The second part of Phoebe’s ‘War and Conflict’ assignment required her to tell a story through war time correspondence. Specifically, she needed to write three letters: the first letter from a soldier to someone at home; the second letter from the someone at home to the soldier; and the final letter from a superior officer notifying the people at home of the soldier’s death.
Australian Field Hospital,
Phuoc Tuy Province
7th July 1969
I miss you so much. I miss your smile, your company and our chats together. I don’t want to burden you but I need to talk to someone.
On our last patrol something overwhelmingly horrible happened. We were on our way back to base camp when we saw a young boy running towards us crying. He would have been about 10 years old and his face and clothes were smeared with blood. He called out to us in broken English ‘Help me. My mother … my mother… help… dying. You come.’ He was begging and pointing into the bush.
My captain wasn’t sure whether it was a trick or not and many of the other men did not want to risk it and just wanted to return to base camp for a rest. But my best mate Mark said he would go and help the boy and meet us back at base camp. You remember Mark, he’s always been good with children, and he was always giving away stuff, like chocolates, when we went through the villages to the children. I volunteered to go with Mark. However, the Captain decided we would all go but that we needed to be careful because it could be a trap.
We followed the boy at a distance to a group of huts – about three or four of them. The boy dashed into one of the huts. Then he reappeared at the entrance and called ‘Help… Here…Help…Mother.’ Mark volunteered to lead and I went with him. The others followed but at a distance. I told him to be careful but he rushed ahead into the hut. I was about 30 feet behind him when I saw the boy run out of the back of the hut. I screamed to Mark … ‘It’s a trap.’ I was about to scream to take cover when the hut exploded. I remember being hit by a wall of hot air and flying backwards, smashing into tree branches and then I was upside down with things falling on me. My ears were ringing – I could hear nothing – the smell was something like hair burning but much worse. Then I must have lost consciousness.
When I came to, I was upside down in a dry creek bed with broken branches of trees, leaves and bits of hut on top of me. I knew I needed to spend time just remembering what had happened and where I was. Slowly it all came back to me. I realised I couldn’t call out. I didn’t know whether I should wait for darkness before I moved. I still couldn’t really hear anything. I felt powerless and scared, really scared. I think I lost consciousness again. When I woke next it was dusk. I slowly moved myself from under the rubbish and up the creek bed to look around to see if I could see any of my patrol. When I got to the top, there was no danger to be seen but all my mates were dead. Everyone. I found bits of Mark… it was excruciating.
I wandered back through the forest. I don’t really know how I made it back because all my body was screaming out at me in pain but somehow I managed it…
I’m writing this to you from my hospital bed. My body is recovering quite quickly from the wounds I received from the blast but my mind is another thing. The images of that day haunt me in my sleep and I fear that I will never be free of them. I wake most nights several times with my heart racing and sweat pouring from me. I’m scared… I’m scared I might never again be able to trust the innocence of a child… Oh, I don’t understand why I survived. Why am I the only one who is still alive? I want to… it just feels … I just want to die then perhaps this horrible pain or is it guilt would go away.
I wish there was someone here that I could really talk to and I worry that now I have burdened you by saying too much. Thanks for listening and please don’t worry sis. They tell me that I will be alright to go back to the unit in a month.
14 Havelock Street,
7th August 1969
I’m so glad that you wrote to me. It’s O.K. to tell me whatever you need to. I’m always here whenever you need me, so just keep writing and sharing your feelings. Of course, you’ll be upset about what happened. You’ll probably always be upset about it… but that’s O.K.
You sound like you feel guilty about surviving the ambush. I want you to try this for a moment – Imagine that you died and that Mark survived and that Mark was going through the same experience that you are now – What would you say to him to help him at this time?
I imagine that you would tell him that it’s O.K. That it wasn’t his fault. That life is too short to waste worrying about things that you can’t change and have no control over. That we all knew the risks and we died believing that we were going to help someone in need in the middle of a guerrilla war. That it’s important that he keeps on fighting and working for the things that we all believed in so that we didn’t die in vain.
Keep on writing.
P.S. Now I need to share a secret with you. Yesterday something amazing happened to me. Jonathon Anderson, you know from school… well he proposed and I said yes. He gave me a very special ring – it was his grandmother’s engagement ring. It’s a blue pearl with a delicate silver chain around it. Jon asked me to ask you whether you would do him the honour of being his best man. Do you know when you will be getting any leave?