by Dave Allan-Petale
Australia is often called ‘the lucky country.’ Some say that’s because my home nation has never known the terror of war on its soil. But both my mother’s and father’s side have been deeply scarred by conflict overseas; an all too common curse down under. Not so lucky really.
As Remembrance Day approaches, my thoughts turn to my great grandfather, George Monkhouse, who fought on the Western Front in World War I. He was an army engineer, or ‘sapper’, often thrust onto the front line.
George was awarded the Military Medal after he braved enemy shelling to repair a telephone line and then helped repel an assault on his unit’s trench. He was shelled, gassed, machine gunned and frostbitten for four years and survived. More than 60,000 of his comrades weren’t so lucky.
To remember this terrible chapter in our history I will be travelling through France and Belgium for the next five days with a British friend, James Eaton, whose own grandfather fought in World War II. Bob Parker faced the terror of Gold Beach on D-Day and fought through France, Belgium and the Netherlands before he was wounded and sent back to England where he still resides.
Our journey is simple. We’ll take the car ferry from Portsmouth to Calais then drive down to Bayeux to see the beaches where the Americans landed on D-Day. From there we’ll tour the British and Canadian beaches, retracing granddad Bob’s footsteps.
Then we’ll drive to Amiens, the great northern French city that was the scene of so much death and destruction in World War I. We’ll trace my great grandfather’s campaign before crossing into Belgium for the Remembrance Day events in Ypres.
I’m looking forward to it, but not in the usual way for a trip abroad. This will be a journey into memory, seeing the ground where my great grandfather lost so many friends far away from home. As I’m sure it will be poignant for Jim, who’ll be following the footsteps of a family legend.
Lest we forget.