones eagerly consuming, celebrating, remembering, recalling, recreating, digging up, saluting, pontificating over, memorialising, trivialising their experience of war.
Hey, it's thrilling, sentimental, meaningful, weeping over and saluting lost great-granddads; re-living, without any actual pain or fear, what it was like in the olden days.
One version of why we are doing this has to do with the way the state creates order through sacrifice and ritual. The Romans, as a TV program on the origins of the ascent of Christianity on SBS informs me, were very big on sacrifice. Sacrifice bound them to the state and to each other. Blood flowed - both animal and human - to ensure the gods were praised, and that everyone in Rome had blood on their hands, for good or ill.
"Religio," the Latin root of our "religion," in some definitions, means "bound up," or "bound to." To the Romans it was all in or nothing, hence the Christians, who had their own view of sacrifice, stood out as refusers and became suspect.
So it is now, with a tortured comparison, that we who simply want to avoid the celebration of the blood sacrifice of 100 year old wars are seen as refusing to be bound up in the knot of sacrifice, clambering in recreated trenches, or gaping wide eyed into elaborate dioramas of death, marvelling at the ingenuity and stamina of our stylised ancestors and vicariously revelling in the lice and the blood without actually feeling or smelling the terrifying proximity of imminent mortality.
It is a way for the state to bind us to itself. If we honour one war, we honour all wars, and we consequently honour all the ongoing sacrifice of young men and women to the false god of militarism - which, my small amount of research experience among those with PTSD tells me, no one escapes from unscathed. Not one. Not any.
The gods are only kept alive with recreation of sacrifice. Those who face war lose belief. It is a truism that "there are no atheists in a foxhole," but, I would add, there are only atheists in the bar afterwards. Lest we not forget that.