One of the hardest things I ever did as a mother was put my son on that bus down to Waiouru Army base. He was only just 17, still my little boy but he’d made his decision and it was time to let him go. It wasn’t what we wanted. I argued bitterly that he should finish Year 13, get some qualifications behind him and then make different decisions about his very precious life. He’d made his choice and the bus left at 9am one very frosty Monday, leaving behind a silent, confused family, not quite sure how to feel, but showing support the best way we knew, shaking hands waving long after the bus left the Hamilton street.
I shaved his head the Sunday night before he left. I used to shave his head when he was small because it was the easiest way to control his curly mop. As the hair fell over the side of the bath and my 17 year old exhibited the same kind of trust he had when he was 6, I remembered all the times I’d added tramlines, or a mohawk - yeah, thanks for that David Beckham.
We did a 6 hour round trip to visit him twice at Waiouru. The first time the whole family went, but the second time it was just me and my husband. Obviously he changed. He wasn’t just my wee boy anymore. He was a soldier in the New Zealand Army and proud of it. The army had the power to tell us we couldn’t take him for a coffee off the base so we crouched on wet grass along with the other subdued families and ate the food we brought with us. We were on a time limit. He belonged to them now, not us. They controlled what we were allowed to give him, post to him, say to him.
I grew up in the British Air Force. My life was always linked to the great institution of war in one way or another. It was in my blood. Both grandfathers served in the British Army and my grandmother was a drill sergeant during the war. Both my parents served and it was just the way things were. One minute we could be a happy family of 4, minding our own business and living our lives and the next, my father could be on the next bus or train to wherever. At the age of 4 I told my teacher my father had gone to Northern Ireland to be killed. At the age of 16 when he shipped out to the Falklands, I was old enough not to say it, but still thought it.
My son did his time and somewhere along the line he stopped being my wee boy and grew up. He wasn’t just the fun loving soccer kid, he was a killing machine who knew things before the age of 20 that I’d rather he didn’t. He’s at university now, working part-time as a barista to fund himself but sometimes I see that look in his eye and know he misses it, the camaraderie, the belonging, the common purpose.
I just watched the Q+A debate on TV about whether or not NZ should get embroiled in the war unfolding in the rest of the world. I don’t know the answer. I think it’s really easy to sit in an armchair and make huge declarations about what’s going on overseas and wax lyrical about whether we should or should not commit to a costly involvement. I don’t pretend to be any kind of political commentator. I’m just someone’s mum. And I know the private cost for a woman somewhere will not just be financial.
I don’t know the answer. I do know however that my son is still within his recall period and one day, I may be a victim of a political decision. There are many people with opinions about what should and could happen, just like there’s been for every war over the last millennia. We’ve all seen the romanticised movies, but we’ve also watched the horrific documentaries. When politicians comment, I want to hear them do it with an understanding of a mother’s perspective, not just run into something blindly, like the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fiasco undertaken by the British a decade ago. Good men gave their lives to find weapons that never existed, embroiled in something far deeper than they ever expected.
There needs to be a goal and a resolution, an outcome that is more than just blindly following America and Europe.
There has to be good reason to take these women’s sons and throw their lives away with a nod or handshake.
Wilfred Owen said it before his death on November 4th 1918, 7 days before armistice. But it was dramatic irony, aimed at the cigar smoking officers who sent him to die in the trenches. 'Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.'
#war #mothers #mothersofsoldiers