Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Another November 11th

Remembering Van...

With warmest thanks to Van's son Julian
for this image and more.

It's almost 11:11 of 11-11-11
But this isn't about numbers…
A simple row of ones.
Or maybe it is.

It's about the number 1
Already being too many.

It's about forcing
Sweet innocent children
To become trained killers.
It's about sending them out
To kill and be killed.

The number 1 Is already too many.

I met Arthur Charles VanTowsey
In Sydney. He was already 60.
He told of his youth in Auckland.
House filled with musicians
And singers from afar...
Guests of his
Pianist and organist father Arthur Cyril
And his
Opera singer mother Mamie.
There was always noise
In that home...
Noise of rehearsals,
Noise of friendships,
Noise of children.

In his early work
Van delivered telegrams
First on his push bike
And later on his motorbike.
He carried little tree seedlings
And planted them along is routes.
Go to Auckland and look for them.

It was a time and place
Of quiet confidence 
That each person
Could (and would)
Make a difference
For the benefit of all.

Van and his mates
Felt the distant sting
Of England's raging
Push against the Nazis.
They tried to understand
Why the US was not part.

But knowing their part,
This band of friends
Rushed to join the fight.

They trained together.
They became defenders
Of the just
And killers
Of the unjust.
They eagerly awaited
Their time to get
Over there.
Units trained and were sent out.
Units trained and were sent out.
Units trained and were sent out.
And Van noticed that
Training periods were being
Shortened and each battalion
Was sent out sooner and sooner
Than the one before,
Each training always less.

Van wrote to the prime minister
Protesting that the jewels of
New Zealand's future
Were being sent unprepared
To certain slaughter.
The prime minister
Did not respond.

Van and his mates
Were sent to England,
Then onward to Egypt,
And finally to Crete.
They fought.
They died.
In the midst of one battle
Van watched as his boyhood friend
Pushed a trolley of supplies:
A sudden blast
Blew off his head.
His hands remained on the trolley
And his body continued
To walk forward headless...
Before finally collapsing.
At the end of that day
Arthur Charles VanTowsey lived,
Wounded but alive,
One of only five left
Of the original 21st Battalion
Out of New Zealand.
The last of the band.
The last of the hope.

I remember Van's tears
Each Remembrance Day
I spent with him in Oz.

It wasn't abstract for him.
The number 1
Already too many.

Bette Forester
Toronto, about 10:15 am 11 Nov 11