War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

Ellwood: Another thing that is very very much impressed on the mind is the depth of a feeling of friendship that grew over there under the conditions that we lived in, its environment. It was almost unbelievable. The closeness that a friend would become. I’ve known instances where somebody would be detailed to go on picket duty or go on observation of reconnaissance of a night time or go out and that sort of business and his mate would go with him just, you know, to be with him and I’ve known of instances of a feeling established between two people so strong that if they were in a position one only could escape with his life, neither of them would escape, they’d both stay there. I mean, that’s unbelievable, but its true, well you never see that in civilian life.

Turnbull: Do you think that that’s a bad thing?

Ellwood: No, I do not. No. One of the most satisfying and wonderful things in this life is the depth of companionship. To me it has more value that anything else, physically, the enjoyments and understandings are nothing compared to the mental aspect. And as I say the understanding in companionship, doesn’t matter how deep it is, is a wonderful thing and is greater value in my estimation than anything else.

Turnbull: So is it a regret then, that that wasn’t carried on.

Ellwood: Oh, very much. Not actually to that extreme, but that pattern. Oh, definitely. Don’t you?

Turnbull: Oh, yes….

Ellwood: Reservations?

Turnbull: Oh…

Ellwood: That Rigetti that you speak of. He and I were just like that. We more or less lived out of the same portmanteau, or we used each other’s clothes as we needed them. We used each other’s purse if we needed it. We …One never went anywhere without the other if it was possible and our thinking was always on the same vein and we were able to sit together and more or less know what we were thinking about without speaking, and…. Oh, yes, I mean, I had, particularly with Rigetti, I had a very very close companionship and yet (I’m talking mentally) never for one second was there any physical companionship or intimacy, but mentally the satisfaction and the peace it brought with it – it has to be experienced to be understood.

Turnbull: Can you remember the sort of things you used to talk about?

Ellwood: No, I think just that we had a common viewpoint on probably everything. The only thing we differed about was he was a Roman Catholic and I was a Protestant. We didn’t differ about that, we simply understood each other. Otherwise everything we had in common. But, oh, no, I think the peace that is possible between two people, the compatibility of them, I think is something to be valued very very highly. That was one thing, the friendships and the mateship that developed between each other. They’d do anything in the world for each other. You don’t see that in civil life. Doctor, wartime memories to a dinkum soldier, a man in the front line, they’re not pleasant. You don’t want to think about the things that you know that you’ve done that are unpleasant or that you’re ashamed of or any of that sort of thing, do you? And you can imagine what a man in the front line has been through and the things that he’s had to do, he didn’t want to do them, that he saw done. Why should he want to go and resurrect those things and live in it, its like living in a pigsty. Or worse. And he keeps those things right down, below as far as he can, out of sight and out of sound. You don’t want to expose them to the public glare, I certainly don’t.

Turnbull: So there are memories…

Ellwood: There are memories that you have suppressed and you want to suppress. You don’t want exposed. I haven’t told you a lot, but what I’ve told you has disturbed the water, made it muddy, my thinking. You wouldn’t imagine that I’ve told you anything or everything that happened during the war, would you, my part in it.

Turnbull: I would imagine that there’s probably a lot that you’re not prepared to tell me.

Ellwood: Oh, I should think so. I don’t regret what I’ve done, I don’t feel pleased with what I’ve done. I just feel that what I’ve done in talking to you so unashamedly and so intimately… that I’m doing something to try and make people appreciate more what those people did who died and why they died in to use it as a pattern for their own existence. A person in authority – that’s one angle – he’s in a position where he has to send men to their death – that’s just one instance to try and explain what I’m getting at. Our Quartermaster was with his crowd, his convoy and he was attacked by grass cutting bombs we used to grass-cutters, horses had their feet cut off and all sorts of thing. And he had a splinter which would have been right across here and his bowel simply came out and it of course fell in the dust and everything – he was trying to push them back in and try and hold and was squeezing This was what I hear not what I saw. And somebody came along a started to shoot the horses and saw him and all sorts of thing and decided to get him help and did his best to do to and all the time this quartermaster was begging and praying him to shoot him. Cause he knew he had no life left. Things like that you don’t go and recount experiences like that. I didn’t have that, I only heard about it.

Turnbull: But you’ve had similar experiences yourself?

Ellwood: You wouldn’t know what to do would you? A fellow you lived with probably, may have been with you for years in the same regiment. You may have sent some of your best friends out knowing they were going to be shot and killed and you know, would never come back, you’d know it. You don’t talk about those things, you don’t want to – I don’t want to. Would you?