Australian Author Challenge : Enemy by Ruth Clare

Ruth Clare’s debut Enemy won the Asher Literary Award, offered biennially to a female author whose work carries an anti-war theme. She was born in Brisbane, Queensland,  and raised in Rockhampton. She earned a degree in biochemistry and journalism at QUT in Brisbane, Queensland. She went on to train as a copywriter and worked in advertising. During this time she had been working on a manuscript. After finishing it in 2014 she found an agent. Her first book was published in 2016.

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With the opening sentence, “I was born into the war still raging inside my father”, the reader immediately gathers that this autobiography is not going to be an easy read.

Doug Callum is an ex Vietnam Veteran, with a wife and three young children, with Ruth being the middle child. He is a totally different person to the young man conscripted to Vietnam and who was involved in the Battle of Coral–Balmoral. This battle (12 May – 6 June 1968) was a series of actions fought between the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) and the North Vietnamese 7th Division and Viet Cong Main Force units, 40 kilometres north-east of Saigon.

Ruth tells her harrowing story as a child growing up in a household of regimentation and strict discipline. She and her siblings are often covered in bruises and Ruth lives constantly on guard in fear of upsetting her father, and feeling unloved and unwanted.

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“I had never been to war, but I knew what it was like to be prepared to face the enemy every day. The difference was, my enemy wasn’t a faceless stranger. My enemy was someone I loved.”

She also tells her story as a young mother with her own children, looking back to take stock of her father’s behaviour, which she later learns has all the hallmarks of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She seeks out and communicates with numerous Vietnam Vets who admit to similar antisocial traits as well as seeking counselling through the Vietnam Veterans Association.

When Ruth’s parents inevitably divorce, we breathe a sigh of relief – though not for long. PTSD is insidious and leaches into other situations with frightening ramifications.

However, Ruth’s story is not all bleak and you can’t but admire her personal strength and resilience, as well as her compassion for her flawed father and other PTSD sufferers. On a more personal level I admire the author’s willingness to learn the details of her Dad’s role in the military, something he rarely discussed, which adds greatly to her understanding of his condition.

Doug Callum died too young of a skin cancer, suspected to have been brought on by sitting in the jungle of Vietnam for days on end with Agent Orange raining overhead.

I also respect Ruth for her compassion for her mother who has her own demons.

Written extremely well, this is another of those books that should be included on High School Reading Lists, not only for its information about the war in Vietnam, but also mental health awareness and domestic violence issues.

Not a “nice” book, but one that would have taken much courage to write.

NOTE: June is PTSD Awareness Month in Australia.

Births, Deaths and Marriages with Vera Lynn.

More reflection upon the anniversary of the death of both my father and father-in-law. Passing is a more acceptable term, with connotations of soft music and a gentle transition. Neither of these hard, old men departed softly or with gentleness, determined to kick and holler all the way, just as they had lived. Same date, different year. I like to think that wherever they may be they are enjoying a cold ale together and having a good gripe about the state of Australian cricket.

Funny enough, this is the first time I’ve taken any interest in cricket. Always found it as interesting as watching paint dry. What about you?

Sorry, that’s a fib. I do remember back in the mid 60’s watching Garfield Sobers on the Tele hitting lots of sixes. Must have been that special father-daughter time, like watching Cassius Clay boxing, or Sunday nights with Hoss and Little Joe at The Ponderosa.

When my Dad relocated to a new home on the beautiful south coast where he would spend his days fishing, bowling and home brewing, I gifted him a colour television. Boy, did this make watching cricket that more palatable – you could finally see the ball. As a child I don’t think I even realised that the game of tennis was even about hitting a ball : never saw anything round shaped on the old black and white, and was quite clueless as to the point of it all. Yeah, not much has changed…….

He retired at 52 having outlived both the war bride and the love of his life, and having survived Bomber Command. His proudest achievement was 28 years of life in the slow lane in his quaint little village by the sea.

The father-in-law, a Scouse with an accent as thick as treacle, was an old Sea dog.

Put the two together and things became interesting, especially towards the later hours in the night. The Scouse, an old story teller from way back would pull out yarns of questionable content, whilst my Dad, who used to sing in English pubs for extra beer money when not flying, would break into song……or harmonica.

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So, for both these tough old buggers I have just read wartime entertainer Vera Lynn’s autobiography.

Some Sunny Day follows Vera’s musical career which started before she was a teenager, singing alongside her father in English working clubs. In the 1930’s she worked in radio though it wasn’t until World War 2 that she became an iconic figure amongst service personnel, with her songs of hearth and home.

We join Vera on her travels around the world performing for the troops, where her spirit, along with her ability to connect with the men fighting for their country and those left behind praying for their loved ones, made her the ‘Forces Sweetheart.”

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Her career after the war flourished, with hits in the US and the UK, but Vera was never able to leave behind her wartime role and was deeply affected by what she had seen. She details the hardships of rationing and living with bombs falling overhead, as well as the joy of performing with talented musicians and the fun of singing in dance halls.

Dame Vera Lynn turned 101 on the 20th of March.

This is an interesting book, though one written by a gentle woman from another time. There is no gossip, no sex, no surprises. What you see is what you get. Her later years were of little excitement unless you count popping in for a regular Devonshire Tea with the Queen Mum a thrill. It is a reminder of ordinary people living in extraordinary times.

My Dad always held Vera Lynn right up there.

So Cheers to all three of you. I know “we’ll meet again”.

Now, any more cricketers been sent home yet?