He sat lazily on the cold ceramic tiles of his bedroom, resting his back against the rigid wooden framework of his single bed. With legs outstretched, chest gently dipping up and down and his forehead submissively being supported by his fingertips, Jonas Schmidt reminisced upon the caring and affectionate figure of his father. He reflected upon their journey; a collage of memories flashed through his mind- from the struggle in fleeing Germany and the rise of Nazi power, to the hardships in attaining full Australian citizenship.
Seeking refuge in Australia had eventually brought them peace- the beauty of the natural landscape, morphed with the laid-back and generous attitudes of their local community had endowed them with a new life. Together they were ready for a fresh start- until war broke out in 1939. The bloody war. The god-forsaken war. All that remained sat idly in his lap, symbolising the remnants of his father. Slowly, Jonas opened the box; he penetrated into what seemed to be the past, and lifted out the first piece of history – his father’s military uniform.
Harold Schmidt wandered into the mess tent of the army base, eager to fit in with the energetic cluster of young Australian men. As he pealed back the doors of the tent, a cacophony of excited noises filled the atmosphere. Thunderous laughter resonated through the room, as men told stories of their past conquests. The clink of mugs echoed, as they acknowledged each other and proceeded to down copious amounts of alcohol. The majority of the men, dressed in the same military uniform as his own, were of the traditional background- broad shoulders, bushy hair and cheesy grins. Ecstatic faces lit up the tent, reminding Harold of the same emotion displayed by his son when they were together. Nervously, he walked up to a group of them, craving to experience the sense of mateship, understanding and acceptance that seemingly emanated from their discussions. Yet at the same time, he was fearful to discover the contrary.
“Hey mate, pull up a chair and join us”, slurred one of the men at the table. “What’s ya name mate?” “Er…Harold. Harold Smith”, mumbled Harold nervously, not wishing to reveal his German background. The members of the circle eyed him suspiciously; noticing his distinct physical differences and outlandish accent. “So where ya from?”
“Brisbane”, he lied.
The ring of uniforms erupted into laughter. “Ah mate, don’t worry, there’s no need to lie about anything here…right? We’re all friends.” He indicated around the circle: “Well that’s Buffer, Swarley, Bomber, Richie and Dougie- we’re all mates from before. Oh, and they call me Shelley, after the missus.” Another round of laughter shook the table.
“Anyway, welcome to the gang”, he said. “We’ll look after you”. Shelley extended his hand forward. “This is going to be alright”, thought Harold, as he shook the warm and assuring hand of the Australian. Suddenly, the alarm signalled to direct the soldiers to prepare to move out. “Alright lads!”, yelled Shelley, as they all stood up to leave. “Let’s kill the flamin’ Jerry and send ‘em back to where they came from!” Harold instantly gulped at the prospect of killing his own kind. Sweat saturated his uniform, as he reluctantly marched out of the tent.
Jonas retreated from his dream-like state, pondering the reality of the hallucination. Solemnly, he laid the uniform down on the bed with respect. Suddenly, a flash of metal penetrated his eyes, as a crack of light from behind the curtains illuminated the jagged edges of his father’s war medals. Jonas clutched the remnants of his father firmly in his hand; once again returning to the illusory world…
As the lights dimmed, Harold stood apart from his platoon. Rising to the rank of First-Lieutenant, he had almost complete command over a number of his fellow soldiers, including his new-found friends. Despite regretting each time he shot an enemy German, Harold had caught the attention of his superiors. However, it was a completely different story amongst his own people. Even at this military celebration, Harold could feel the cynical gaze of the soldiers infiltrating into his inner being. Buffer, Bomber and Dougie deliberately avoided eye-contact with him. Swarley and Richie refused to sit next to him at the table. Even Shelley eyed him apprehensively; tension developed exponentially between the two former friends. Thus, Harold stood distantly from the group. “Maybe it’s because I’m an officer now”, he thought. “Or maybe it’s because they are jealous at my medals. They may have even discovered that I am German-born.” Nevertheless, Harold sobbed deeply. He felt lonely. Cursed. Like an outsider.
Once again, Jonas withdrew from the vision; his eyes moist, as he expressed sympathy for his father. Delicately, he positioned the medals on top of the chest pocket of the uniform, before reaching into the box once more. His hand brushed the cold crisp metal of the 6-round revolver – the standard-issue side-arm for all officers. His mind drifted away yet again…
“So you’re telling me you’re one of them!”, yelled Shelley, as he stood just centimetres from Harold’s face. Trust. Companionship. Expectations. All broken from the discovery of one word. “Get off me! That’s an order!” cried Harold, as he clumsily tried to free himself of the fierce headlock that Buffer and Bomber had on him. “You’ll be court marshalled for subordination!!” “Does it look like I give a damn? We’re all bloody fighting alongside a Jerry! One of THEM! The same animals that were shootin’ at us ‘bout a minute ago!” “I’m not one of them…”
“Shut up! You’re not one of us! You don’t belong here!” With that, Shelley lunged forward and grabbed Harold’s revolver from the holster; muted sounds amalgamated with blurred images as a flurry of action erupted.
Jonas jerked ferociously from his revelation; perspiration seeped tentatively down his neck and onto his shirt. He was almost hyperventilating now, as he endeavoured to eradicate the graphic imagery from his mind. Suddenly, the doorbell chimed. Shocked by the abrupt disturbance, he swivelled around to face the doorway. Through the translucent glass, Jonas made out the silhouette of a male figure- standing upright, proud and tall. As his mother unlocked the door, he witnessed a look of disbelief emanate from her face. “Could it be…”Jonas muttered to himself, as his heart continued to race. The door opened, bringing with it…
… a new hope.