Vietnam – The Forgotten Cemetery

“Mum’s” near-pathological rationale was based on the once straightforward, upbeat content of her misplaced boy’s letters, those of which continually stressed that he was positioned well-rear of the forward battle area – and, in his capacity as a mere trainee ‘cook’ to the Australian Infantry, the only implement he would be firing-up, was the large, military field ovens, in-situ to provide regular, hot, culinary sustainment for troops heavily engaged in the ‘thick-of-it’ – but these welcoming and regular testimonies of reassurance from a faraway, soldier son, unexpectedly ceased to arrive from late August of 1966!

Archie Mansfield had been a postman for over 17-years, the last six of which had seen his delivery duties tied to a large stretch of suburbia on the ‘north-side’ of the New South Wales capital city, a travail that never failed to enthuse the near-balding, jovial barrel-chested, thirty-seven year-old distributor of bills and personal letters to all and sundry.

‘Arch’, as friends, colleagues and customers amicably referred to him, was widely viewed as a cordial, good-natured, cheery character, a father of four young sons and one well-acquainted with the majority of the populace that he was responsible to ‘over the bridge’ – as his bountiful Christmas tips annually alluded to!

In the months leading up to the imprecise ‘disappearance’ of a 21-year old, military, chef de cuisine, apprentice, Arch had become unwittingly drawn into a situation he both loathed and feared, in essence, the dreaded conveyance of specific brown-coloured, soulless, type-written envelopes, those of which had emblazoned across the top of each rectangular paper shroud, the words, ‘Ministry of Defence-Australia’.

As the Asian hostilities picked-up their deplorable impetus across the mid to late sixties era, the volume of government communiqués to concerned members of Australian households – had inflatingly increased in worrying proportion – the net result being, that should such an otherwise unwanted dispatch from the Canberra-based administrative centre be addressed to a customer on a postman’s specific ‘patch’, this relay had to be forwarded immediately as a priority, and well before the scheduled-round of general mail distribution commenced, together with a signature from the [fearful] recipient of the ghastly consignment in question.

Since the Genesis of his unenviable obligation, Arch had ceased with his ubiquitous, joyful tradition of whistling as he worked, ergo; an otherwise high-pitched litany of tuneless clamor that erringly attempted to resemble the works of Sinatra, Como, Elvis and The Beatles – those of which had laughingly heralded the indisputable fact that one’s letterbox was soon to contain a miscellany of letters, small packages and local paraphernalia, courtesy of the semi-musical gestures that signaled Arch’s attendance in the neighbourhood.

In this, the nation’s darkest hour since the threat of a Japanese invasion during WW2, it no longer seemed appropriate to unabashedly discharge whistling renditions of past and recent hit music – there was precious little reason to do so during these uncertain and testing days.

Arch was too, painfully aware that the widowed lady who resided at No.11, had not received an exchange to her perpetual letter-writing to a conscripted child for several weeks, he of a mere 21 summers on Mother Earth, he who had reluctantly taken a ticket on an army national-service lottery only months earlier – and he who didn’t wish to scoop the ‘prize’ on offer, thus; a potential one-way ticket to oblivion – yet, he grudgingly did so, along with thousands of other conscripted young men hailing from predominantly, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

The puce-textured documentation that Arch held in his moistened hand on one hot and humid November morning of ‘66, that of which he was engaged to ‘hand-over’ to the occupants of No. 11, would soon reveal the precise raison d’être behind the unclear correspondence famine from Vietnam – son and brother Devlin was deemed to be, ‘Missing-in-Action – Feared Dead!’

I never experienced the privilege of meeting this brave young man – or to the mother who bore him, what I do know is that his grief-stricken matriarch, soon drew the curtains to her son’s bedroom for the final time on the 17th of November 1966 – then unwavering locked the door to his sleeping chamber – never to be reopened during the course of her last four remaining years of life.

Over the days, weeks, months and years that followed the dutiful, if not reluctant postman’s brief visitation to her home – a once healthy, outgoing, loving and effervescent, materfamilias, was gradually transformed into a pitiable, reclusive and lost woman, one who only ventured out to the small veranda positioned to the front of her home on a vigilant, day-to-day basis, occupying a rickety wicker, well-worn chair, that which was strategically placed in a manner that would enable her to steadfastly, if not forlornly, gaze up the street in the direction of the close-at-hand railway station.

Yes, ‘Dev’ never said goodbye, consequently, within her aching, destroyed heart – and now out-of-tune psychological framework, she clung to the vexed credence that her boy would one day soon, proudly stride down the street in the direction of her outstretched arms and say, “hello Mum, I’m back!” – He never did!

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  1. A very moving post. Thank you.

  2. It is incredible what humans can endure both mentally and physically.

    This is an excellent account of a sad chapter in our lives. Unfortunately it seems that we can never learn from history.

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