Raymond Evans on The Good War
Evans remembers the aftermath of war while growing up in Australia @ Griffith Review. It was dark under the school shelter as the rain came steadily down. All I could see were some other kids' faces staring up at me.
The Headmistress, Miss Buckley, was holding on to my mug of Bonox. She had said, ‘Well, can anybody sing a song for us or recite a poem?' as we all sat together on the concrete throughout that rainy Big Lunch. No-one had answered. So I put up my hand. ‘I know something,' I said.
Auntie May had found the verse in a little frame in some shop in town and had given it to my mother. ‘Why the hell would we want this?' my father had said. He wasn't too keen on the Christ-child.
My mother had propped it up on the kitchen bench and I kept looking at it. Around the words was drawn a picture of little black men with wild thatches of hair, carrying a stretcher with a large white soldier on it. They were walking through a jungle of vines and butterflies, and big, dark green leaves.
It seemed that everywhere white people in Australia were, you eventually came across some black people too. In the stories, at least. ‘It's not Australia, though,' Dad had explained: ‘It happened up in New Guinea. During the war. They helped the Australians fight off the Japanese. They're called Fuzzy-Wuzzies because of their hair.'
The poem kept going around in my head. Especially the part about the ‘Angels in Disguise'. I liked that: Angels who had taken their white robes off and then dressed themselves up in black-face disguise like Al Jolson to cheer everyone up. I wondered if the Australian kids knew about the Fuzzy-Wuzzies. It seemed important to tell them. It might be just the thing for a dull, rainy afternoon.
When I finished reciting there wasn't a sound. ‘That's the end,' I said, hoping to start up a bit of clapping.
‘Well Raymond,' Miss Buckley said, helping me down from her chair and handing back my Bonox: ‘Where did you learn all that?' She turned to the others: ‘Fancy a Welsh boy who hasn't been here very long knowing all about our Fuzzy-Wuzzies!'
I sat back down, feeling pretty proud of myself. Graham Weller, my best friend, had a funny little smile on his face. He leaned over and whispered unexpectedly in my ear: ‘Skite!'
On the way home that day he let me have it.
Image: Dan Hillier featured at FoggedClarity.com