Never Forgotten – A Tribute.
By Howard Gaukrodger, 10.08.2014.
Practice: 3rd p.s. narrative, pathos, character-building. 700 words.
The wicker chair creaked as she rocked forward and back, forward and back, listening to the croak and warble of the tui in the unspoilt New Zealand countryside. She was home now, free. It had been five years – should have been nine. They’d released her early on compassionate grounds: “extenuating circumstances of war”, they said.
Disfigured by ill-health and torment, Abigail Green was “the ugly spinster in the haunted bach”, a recluse, glimpsed but fleetingly when she brushed through the weeds of her garden.
They’d shared a love that only Cupid could measure. On fine weekends, Jamie would drive them to Cannibal Bay. A discreet cave was accessible at low tide. Nobody observed them during their flirting with rapture. The summer of ’38 was hot. It would not be subdued by the cloud of fear sweeping across Europe. They’d be safe here, she thought, the other side of the world, but nobody predicted Pearl Harbour.
Overruling parental concerns, their conscience pushed them to enlist in ’42. The Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force stamped their dog-tags and added their souls to 104,000 compatriots already in action. She recalled the CO’s announcement, “We’re deploying to New Guinea.” But she’d got her wish – she’d be going with Jamie.
The last time she’d seen him, his face was swollen from infected insect bites, his twitching eyes were fiery red, and a gaping wound throbbed in his flank. For fifteen days, he’d been with the Australians, repulsing the Japanese at Kokoda. He’d found his own way back to the field hospital. Reunited in Hell, but in the care of the most doting nurse in Heaven, they’d talked in staccato bursts between his amputations and blood transfusions. The last thing he’d said was etched in her mind: “Never forget, Abi. Nobody must forget what the Kiwis and Aussies have done… to defend… our country, the free world.” When she returned from treating another patient, Jamie’s bed was empty.
Abi was demobbed in New Zealand in 1945. Despite indelible images of war, her mind was clear. While nursing in New Guinea, she’d heard the ceaseless ramblings of delirious officers revealing details of Japanese adversaries. Abi had memorised the names, and in her breaks would write them down, hiding the list in her undergarments.
Now, in the aftermath of war, purpose prevailed. ‘Never forget, Abi. Never forget…’ She would make sure that nobody would. By March 1946, her plan was laid. Using her military connections, she flew to Japan. It was understood she would be helping the bomb victims in Nagasaki. She contacted the American media in the shattered country and gleaned information from disillusioned Japanese soldiers she found in brothels and roofless beer houses. Despite the chaos, it proved easy completing her list – a list of the families of the enemy. And who should come first? It would be those who’d lost their men – the Japanese soldiers who’d fought at Kokoda – the men responsible for the death of her Jamie.
Abi was proud of her scheme: the wives agreed to pay her anything when she promised to locate their loved ones. Their desire to believe was a tidal wave that swept aside the telegram of “Missing in action”.
Her earnings grew, and with it the confidence of her calculating mind. It would have been easy to kill these women: her nursing skills convinced her of that. But this was not Jamie’s message. ‘Never forget’, he’d said.
Abi returned to New Zealand, the culmination of her plan in sight. The nearest sculptor of repute was in Invercargill. Agreement was reached, and the work completed.
“I’ve done it, Jamie!” she would say as she wandered around the bach. It wasn’t until the following year that the police took her in: “Abigail Green, you’re under arrest for extortion and…” She smiled, at peace with herself.
“Pro Patria”, shone the inscribed plaque on the five-foot-seven memorial in the heart of the town. James G Brown, one of 11,900 New Zealanders lost in the conflagration, was home. He and his brothers-in-arms would never be forgotten.