January 24th, 2010
By David Wright (reprinted with permission from the writer's blog)
Snap is not a particularly impressive word. It’s too short and clipped to mean anything important. Words like parliament, serendipity and monarchy are impressive words. That’s why the Queen is a monarch and not a snap. For me however snap is personally significant. Its meaning was reconfirmed this week when I noticed an interesting article on a New Zealand news website (infonews.co.nz) describing what it called “possibly the biggest art event ever to be held in Italy”. It interested me because the event was being held in Cassino, Italy on May 15-29 to commemorate New Zealand’s involvement in the Battle of Monte Cassino 66 years ago.
It went on to say that “Kiwi artists who have a connection with soldiers who fought in Cassino will be first invited to take part. The dates mark the liberation of towns in the area during World War 2 and are Cassino’s “busy time” of the year with veterans groups, commemoration services and unveiling of new memorials.”
It would be stretching the truth to say I was a “Kiwi artist”. The truth is I was excused art at Wairoa College in favour of going to the gym to do weights. I thought my pictures of a dagger with a snake twisted around the blade were not too bad. I drew pretty good trees as well. I don’t know how many trees they’ve got at Monte Cassino but I’m sure I could do a fair job of putting their image on paper. Probably not good enough to merit an invitation to the Monte Cassino art show though.
However if my pictorial skills aren’t up to standard; does writing count as art? I’m not the best writer in the world. There are dozens of writers that drive me mad with their easy word skills. Roger Robinson’s writing is a rare example of classic prose. Jane is better than average too. Most Swimwatch readers will have picked that up already. Quite often I try and copy her sentence construction, grammar and vocabulary skills. Roger and Jane would certainly count as “artists”. But, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume I’d make an invitation to the final, albeit in lane eight.
You will notice that the other criterion to join the exhibition is to “have a connection with soldiers who fought in Cassino”. Here, I am on firm ground. My Dad was at Monte Cassino in a tank. Actually he wasn’t in a tank for very long. A German shell shot up his vehicle shortly after he arrived there. In Ron Crosby's book called “Albaneta – lost opportunity at Cassino” is my Dad's description of his exit from the war.
It was while looking at the possible route that we were hit. Regaining consciousness I saw that my arm was bleeding heavily and must have a tourniquet quickly. I looked up to see Joe Costello gazing through the turret at me. How he wasn’t hit is a mystery. Steve was slumped over his 75mm, bleeding badly from his back and head. Tom Middleton was lying on the floor, having fallen off his seat by the wireless. With difficulty I managed to traverse the turret by hand to enable Jack to scramble through to apply the tourniquet.Repairing the damage cost my father his right arm and eye.
This applied I told Jack to try the motors. It was with a prayer on our lips he pressed the starter. The left engine roared into life to be followed by the right immediately afterwards. With his head out of the driver’s hatch, the better to see and get maximum speed Jack drove out through our own tanks, which were still pounding away at the enemy, to the forward Casualty Station.
Forty five years later a lot had happened. My parents had married in a pretty elaborate ceremony in New Zealand’s First Church. I was born and my parents had divorced. My mother remarried and I lost contact with my father. He did pay for me to spend my senior year at high school in Thorp, Wisconsin and to attend New Zealand’s Outward Bound School. When Jane was twelve our swim team decided to have a summer training camp in Blenheim. My father lived there; it was time to re-establish contact. It was time for him to meet his granddaughter.
Just before we left for the camp I had an accident with a knife and cut two of the fingers on my right hand. It wasn’t all that bad but did merit eight or nine stitches and an impressively large bandage. Two days later we arrived in Blenheim. A barbeque had been arranged at my Dad’s home with his second wife, my half brother and sister and their families, all of whom I had never met. Jane seemed fine but I was pretty nervous as I walked up to the front door and rang the bell.
My Dad opened the door and paused for a moment studying the oversized bandage on my right hand. Ever so slowly he extended his only arm, his left arm to my left arm, gripped it firmly and said, “Snap”.