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