Diary in old tin box opens poetic chapter

25 Apr, 2015 02:00 AM
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Engineer Bob Jarrad retaces the steps of his forebears in his book <i>Slouch Hat Soldiers - Generations at War</i>.
Engineer Bob Jarrad retaces the steps of his forebears in his book Slouch Hat Soldiers - Generations at War.

THE discovery of his grandfather's war diary - and being bedridden for three months - prompted manufacturing engineer Bob Jarrad, Tea Tree Gully, to write the haunting poems he published last year.

With 19 relatives having served in Australian Defence Force, from the Great War to World War II to the Vietnam War, Mr Jarrad decided to retrace the steps of his forebears, including several uncles from the Adelaide Hills, and recount their experiences in his book, Slouch Hat Soldiers - Generations at War.

Earlier this year, in the lead-up to the 100th commemoration of the Gallipoli landings in World War I, he was invited to recite 17 poems at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

On his journey to Canberra, Mr Jarrad also conducted poetry readings at country towns throughout Vic and NSW.

"I wasn't a writer and English wasn't my favourite subject at school," he said.

"But I always liked poetry."

After severely injuring his back, Mr Jarrad was laid-up in bed for several months, during which time he started writing bush poetry.

After winning several poetry competitions and receiving good feedback from judges, he decided to go a step further.

"I was honing my skills and learning my craft with the help of mentors including SA poet Jude Aquilina and publisher, author and critic Patrick Allington, who also teaches at Flinders University," he said.

"During this time I spoke to my father, Cyril 'Bob' Jarrad, as he had mislaid my grandfather's war medals, and his own.

"We found a tin box with the medals and a little red book - my grandfather's war diary.

"It didn't have much in it, just a few interesting notes - until I got to the back. He had marked places on the map where he'd campaigned.

"It inspired me to write Medals and Nightmares, the third poem in the book."

Mr Jarrad spent more than 12 months researching stories and history, retracing his family's involvement in war.

"My grandfathers and great uncles fought in WWI, my father and uncles fought in WWII, and I had cousins in the Vietnam War.

"Although I was in the artillery and reserves I was lucky enough not to get the call (to go to war)."

Mr Jarrad's maternal grandfather, Thomas Harding, was initially in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade that was sent to Mena, Egypt, during WWI, before being sent to Europe to fight in the trenches, spending four years in the Somme and Western Front battles.

"He's someone I remember very much, and I'm fortunate I was able to spend time with," Mr Jarrad said.

His paternal grandfather, Horace Jarrad, would not talk of what happened to him in the war but in the later stages of his life spoke to Cyril about what had happened.

His uncle, who was in the notorious Changi prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore during WWII, had a best friend, Don McLaren, who had written a diary on rice paper and hidden it during this time.

It was later published as a book called Mates in Hell.

Mr Jarrad was able to refer to the book for inspiration as it mentioned his uncle several times.

Another story was about Horace, who was engaged to a Miss Danby for two years during WWI but instead ended-up marrying an English nurse. After the letters stopped, Miss Danby wrote to the war office worried that Horace was dead, or missing-in-action, only to find he had married another.

Cyril, who was a cake decorator - a Balfours frog-cake specialist - ended up in Borneo at the conclusion of WWII.

"He volunteered to stay on for longer, and serving on the HMS Glenelg went to Ambon at the end of the war,'' Mr Jarrad said. ''It was a notorious prisoner-of-war camp where the Japanese committed some terrible atrocities," Mr Jarrad said.

Mr Jarrad said writing poems for the book he felt exhausted and elated, and felt a deep sense of sadness.

The books were self-published, and have been very popular, with a fourth run printed.

Part proceeds from sales go to Legacy, because Bob wanted to be able to "give something back" to those who had served Australia.

Details: To purchase a book visit www.slouchhatsoldiers.com.au or email info@slouchhatsoldiers.com.au

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Miranda Kenny

Miranda Kenny

is the editor of Stock Journal

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