AN ORDINARY MAN – MARGARET TANNER’S HERO
I wrote this as a tribute to my late father and his valiant comrades who bled and died for freedom. It inspired me to write my romantic novel, A Mortal Sin, which is out now from Books We Love.
My father always maintained he was ordinary. Just the kind of man you would pass in the street and not really notice. Slightly stooped; bad posture interlaced with age most would say. Once blond hair was now grey, and his blue eyes were faded and a little watery.
Dad’s pastimes were following the football, growing tomatoes in the back garden, or amusing his grandsons. He considered his only claim to fame was that his tomatoes were the best in the neighbourhood.
In March 1940 Dad felt duty bound to answer his country’s call to war. When the Japanese poured into
he was there as a member of the 2/29th Battalion of the Australian 8th
Division. The letters he wrote home to his fiancée (later his wife), described
the hordes of marauding mosquitoes, scorpions and other horrible, wriggly
creatures, who inhabited the jungle.
He told of the pleasure in having real white sheets on the beds in one of their camps, and described the various native villages he had visited.
There was an ever continuing plea for news of home, cakes and other comforts to make life just a little more bearable in such an alien, inhospitable land. Yellowing letters, carefully kept by my mother, worn thin from having been read and re-read, unfolded a tale that the history books never told. Words of love more poignant than if they had been whispered in a romantic, fragrance filled garden, were beautiful in their simplicity as my father had left school after reaching the eighth grade.
Amongst his medals was a silver boomerang bearing the words “I go to return.” It was a good luck charm, and my father wore it throughout the war. There was magic in the boomerang, the relation who gave it to him was convinced of it. Had not the original owner survived the carnage of the 1st World War? Did the good luck charm live up to its name the second time around?
Wounded in action and transferred to the 113th
Australian General Hospital
in Singapore, this ordinary
man from the country town of
was blown out of bed, but survived the Japanese bombs which took the roof off
his ward. The British forces fell back
across the causeway into Wangaratta .
Day and night the fires burned. The bombers
came over spreading their destruction. Shattered shops were left to the mercy
of looters, bodies rotted in the streets, and packs of marauding dogs gorged
themselves with little resistance, as a pall of black smoke hung over Singapore . The
bastion of the British Empire, the Gibraltar of the Singapore Far
East teetered on the brink of surrender. The giant British guns that might have saved
them were embedded in concrete and pointing out to sea, useless to quell the
invaders who came over land through the jungle.
All aircraft and ships had departed loaded with civilians, nurses and wounded, and after this desperate flotilla sailed off, those left behind could only await their fate.
In the last terrible days before
capitulated in February
1942, trapping 80,000 Australian and British troops, a small junk braved the
might of the Japanese air force and navy, and set off, crammed with
wounded. Only soldiers who were too
incapacitated to fight yet could somehow mobilise themselves, were given the
opportunity for this one last chance of escape. Singapore
With a piece of his back bone shot away, and weakened from attacks of malaria, Dad somehow made it to the wharf, with a rifle and the clothes he stood up in. As they wended their way out of the
harbour, littered with the smouldering debris of dying ships, a Japanese bomber
dived low over them, but the pilot obviously had more important targets on his
mind than a small overcrowded boat. Singapore
They made it to safety, and were eventually transferred to a hospital ship.
There were no scenes of mad revelry and jubilation when this ship arrived back in
This son of Wangaratta returned home,
unhailed, except for those who loved him most. After his marriage, Dad shifted
to the life of Australia
suburbia and raised three children. Melbourne
When he died the bugle played the last post, his coffin was draped with the Australian flag. Old soldiers dropped red poppies into the open grave as a tribute to a fallen comrade.
There were some who wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, wasn’t he just an ordinary man?
My novel, A Mortal Sin, although fictional is well researched, and also has relied on information from my father’s letters and information given to me by my mother and her sisters, and the few things I remember Dad telling us when we were children.
A MORTAL SIN
Paul Ashfield, an aristocratic Englishman, travels to
in search of the birth
mother he thinks deserted him. He meets
and falls in love with Daphne Clarke, but after staying with her parents, Paul finds
a diary and erroneously believes that he and Daphne share the same mother. He beats a hasty retreat, believing he has
slept with his sister. Australia
Their paths eventually cross again in
where Daphne is a nurse
and Paul is in the army. They get married as Singapore teeters on the brink of
invasion. Wrenched apart by the war,
each believes the other has died in the bombing. When they meet again, it is in
church and, Paul is about to enter into an arranged marriage. Singapore