Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Politics Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

ANZAC DAY

NO GLORY FOR PRIVATE DORIAN

As published in the Herald Sun - 2006

When Private Ted Dorian returned home from the war his daughter, my mother Lorna, had no memory of him. Mum was only seven when he and his mates Michae 'Peggy' Parlon and Billy Ottaway left for the war. After defeating the Italians at Bardia, near Tobruk, in January 1941 they sailed for Greece, where they were no match for the German advance and in April 1941 were captured on the Corinth Canal. After a horrific train ride to Austria, home for the boys was the POW camp in Austria, Stalag 18A.

Mildly happy, but not for long.

 

Despite many escapes, Parlon and Dorian always ended up back in the camp, where, according to Ottaway they were buried up to their neck in sand as punishment. Unlike my mild mannered grandfather, the diminutive 'Peggy' Parlon was a street fighter, whose drinking and brawling brought him to the attention of the local coppers. With his nose bent across his face he looked every bit the kind of bloke to avoid late at night. The take-no-prisoners Parlon was a man among men in the POW camp. From cutting and de-licing their hair to negotiating favours from guards, Parlon helped his mates survive. How different the POW Parlon was from the man who would soon be drinking 'two-penny dark' port and methylated spirits in a railway cutting behind the Brunswick Baths with my grandfather and his mates.

From 1946 until 1951 - when she married my dad and left home - Mum saw first hand what the war had done to her dad. 'It's the American bombers,' he'd scream, cowering in the corner of the bedroom. In 1944, forty-eight POWs had been killed when American planes bombed the camp. At the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital doctors said Ted Dorian's alcoholism had nothing to do with the war.

On Sunday 12 May 1957, while doctors at the Repatriation Hospital in Heidelberg considered whether shock treatment might cure my grandfather's depression and end the hallucinations, 40-year-old 'Peggy' Parlon was seen walking in an intoxicated state towards the local railway crossing. Train driver Roderick Cairns didn't see a thing as the 6.50 pm from Fawkner roared towards Flinders Street. The inquest was told that Parlon was 'literally cut to pieces'. 'His mother died the day before, so he could commit suicide without hurting her,' was the word among his mates. What would bring an uncompromising bloke like Parlon to pull a coat over his head and end his life in this way, I thought? It was simple really. Being a genuinely tough didn't fortify a bloke against the dark forces of war.

On 13 May 1964, it was 49-year-old Ted Dorian's turn to succumb to those dark forces. While eating lunch he collapsed and, unable to muster the strength to clear his throat, died. As a boy I remember seeing him stagger, drunk, from the bungalow that had become his home. I was too young to understand what war had done to him or to imagine the man he'd once been. Standing stoically alongside Parlon and Ottaway, in a beguiling photo taken on a hill outside at Stalag 18A, he offered not the slightest glimpse of the alcoholic world into which he'd soon descend.

Three years after my grandfather died, another of the 'metho' gang, war hero John O'Brien was found 'bloated and in a state of decompose' a short distance from where the train had decimated Parlon. He'd just finished a three months gaol sentence for vagrancy. O'Brien had enlisted at 17 years of age and won a Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1944, before descending into alcoholism and epilepsy. 'He fell asleep where he stopped drinking,' a policeman had written in his report.

Private Stanley Coutts didn't need the 'bottle' to quell the demons of war. Coutts died a 'glorious' death at the Somme in August 1916, six months after enlisting. He was only 18 years of age when propelled from the inferno of the Daylesford brickworks to the nightmare of the western front, where upper class generals threw young lives at cannon and machine gun like confetti at a wedding. Coutts is remembered in a lonely grave in the tiny Mount Prospect cemetery, outside Daylesford. Was it a broken heart that claimed his father, William, at age 52 years in 1922 and his mother Harriet three years later? Nearby, Catherine Yelland and her son, gunner Albert Yelland, are commemorated. Yelland was 23 years of age when he married his 18-year-old sweetheart, Elsie Hill, in March 1916, six weeks before setting sail for France. Eighteen months later he joined the honour roll of death; one forgotten statistic among the 76 000 Australians killed or wounded in the 1917 battles around Ypres. Was the loss of her beloved young son the reason Catherine Yelland died in 1924, aged only 57 years? Was she yet another victim of war?

The Mount Prospect cemetery and my grandfather's untold stories are signposts to the real suffering wrought by war. And as much as the Anzac Day speeches and the eerie silence of the Last Post force us to ponder the suffering and human sacrifice, there's so much about which the official ceremonies never speak. If only my grandfather and his POW mates had been able to tell their stories, how different Anzac Day might look.

As printed in the Herald Sun - 2006


 

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