Friday, 29 April 2016

A land search.

Hi everyone,

I've had a big couple of days.  It's Friday evening; I spent Wednesday and Thursday on a land search in he hills up near Mansfield.

Maybe you saw it on the news?  I'm sad to say that it didn't have a good result.  As the ABC put it:
The body of missing man Taddeo Haigh has been found within 1 kilometre of where he went missing, police say.
His body was found in dense scrub in difficult terrain near a holiday house at Sawmill Settlement, near Merrijig, where he and his wife were staying over the Anzac day long weekend.
A large-scale search was launched after 31-year-old Mr Haigh, also known as Ted, failed to return from a walk in dense scrub on Sunday.
Victoria Police Acting Superintendent Libby Murray said there were no suspicious circumstances.
"We're working with Ted's family to provide some support. Obviously they're pretty shocked and upset at the moment," she said.
"He was found within a radius of a kilometre of that holiday house. So [it was] not particularly close, but within the search area we'd identified."
Acting Superintendent Murray was asked why the area where he was found had not been previously searched.
"It's pretty thick and rugged terrain through there, so it's one of those areas where we were doing some pretty systematic searching," Acting Superintendent Murray said.
"We did line searching where we had to keep line of sight and keep people pretty close because of how dense it was."
... About 200 people were involved in the search, including the State Emergency Service, Parks Victoria, Victoria Police, the dog squad and the police helicopter.
Acting Superintendent Murray said the searchers had been working very hard to find Mr Haig and were "heartbroken" at not finding him alive.
I don't think I should tell you about the land search itself.  For one thing, the SES isn't keen on members discussing operations on social media.  More seriously, though, it seems wrong to babble on about where we searched, what we ate and so on, when the story ends with the death of somebody's husband and son.  I think that everyone felt something like this when the news came through and all the search teams were called back to the staging area: in the morning, the 200 or so police, SES, CFA and other searchers had been chattering and laughing; in the afternoon as we waited for the debrief, there was a quiet in the air that was more than just sound of fatigue.

Despite the bad outcome, I was incredibly proud of the performance of the SES members.  Crews had come up to help from all over the State to help, some from as far afield as Maffra, Sorrento and Foster.  It was rough terrain to search, and I think we did it well.

Sitting here and writing now, one other thought crosses my mind.  I can't imagine it would be any comfort to his family, at least not now, but Mr Haigh died in a beautiful part of Victoria.  There's never a good time for a young man to die, but if it must happen, I can't think of a better place to go to your eternal rest.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Anzac Day 2016: Meet Jimmy

Tomorrow is Anzac Day.  For the benefit of non-Australian readers, Anzac Day commemorates 25 April 1915, when Australian, New Zealander, French and British troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula during the First World War.  It's also the principal day for commemorating Australia's veterans of all conflicts.

Meet Jimmy.  Or more properly, Lance-Sergeant James Martin Voss, 3rd Battalion, Australian infantry.  The War Memorial's roll of honour states that he died of wounds on 17 October 1916, aged 21 years.  He was a farmer by profession, from Burrumbuttock in New South Wales.  And he was my grandmother's brother.  She told me once that she remembered exactly where she was when she last saw him - under a tree not far from the family's farm - and I remember that she called him "Jimmy", the nickname he must have had as a boy.

He enlisted on 26 August 1914, 22 days after Australia entered the war.  His service record says that he died in Belgium - probably at Ypres - of a gunshot wound to the head.  Reading between the lines, I suspect that the wound was self-inflicted.  Who could blame him if he decided to choose the time and manner of his death?  Not every wound on a soldier is physical.

Image from here

There's a good argument that the Great War made possible such peace and security as exists in the world today.  But 'big ideas' like this seem empty in the face of the pain and wasted life of a young man.  The only thing that can ease human pain is human joy and human hope.  I'd like to hope that before he left this world, Jimmy had the chance to know some of the poilus - the farmers and countrymen like himself who were the backbone of the French infantry - and that he found in them kindred spirits.

Image from here

I'd like to think that Jimmy would have been comforted to know that his sister became a nurse and a midwife, and preserved and birthed life in a world he had seen blasted by death.  I don't think that his sister ever stopped missing him, from their farewell in 1914 until her own death 80 years later.  Perhaps it would have been a comfort to her to have seen the care lavished on the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery by the Belgian people.  And perhaps it would have been comforting to both of them to know how beautiful Ypres would become once the guns fell silent and life returned.

Image from here