Stars and Stripes Forever

The old phonograph played Stars and Stripes as we schoolchildren marched out to Air Raid Drill. Nobody thought for one serious moment that the Japanese would invade the Queensland coast but Mr. Bytheway, our headmaster, had his instructions from the Department of Education and so march we did, to John Sousa, the flutes all a-twiddle. It all seemed very cheerful, appropriate too, since Queensland was by then teeming with American servicemen.

Inside the raw red earth trenches we were instructed about keeping our heads down. It was all a great giggle. In the rainy season we hunched, getting all muddy crouched over puddles in the sand-bagged trenches, anxious for the all clear and the piccolos to escort us back to the jail of the schoolroom.

No enemy planes could ever find Lowood, huddled as it was in the shelter of the Great Dividing Ranges, remote inland Queensland. Besides, blackout regulations were rigid.

My father was issued with a revolver. It was always kept loaded. "If those yellow devils come, I'll shoot you and the nipper," he said to my mother, his face grim. No womenfolk of his would fall into enemy hands! I didn't fancy the idea. Secretly I planned to hide up in the manhole in the ceiling. The possibility of venomous snakes made it hazardous. I wondered which would be the lesser evil. Could the Japanese be worse than DEATH? I didn't think so!

Once an American from the nearby Army base rode by on a hired horse and started chatting to me out the front of our house. In his home-spun words he made America come vividly alive for me more than any movie. I swung on the garden gate talking excitedly and listening to this fascinating stranger until my mother called me inside for tea. "Waal, you be a good lil gal and one day when you grow up I'll come back and marry you," the American drawled as he rode off into the gathering green twilight.

He didn't know my name nor I his. But I clung onto the hope that he'd return, even long after we'd left Lowood and gone wandering with the Air Force all around Australia, wherever my father was posted. I didn't know how my American friend would find me again but I never doubted him. He'd sounded so sincere, so positive! Besides, who would lie about something so important?

Lowood. Then just a dot on the map in Queensland, Australia but engraved on my heart as the place where I first came to know the steady but inexplicable beat of war.

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