The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs

Today’s guest author is Jaycee, with an exquisite reflection. Thank you for sharing this story, Jaycee.

(Image Credit: The Saturday Paper)

I have a war story . . .well, not actually about war itself, but about how it broke and remade a life. It is a true story and was told to me by Darcy C., an old farmer who lived on the farm next to us (in my first marriage) in the hills. He was one of those generations of farmers whose family had been in the district since its inception. A dry old stick who knew everything that went on in the district, he was taken to telling a yarn or two when he had nothing else to do or it was raining. I was always a keen listener.
Of course, Darcy told me the main parts of the incident and I picked up bits and pieces elsewhere in the district. You have to be a bit canny when making inquiries of this nature – the locals don’t like giving anything away. It’s a bit like fly-fishing for trout – you have to know how to search the shadows.

It went like this.

Pray for me my sweet,
Lest I forget to pray myself,
For God is a distant star . . .”

The small casement window of the dining room of the old house lay slightly ajar so that the gentle afternoon breeze just lifted the cotton lace edged curtain and it brushed against the glass fronted china cabinet next to the window. A crystal-glass wind chime tinkled sweetly as the breeze chinked its pieces together, making little pin-pricks of sound. On top of the cabinet stood three objects, two of which were framed photographs and one ceramic figurine of a young lady with a basket of flowers over her left arm. One of the photos in a gilt-edged frame showed a young snapshot of the just recently deceased Herbert Griegs with his new bride, Mary-Ann. Herbert is dressed in his army uniform. They both appear very, very happy. The other photo is of a young family, about the same age as Herbert and Mary-Ann. There is also a small child in the photograph. The man is also in a uniform, but it is the uniform of the Fascist army of Italy. The young family, too, appear very happy. All these people, with the exception, perhaps, of the child are now deceased. Herbert and the wife of the Italian soldier died of old age. Mary-Ann and the Italian soldier died in the Second World War.

Here is their story.

Herbert Griegs and Mary-Ann were married in the local church at the small country town where they were raised and intended to live after the war. They did not doubt that Herbert would return from the war: it just seemed impossible that he would not. There was so much life ahead, the promise of a fine full life on the farm.

Herbert was already in the army when they married. He had joined up some months before so he had finished his basic training and was on leave. He expected to be posted to barracks in the eastern states awaiting orders to go overseas to active service. They had been married a week and three days when Herbert’s orders came through. He kissed his new wife goodbye reluctantly and travelled with a large number of soldiers away to New South Wales.

In the days of the Second World War, in many country places in Australia, soldiers were billeted on farms in the countryside. If there was a shearing shed on the property, the army would staff it with a cook and kitchen helpers and put a hundred or so soldiers there under canvas. Such an event happened at Mary-Ann and Herbert’s farm, two or three months after Herbert had been shipped off to New South Wales. Soldiers from all parts of the state were camped there.

This was a very unsettling time for Mary-Ann, for she missed her husband terribly, and in the course of fate, whether it was similarity in looks, sympathy toward their fate or simply the uniform, Mary-Ann one day was seduced by one of the soldiers. Why? Well, who knows? It could have been for a number of reasons or desires but for whatever reason she did, Mary-Ann was the most shocked, and fell to despair when she found she was pregnant to the soldier who had by now long gone away.

Mary-Ann became so desperate that she somehow, some way, found the address of a place in the city that would, for a price, do abortions. Mary-Ann paid the money and was attended by the anonymous people. But the operation was a failure. She hemorrhaged badly and it couldn’t be stopped. She died in the room of a house in the back-street of the inner-city. During the night her body was removed and left propped against a tree in one of the parklands that surround the city.

Herbert received the news with horror and disbelief. Impossible! How could she be dead? She was alive and healthy six months ago, she was smiling still in his memory, she was laughing just out of reach on the slopes of the field-daisy covered hills behind their farm-house when he chased her up the slopes and laughing, pulled her down on the yellow and green carpet and there amongst the miles and miles of open countryside under a soft sky they made love.

“No! It couldn’t be so, No!”

The letter from his brother didn’t tell of the circumstances of Mary-Ann’s death, and he didn’t find out till he returned home for the funeral on compassionate leave. But still he was so shocked that even the sordid details didn’t seem to sink in. How? How? he kept asking himself and he would sit for hours at his brother’s kitchen table and sometimes look as if he were about to ask a question but then would close his mouth in silence and look deeply into his cup of tea. He mechanically went through the ritual of the funeral and stumbled from the graveside in silence. It was in silence also that he returned to the barracks in the East to be shipped off overseas to the war in Africa.

On the crossing to the front he searched again and again through all the details in his mind that he knew of the tragedy. He started to hate Mary-Ann. He stood her before him in daydreams and called her “whore”, “slut”, “betrayer”, and any other names that he thought he could hurt her memory with, but at the end of it all he called her “love” and wept for the sadness of it.

Then he started to hate the soldier who had seduced her. He looked around at the noisy men about him and tried in his heart to pick the types that would seduce “a lonely sympathetic woman”. Several times he fought fights with braggarts who told lurid tales of their “conquests” before they left home. He had to be dragged off one fight before he killed the man. Fortunately none of these fights reached the ears of the high ranking officers; it was just the “locking of horns” amongst the men, the release of tension before the approaching theatre of war.

The first action Herbert’s battalion was to see was the assault on Bardia in Libya. By now Herbert’s hatred was directed toward the enemy out front and there was no more eager soul for battle in the battalion. He was in a state of silent desperation. He silently nurtured the philosophy of “kill or be killed”; it didn’t matter to him at all. What was there home now? What was there here? Who was he fighting for? It just didn’t seem to matter anymore. He just wanted to throw himself into the teeth of war with a seething vengeance. He wanted to kill, if only himself, he wanted to kill! At zero hour the artillery barrage began. Herbert was humming and whistling nervously. Then the barrage lifted and the first wave of infantry attacked behind the engineers who blew the wire with Bangalore torpedoes. Herbert was rushing, running into the acrid fumes amid the fires and shooting. He shot at a few fast moving shadowy figures near a guard post. The horizon jumped and jerked with the flashes from the Italian artillery. He ran past a truck destroyed by their own barrage – wild orange flames swept around the cabin of the truck from the burning tyres, the flames lashed and licked at the metal like the wet tongue of a huge animal. His temper was almost uncontrollable as he rounded the corner of supply building of the post. An Italian soldier suddenly stepped out of a doorway just ahead of him with his hands on the verge of raising in surrender. He didn’t get the chance. Herbert shot at point blank range and the soldier fell in front of him. He rushed up and plunged his bayoneted rifle into the man’s chest. The soldier gasped. “Ah Dio Boia!, Dio Boia!” he cried and Herbert too yelled out amid the wild weird racket of battle all around him. It seemed as if a demon had escaped from the depths of his soul and he cried out for the release of it all while the filthy smoke from the burning machinery engulfed the entire battle scene and he fell to his knees beside the body of the dying soldier. Herbert felt his chest constricted and his breath laboured in short gasps as he knelt there with his hand on the Italian soldier’s chest.

He became aware of some words spoken near his ear. It was the dying soldier. At first Herbert was shocked, open mouthed, he lifted his rifle to strike the soldier again till he realized the man was no threat and that he was saying over and over again, “Non e colpa tua, non e colpa tua.” The soldier’s hand moved slowly, falteringly up to his chest pocket, then quivering fell to his side. He was dead.

Herbert jumped to his feet and stood staring down at the first man he had killed. He was about to rush off when he was drawn, compulsively to reach into the dead soldier’s breast pocket. He did this quickly as if repulsed at the thought that he could be looting a dead body. He quickly put his hand in and pulled out a leather folder. He thrust it quickly into his own pocket and scrambled off to the battle further ahead in the mist of dawn and fire.

Herbert did survive the war and he did go back to the farm amongst the gently sloping hills of the hinterland. But he did not go to the grave of his wife in the grounds of the little church on the edge of the town. He could not face her name on a tombstone and he could not say her name for a long, long time.

His farm was suffering from lack of care and he himself moved about under an oppressive cloud of lethargy and listlessness till his friends and neighbours all felt it was only a matter of time till he broke down or cracked up. Herbert could feel himself being slowly drowned by his despair and was aware that he would have to do something to get his life back on track soon or he would go under. A friend of his from the district who had gone to the African war with him had returned and gone into a ministry with the church. Herbert drove to the city one day to speak with him of a certain matter that was troubling him. He was shown to the minister’s room and left to knock on the door.

“Come in,” a voice called from inside. “Why, hello Herb!” The minister smiled and rose from his chair.

“Here, come over here and sit down. Cup of tea? Good, good,” – he poured a cup from a pot. “Just had one myself – I’m afraid this isn’t the army now, nothing stronger,” and he laughed.

“Ta, thanks, Brian – no, it’ll do fine.” Herbert spoke quietly.

After the cup of tea was placed in front of him Herbert started to sugar and stir the drink with slow solemnity. The minister settled back into his chair and gazed quizzically at his old friend.

“You don’t look too cheerful, Herb,” he spoke.

“Well, no, no, I’m not much fun to be with these days.”

“Is it the memories of the war?” the minister asked.

“That . . . and Mary-Ann,” Herb answered.

“Hmm, I think I can sense that . . . but what precisely is the trouble with Mary-Ann?” The minister queried.

“I haven’t been able to go to her grave since I’ve been back,” Herbert spoke softly. A silence fell between them.

“You remember Bardia?”

“Do I?” the minister replied. “Scared the pants off me.” He snorted “Glad it’s gone. Why?”

“Brian,” began Herbert, “Brian . . . I killed a man there . . .”

The minister squinted his eyes a little. There was something more in this, he felt. He replied with a stock answer:

“Well . . . we all killed there. Many of our side were killed also.”

“No,” Herbert spoke slowly and carefully. “I murdered a man there . . . an Italian soldier. He was about to surrender, I see that now, but . . . but I was full of hate, full of Mary-Ann . . . I didn’t give him a chance. I killed him out of my own hatred – I killed a man.” Herbert dropped his head in shame.

The minister raised his eyebrows at the problem he saw before him, but then, he was thinking, who didn’t kill in hate of some kind, did people kill for love? We were all full of hatred when we went there, otherwise we’d have stayed home and raised families! The minister spoke these thoughts and moved to quieten his friend’s fears, and because he spoke with the sincerity and honesty of friend to friend, he could see it sinking in. An inspiration came upon him:

“Have you told this to Mary-Ann?”

“What? But it’s too late now – she’s dead, Brian, dead and gone.”

“Dead maybe, Herbert . . . but not gone, surely.”

Herbert raised his head to gaze steadily upon his friend.

“Why don’t you go down there Herb, go down and visit the grave? It won’t hurt, and who knows, you may feel some sort of response to your worries. It certainly couldn’t really do any harm.”

It seemed a strange thing to do, to go down and consult the dead. He was a little apprehensive and also a little scared, so clutching a small bouquet of field daisies that he and Mary-Ann had lain in those days so long ago, Herbert walked through the whitened cemetery gates on a grey-clouded, winters day. He stopped before the white marble gravestone that read:

Mary-Ann Griegs
Loved wife of Herbert Greigs
Died Oct. 4. 1940
A Tragedy

Herbert stood before the grave, feeling lonely, not knowing what to think, what to say. So he just stood with his hands clasped in front with the small bouquet held upside down in his fingers. He thought over the happy days, the early days, the sad days in numbness and the war days in pain. The picture of the dying soldier came into his memory, the man’s life fading from the brutal attack of the bayonet.

“Dio Boia, Dio Boia!” the man had cried, the words now clear in Herbert’s mind. And then the final fatalistic sighing of the dying soldier:

“Non e colpa tua . . . Non e colpa tua.”

Herbert never could understand what the soldier meant by those words, even when he heard them translated, surely it was HIS fault the soldier died. HE was the one doing the killing! He repeated the words now to himself and the repetitive tone seemed to bring clarity to his thoughts till suddenly, as if illuminated by light, he understood the juxtaposition of their lives – Mary-Ann, the soldier’s, his own – and he suddenly realized why Mary-Ann had risked her life and destroyed the unborn child, her child, for whoever the father, it was still her child. But she destroyed her child and lost her life, not out of self-protection, but rather for a greater prize to her – Herbert’s love. She died for love of him . . .

“Oh God,” he cried at the realisation, “Oh God! oh God! oh God!” and he fell to his knees in front of the grave and the meaning of the soldier’s last words fell into place and he sobbed the same words to his wife:

“It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault! It’s not your fault!” he wept, falling down on his knees with his face clasped in his hands, he wept, and so as his tears were falling to the earth, so was his soul descending down, down, till he felt he could ‘touch’ the soul of his beloved. And now he understood – the unborn child she sacrificed to Herbert to save her love, and the Italian soldier he sacrificed to Mary-Ann to show his love. “Pity the killed, pity the killers, pity us all, God pity us all !” he wept to her. A light rain misted over the small graveyard, beside the church on the edge of the town. The bouquet of daisies had slipped from his hands and lay softly on the flat polished gravestone, its yellow and green glowing brightly against the wet, white marble.

Herbert Griegs came back from that time of despair and started farming again. He never married again and spent his years in service to the local community and the church. The wallet he took from the dead soldier that night contained, beside other things, a photograph of a young family – the soldier, his wife and a young child. This photograph he put in a gilded frame matching the one of his own marriage and stood them side by side on top of the china cabinet in the dining room of the farm house. These people are now all gone and soon, but for this, I feel, will be forgotten.

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

799 thoughts on “The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs

  1. GD…..I wonder why Shorten wastes his time and energy on the bum at all…If I was bailed up by the stronz and askedt my position on anything party business, I’d tell him to pull his head in and it’s none of his business…maybe not that politely either!

  2. Gorgeous Dunny,

    Mitchell has also followed the typical male pattern of becoming increasingly conservative with age.

    All you lovely Pub males are not in any typical, it goes without saying!

    It is a male thing, too – I know far more feisty and radical older women than men.

  3. Does anyone know the official term for a flag displayed indoors as in the photos above?

    I know that flying the flag outdoors is done according to strict protocol, but I couldn’t find anything for indoors:

    http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/symbols/docs/australian_flags_excerpt.pdf

    I ask because some Twit. commented on Abbott’s flags being arranged with the Commonwealth Star front and centre. I was sure that was protocol, not OCD – but couldn’t find a reference.

    Ta!

  4. I’d be inclined to think most of the Labor sympathetic social media sites tend toward the “left”…I fear that the recent decisions by federal Labor have isolated many from that media..I wonder if it was a deliberate move?

  5. ” Does anyone know the official term for a flag displayed indoors as in the photos above?”
    Yes…It’s called ..: “Give Tony a go…give Tony a go…”

  6. Flags will always be cheaper under Abbott’s ChAFTA…

    Re: “Have a go”, I’m not sure this is what Tony had in mind – it’s from the 1970s!

  7. You don’t fly flags inside. Period.

    Cakes and Christmas decorations excepted.

  8. Jaeger

    If the ‘muzzie’ terror scare does not work Tones may take up this option.

  9. und
    .
    Black Sabbath – “War Pigs” Live Paris 1970

    .
    XTC – Generals and Majors

  10. Hey!, Ducky…spoiler alert!…we here in SA. are half an hour behind you..so it hasn’t started yet.

  11. Antony Green’s Election Blog –

    What I have been saying over and over like a cracked record, but with much more complicated detail about the GG and other stuff.

    An Early Election? Could there be a Double Dissolution?
    http://blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2015/06/there-is-some-wild-speculation-about-an-early-election-but-there-are-several-problems-for-the-government-first-is-the-sena.html

    I wish the so-called ‘political journalists’ would read this, it might set them straight. As I said earlier, none of them are talking about whether abbott would go for a double dissolution or a reps only election IF he wants to go early. They just keep bleating about it being a faaaaaabulous time, what with Labor so weak because of Shorten’s lies….blah….blah….blah….

  12. Scott has amazed me , thank gawd , in his defence of the ABC very very strong . Quite a rebuff of The Oaf’s “what side are you on ?”

  13. Leone,

    Facts don’t matter to the likes of them. It’s the vibe, the look, the politics – those are the only important things.

    He said, she said . . .

    May they all be struck by permanent laryngitis and agraphia.

  14. If I may indulge my fellow Pubsters, this is the assignment for which I got an A this semester. We had to write a speech for a fictitious event. I credit the Pub and Pollbludger with increasing my skills at putting together a coherent argumen,t as well as a good ole rant!

    This went down really well with the lecturer in my Writing studies. Part A was explaining the speech and Part B was the actual speech, which ended up right on the word limit.

    Topic: A Speech

    Part A.

    The Speaker is the Member of Parliament who is presenting the policy proposal to including computer coding in the National Schools Curriculum.

    The Topic is Coding in Schools.

    The focus is on transmitting a clear analogy of coding to which parents can relate, and the importance of this policy for the future.

    This speech is an introduction for the specialist speakers. The objective of the speech is to get parents thinking about how coding is an important addition to the skills their children will get from formal education and set the scene for the other speakers.

    It is intended for a forum at a suburban primary school. The audience will be mainly parents, family teachers and some students, along with other interested members of the public.

    The setting is a school hall in suburban Adelaide with a working PA system, a small dais, and seating for the audience. A panel of speakers including a University lecturer in Childhood Education, a IT programming specialist and a researcher of future work patterns are expected to be in attendance.

    I did not do any preparation. I just imagined the scene and wrote it.

    Part B

    Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.

    Thank you for coming to this forum tonight and allowing me the opportunity to speak with you.
    I want to discuss the idea of teaching Coding in primary school.

    Why is it a good idea? Why in schools? Why in Primary years?

    Coding is not new, it goes back to the first time we communicated other than by voice. Indeed, we all learned some sort of formal coding as youngsters. Maybe in Cubs or Brownies you earned some badges for cypher.

    We learned the symbols used in arithmetic and that vital code, how to use symbols to read and write.

    Coding in the sense that I use it tonight, is the codes used in computing.

    Coding is simply a way to write those programs so the computers do what we want. Before a computer can work, someone has to write the instructions, the program, to tell it what to do and when to do it.

    The power to use computers lies in the instructions that are written, i.e. coded, and loaded into them.

    And when we say computers, it is not just the laptop on the table. It is the computers that analyze the data from science experiments, control satellites and our transport systems, and run the machines in the emergency wards of our hospitals.

    Coding power gives Australia control of computing power so we are not passive users of technologies developed overseas.

    Why learn this in school and primary school in particular?

    The best time to introduce simple coding concepts is when students learn to use computers. This will lay a foundation for complex coding skills to be developed in high school for students who wish to do so. We have a speaker with us tonight who will expand on this point.

    But why in schools at all?

    Schools are designed to teach fundamental skills that society agrees are important to the child, the community, the country and, if I dare say, the world.

    This is the dawn of the 21st Century, and an exciting and challenging century lies ahead. Think of those Australian parents who contemplated the new 20th Century and the education of their children. What did they consider absolutely vital for every child, regardless of gender, economic status or place of birth?

    We’ve often heard of the Three Rs: Reading, wRiting and ‘Rithmetic. Competency in these subjects was considered vital to getting a good job, a chance for success in life, and for a productive and creative country.

    Now we sit here, descendants of those parents or parents from other parts of the world who decided on the skills their children would need, and do the same.

    We still teach the maths and the reading and the writing they considered vital. But this new 21st century requires another basic and vital skill, the skill to be the master of computers, by coding the programs that run them.

    This is why I support this policy and will work to introduce it.

  15. http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/6315-morgan-poll-sms-state-voting-intention-june-2015-201506250218 In the main, the Roy Morgan SMS only state polls (SMS is not the best way to poll) seem in the zone, except Tassie, which is hard to poll at any time for various reasons.

    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/farmers-call-on-liberals-to-snuff-out-internal-push-by-climate-sceptic-conservatives-20150625-ghxp5s.html

    http://www.zdnet.com/article/confusion-reigns-as-data-retention-planning-deadline-looms/

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-25/residential-leases-of-five-to-ten-years-considered-in-victoria/6572026

  16. Kaffeeklatscher,

    You are most welcome.

    What about dyscalculia (one of my main research interests)?

  17. Puffeeeeeeeee,

    This duck is totally aware of your talents.

    More of The PUBsters should have the chance to meet you.

  18. This is a program about RnR in Oz.

    The first program was mostly about Ted Alberts and The Easybeats (Poms who became Australians)

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/blood-thunder-the-sound-of-alberts/

    It is a great watch.

    For me, Oz rock was the 60s and 70s and a little into the 80s. It was “hard” rock that no one else had.

    The next ep, I think, will be mostly about Akka Dakka.

    Since then, there is no such thing as Oz Rock.

    Now, about The Mammas and The Pappas and that Swedish group …

  19. puffytmd

    Take a bow and wave to the crowds as you do your victory lap. Well done.

  20. Fiona,

    Dyscalculia.

    In particular, what it is, what causes it, how to cure or compensate, or what are the sociological implications?

    I’m blessed with rapid mental arithmetic. It is such a worry (globally) that so much arithmetic bypasses that those in power fail to acknowledge it or, in the case of Your Government, encourages it.

  21. Ducky,

    Dyscalculia is a real worry. It probably has a greater prevalence than dyslexia, but is not, or is under, recognised, and seriously under-resourced so far as research is concerned.

    The sociological implications are serious in terms of education outcomes, employment possibilities, and trouble with the law.

    Remediation is a serious difficulty, given that some studies suggest that a small portion of the brain is missing. How do we fix that???

    Work-around strategies can be devised, taught, and learned, but the real problem is that for dyscalculics there’s no “transfer” of those strategies from a known set of problems to an unfamiliar set of problems.

  22. I do not believe you

    The ABC is not a state broadcaster designed to be the communications arm of the government, Mark Scott has said, in a passionate defence of the independence of the public broadcaster.

    “I hope no one seriously wants the ABC to be a state broadcaster,” the managing director said. “We know the examples. North Korea and Russia. China and Vietnam.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/jun/25/mark-scott-fires-back-i-hope-no-one-wants-the-abc-to-be-a-state-broadcaster

    I treat his comments and those of the posters with shit and derision. Have they no F….g idea?

  23. One of my sons could add up the cost of groceries as they were rung up on the register, then tell you the change from the cash you handed the checkout operator.

  24. This little black duck

    At primary school I could rattle of all the times tables up to 12 x very early but for some reason I had a mental block on 6 x 7 . Had to stop and count in my head from 5 x 7 . Most strange.

  25. Fiona,

    It is your expertise.

    Are you the analyst and will publish a paper or are you the tutor who encourages those in your charge to research and report?

  26. The ABC has been corrupted and is better consigned as an impartial observe of current affairs in Oz to the scrap heap.

  27. Ducky,

    Both.

    I’m already a co-author on one major paper on the topic. Others are in the pipeline.

    The graduate students have been publishing away like mad. Some good stuff, too.

  28. Fiona,

    If you would like an editor, for free, I am wiling and available.

    I have no expertise in the context but I can do logical argument and grammar.

  29. Fiona,

    “Publishing like mad” through force or willing?

    Marking stuff must be like having the consequences of having permitted a heinous crime.

    Good to see you come across decent stuff, now and again.

  30. Further correspondence will not be entered into.

    Until tomorrow.

    Lewis series 8 calls.

  31. Ducky,

    That is a very kind offer: thank you.

    Both my senior (as in vastly more experience and erudition in the area, as well as in terms of age) colleagues write very well, and both are acutely aware of the styles of writing appropriate to different journals. They are both formidable when it comes to argument.

    I like to think I sort of hold my own on both fronts, but am probably deluding myself.

    As for the students, nowadays one of their obligations when doing a PhD is to publish as they go. The thesis I recently read in its almost final form incorporated the student’s three published studies. Those publications are submitted to anatomical scrutiny before they are submitted, and afterwards when the reviews come in, and then again, and again, and again . . .

    Maybe, if I’d had to endure such a process, I wouldn’t have suffered from severe writer’s block for the past decade.

  32. Kaffeeklatscher,

    language maven

    I’m definitely an amateur (in its proper sense) of language. As a v young child, I adored listening to My Word, a passion that continued until the broadcasts disappeared.

    When I was in primary school, my father required me to learn one page of the dictionary every day of the school holidays. When he returned from work in the evening I had to be able to spell each word, give its derivation, and use it correctly in a sentence of my own devising.

    Strangely, this experience did not put me off words.

    Now, what are your thoughts about testudinarious?

Comments are closed.