Friday, April 11, 2014

Jolly Japes - A-Z Blog Challenge

Well, not really. It was my wander down Memory Lane with the Argonauts Club and the proximity to Anzac Day that started me thinking about that. The thing is I was grew up in a very different society from the one we live in now. Oh, the location was the same - apart from when I lived in London for a short time - I've always lived in Western Australia, most of the time within 15 minutes of where I do now - but the world had been scarred by war and society had been irrevocably been changed even if it took some time for all of what had changed to become apparent. Rebuilding a society is a lengthy business and, in the end, it turned out to be different from what many expected.

In the meantime we looked back to what seemed an idyllic pre-war world. In Australia, this, at least for children, tended to be a nostalgic view back to the post-depression but pre-war England of the thirties. If you were a reader like me, this meant a steady diet of Enid Blyton - The Famous Five and The Secret Seven mostly - and books about boarding school where girls had splendid adventures and didn't behave like"early Victorian milksops". As well - and this is where the "jolly japes" came from because it often used language that had long gone out of fashion - I was the weekly recipient of School Friend, a combination of comics and stories, again largely boarding school based. School Friend had its roots back in the twenties and thirties, had had a hiatus during the forties and resumed publication again, with no apparent connection to the real world of the time - England still had food rationing in place after all - in 1950. Hardly a preparation for the brave, new world we were to enter as we became adults now I think about it.

So let's look at post-war World War II Australia. The men came back slowly, many not finally demobbed until 1947, and many of them brought their demons with them. Just one example: I remember in about 1959 when we were visiting a family for the first time. I was sitting quietly listening to the adults, when the conversation turned to food and somehow the subject of rice came up. The conversation stopped abruptly.

"I won't have that stuff in the house," said one of the men. 

I may have been young but I was still able to realise there was something more to this than there seemed on the surface. One of the women whispered to my mother and the conversation moved away. I was puzzled so later I asked about it. It turned out he had been a prisoner of war in Burma and, for him, white rice - the only food they were given - was a trigger for horrific memories. Being young and knowing nothing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - who did in those days - I couldn't understand it.

Looking back, though, I realise how many others there were like him with deep psychological issues or physical disabilities because he was only one of the damaged men, lucky enough to survived the war only to suffer in peace time. Some turned to drink or became violent in their inability to cast off their experiences. Still more - the majority - got themselves together and soldiered on like two of my uncles who were stationed in Darwin while it was being bombed - and never talked about the horror of aircraft bombardment. According to them - when they talked about it at all - it was funny incidents, nothing to worry about. Then there were the war widows and their children and the terrible loss they endured. 

In immediate post-war Australia there were problems. So many men had perished and others were damaged, housing was in acutely short supply and, despite WW2 being over, no-one could feel completely at ease with the looming communist threat posed by the Soviet Union so it wasn't an entirely comfortable place. The British Empire still stretched across much of the world and it wasn't only our Anglophile Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who still thought of England as the motherland.

I suppose it was hardly surprising then that people looked back to a world where everything was settled, everyone knew their place, folk lived in quaint villages and everyone knew and cared for everyone else - a nostalgic fantasy world that had, in fact, never existed. A world in which "jolly japes" was right at home.

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