Monday, July 15, 2024

Horizontal violence

A poem essay about wind (the weather variety)


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Weather fascinates me. Where I have lived for the last forty years - Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand - has weather, particularly wind, which it is reknowned for. Like Chicago, it is called the “Windy City” and, as the sign near Wellington's airport suggests, it can put airplane landing experiences on a par with bungy-jumping. On very windy days, Wellingtonians with nothing better to do will pack their kids into the car and drive to the airport for free plane-landing entertainment. Just the other day, a Wellington digital artist opened an exhibition entitled Rivers of Wind. It is an artistic simulation based on eight years of weather data gathered from the weather station at Wellington airport.

Photo of 'Wellington" distressed sign at the airport
Image: Canva

On Wellington’s wind-tunnel streets, people have been blown over and broken bones trying to cross the road. Holding onto lamp posts has become a  survival tactic for even sober Wellingtonians. The city’s outdoor ball sports, such as football and rugby, sometimes end up being contested across the width of the field rather than up and down its length. Visiting cricket teams have exhausted themselves (and lost the match) fielding and bowling into the wind. In the following poem, I've tried to capture what it's like living here.


The Northwest Wind Gang is back


Past masters of horizontal violence

skulk about town, by Featherston, on Stout,

down Customhouse Quay. Bully boy racer

blowhards, they belt you in the back, throw sand

in your eyes, then hoon around night and day

all taunt, jostle, swashbuckling hiss and spit,

drag racing in great gusts, trashing the streets.

Near Brooklyn Heights and Tinakori Hill 

it’s hit and run for fun, breaking the limbs

of young trees and old ladies before

shrieking off to push and shove the ferries

and flatten the harbour. Oh, for a big

High to arrest the lot, pack them off for

a spell in Mākara’s Wind Farm Prison.


The poem describes the effects of the city's prevailing northwesterlies, but Wellington’s wind doesn’t blow all the time. In fact, there is a national saying, delivered with admiration rather than derision, that states 'Nothing beats Wellington on a good day'. New Zealand's geography has a lot to do with Wellington's wind diet. It is a skinny country comprising two main islands aligned more or less north-south. Both islands have mountain range spines and these affect the direction and speed of winds. The stretch of water between the two islands - Cook Strait- acts as a funnel for nor'west winds, which makes boat trips as fraught as flying into Wellington on days which are not good.


The capital isn't selfish though - it also gets beaten up by southerly gales. The end of the North Island is exposed to the south and storms originating in the Antarctic bring snow and ice to places in which they no right to be. I once lived in a hill suburb to the north of Wellington city. Our house had a view directly south to the mouth of Wellington harbour and I could often see southerly storms on their way for a rather robust hail-fellow-well-met embrace.


Wellington Southerly

Those whose windows quiz Cook Strait spy it first

a horizon smudge, a pencil line that

becomes a wall for all to fear and curse.

The sun, before so charming, smells a rat

grabs a jacket, gloves, hat, turns off the lights.

On the Valley’s river gravel runways,

gulls face south in staunch platoons, feathers spiked

shoulders hunched, ready for the stoush and fray.

White-top relays are first to open fire –

harbingers of rain and ice, they charge the

harbour’s mouth, smash at teeth and gums, expire.

Then in Seatoun, Kelburn, and Khandallah

on earth and house, railway line and road

the weather bomb ignites its fuse, explodes.



New Zealand is also subject to cyclones (hurricanes) that originate in the tropics and make their way south. Many slide their way down either side of the country and we miss their full effects. Others lose steam by the time they get to us. Some, however, give us much more than a tickle up. Last year (2023), many parts of the North Island were badly affected by Cyclone Gabrielle. In 1968, a huge cyclone arrived over Wellington at the same time that an inter-island ferry (the Wāhine) was trying to enter Wellington Harbour. The ferry sank with the loss of 51 lives. Some survivors made it to safety at Eastbourne on the far side of the harbour. I was living in Christchurch in the South Island at the time and Marg, my wife-to-be whom I hadn't yet met, was in Wellington. We talked about our respective experiences with good friend Doug, a Wāhine survivor.


What we were doing on Wāhine Day


Huge trees fell down in Christchurch.

I listened all day to the air waves

for news of the seas in Wellington.

Marg sat on a train at Ngauranga,

waves breaking over the carriage.

Marg and I cried when Doug said

he jumped ship almost too late.


At the Eastbourne pub

Doug lined up a beer and whiskey –

and was asked to pay. We went round

the bays one day and found where

his lifeboat beached (the pub had gone).

Thirty years on he sailed again –

this time by fast-ferry.



I have also lived (twice) in another North Island place which gets its fair share of zephyrs on steroids - Linton Camp on the Manawatū plains, in the Island's southwest. It is subject to the same Nor'westers that infest Wellington but with the plains being flat, the wind is able to pick up speed before it has to scale the mountain ranges in the middle of the island. There is a low point in the ranges through which the wind is funneled, so it concentrates without having to slow down. It wasn't a great distance from where we lived and some, who have pitched tent in both Linton and Wellington, rate the former's winds as the more tent-wrecking bovver-boyish.

The sea trees of Linton Camp


Tall pines, gracelessly aged

lived across the road.


Their long limbs spun wind into sea –

at night, waves salved us to sleep.


Garages squatted under the trees.

When Linton’s winds scythed strong


people ran to retrieve cars

fearing falling trees.


Cones pot-shotted our roof

but no pines fell. We re-berthed


in Trieste Street a few years on.

Stepping-stone stumps stood


where the trees once grew.

The garages had been felled too.


But when the gales blew in Manawatū

white-tops still surfed that street.



 All this wind experience led me to thinking about how life and lives can be impacted by real and metaphorical wind over time. This ghazal-form poem is a reflection on that.


Winds and time


Through our lives blow many winds and gales.

Tomorrow’s forecast is for dangerous gales.


Loved ones and their dreams are drowned at sea

when storms cause ships on shoals to sail.


At night, the moon is lashed by trees

while men go mad from days of nor’west gales.


Wind on sand makes seas of crescent moons

and sand on winds of time all life assails.


Take my hand, Margret my love, we’ll climb the tops

lean forward, yell, push back tomorrow’s gales.



Versions of these poems were published  in Tongues of Ash, Keith Westwater (Interactive Press, 2011) and other publications. 

Friday, May 31, 2024

Peas for our thyme

Header image with map, small boy with cap
Images: Canva

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Warning: this is not about companion planting or cooking.


On most days that start with W, I have a couple of wines with a couple of friends. We are known as the ‘Wednesday Boys’ and the establishment we go to serves us a glass of white followed by one of red and then quizzes us on what wines we have been given. Our hit rate isn’t great, so we not unreluctantly return each week for more practise. (We have been doing this for about 35 years now and still to learn much we have.)

When the Wednesday Boys were teenagers sixty years ago, they started to take notice of cars, girls and goings on beyond their villages. Even before then, they and their friends knew there had been a Second World War. Those that could count also knew that there had  been a First World War, but were more fuzzy about that one. They knew about WWII because they would run around with their arms flung out pretending they were spitfires and ratta-tat-tatting imaginary Jerries. Their war knowledge came not from the mouths of their former-soldier fathers, whose lips remained post-war shut until loosened by beer at the Returned Services premises, entry to which children were verboten.  It came instead from comics and the Saturday afternoon flicks. At the matinee they would gape (or would have, had their mouths not been full of jubes and aniseed balls) at films starring stiff-upper-lip Brits who went around saying things like "Tally-ho!" and "Chocks away!" before flying Spitfires that shot down (or up) slightly more realistic Jerries.


Later, after they stopped smirking at the words of the rude song they had somehow learnt that compared the presence, absence or size of the testicles of Hitler and his henchmen ('Hitler had only one big...', etc.), curiosity about the global how’s-your-father began to manifest itself. It was aided by history books, especially those with grainy photos of battles and people who were considered important enough to be in the tome. One such person, who dressed in a more fuddy-duddy way than his successor as the UK's Prime Minister, was Neville Chamberlain. (Wing-tip shirt collar and top hat as opposed to Churchill's bow tie and homburg). As Chamberlain had been preceded by Baldwin, it seemed that some sort of alphabetical queue for UK PM was forming. (The Brits were famous for inventing orderly waitings-in-line.) That was until the premier alphabet apple cart was upset by Attlee, who came after Churchill when Winston was famously rejected by the post-war electorate.


Photo of Chamberlain holding up a sheaf of papers with crowd behind him
Neville Chamberlain. Source: Public domain photo

Contemporary photos of Chamberlain often show him climbing out of a prime-ministerial car or clambering down the steps of a plane clutching a sheaf of papers. In film-reel footage he seemed to be victoriously proclaiming, in a very quavery voice, "Peas for our thyme! Peas for our thyme!"  (Often mis-quoted as "Peas in our thyme!") Some may have thought he was exhorting  the British citizenry to take up allotment gardening (which surprisingly became a critical factor in maintaining Britain’s wartime food supply). 

All this happened in September 1938, shortly after Chamberlain had met with Herr Hitler and believed he had brought home a deal that would stop Germany from doing more outrageous war-like things in Europe. Lesson 1 for Neville: you can’t trust megalomaniacs who spit and froth at the mouth while whipping storm troopers, panzer divisions, and stuka pilots into a frenzy. Hitler had spotted Chamberlain’s weakness - he was an appeaser, someone who believed that reason and signed pieces of paper detailing concessions by the power-under party would prevail in the bear pit if accompanied by enough tellings-off of the party with the power. In fact, not only was Neville most comfortable when he was tutt-tutting Hitler, but his government had a policy of appeasement towards Germany. In such circumstances, Adolf  decided he could take his eye off Britain, but hadn’t banked on its government rolling Chamberlain in 1940 and replacing him with Churchill. The new PM had a very different reading of Adolf’s Third Reich tea leaf intentions. Lesson 1 of a large number not heeded by Hitler.


Head and shoulders photo of Winston Churchill wearing Homburg hat and smoking a cigar
Winston Churchill. Image: Canva

A long time after the terrible events that were about to engulf the globe, the Wednesday Boys were imbibing . “What do you make of the goings-on in Russia?” asked WB1. It was late June 2023. As usual, they were putting off talking about the white wine in front of them as they frantically searched for missing-in-action neural pathways that might help in its identification. “Dunno,” said WB2. “Putin’s a murderous tyrant and Prigozhin’s a murdering mercenary. Neither does appeasement – who assassinates the other first wins (and we now know who that was)… you know what, I'm pretty sure this is a Chardonnay.”


They were interrupted by mine-wine-bar host. “What’s the verdict?” he asked in his slightly (but genuine) French accent, eyebrows askance. A  set of definite responses from all the WBs revealed they had hit the mark. It was indeed a Chardonnay.


three glasses of chardonnay
Image: Canva



Monday, May 6, 2024

Anzac reflections - why Gallipoli was a tragedy of errors

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I live not far from an Army base at the southern end of New Zealand's North Island - Trentham Military Camp. It was the staging post for many of our country's deployments of troops to World War One’s battlefields, a hemisphere away. 

The First World War is still an enigma to me, confined to the kitbag of inexplicable matters, alongside why men have nipples. (The reasons for a Second World War can be explained relatively easily - a sociopathic, racist, genocidal madman decided that he had the right to wreak havoc in Europe and kill millions of people in the process while punishing those countries who punished Germany for starting the First World War.)

I didn't study history at school, so taught myself the art of shining light into the past’s musty corners. What I found out about the origins of WW1 was that in the decades leading up to it, two groups of nations had formed sides (much like in ‘Bullrush’, the schoolyard game I played as a boy). On the goodies team were the UK (and its empire), France, and Russia (the Entente powers) with Italy and the US piling on later. On the dark side were Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). By August 1914, the name-calling and tongue-poking-out between the two groups of countries and their proxies had markedly deteriorated. A full-scale punch-up erupted when the German side took umbrage at the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

Map of Europe in 1914 with Gallipoli peninsula circled in red. A compass and ruler lie on top of the map
Europe, 1914, Gallipoli Peninsula circled.
Credit: Canva

The Gallipoli campaign formed part of the War's early tapestry. The campaign was staged by the Entente powers in 1915 as part of a strategy aimed at forcing a passage through the Dardanelle Straits and from there capturing Constantinople (Istanbul), the Turkish Ottoman capital. This would have confined Turkey to the war's sidelines and allowed a supply route through to the Black Sea and thence to Russia. It would have also cut the Ottoman Empire in two.

The Entente army was a multi-national body of troops and the 25th April 1915 plan of attack involved Army forces landing on beaches below the steeply-hilled Gallipoli Peninsula. One set of landing points for British and French troops was at Cape Helles at the southern tip of the peninsula. The Australian and New Zealand component (the Anzacs) were to be landed at Gaba Tepe, halfway up the western coast of Gallipoli. The Army units were transported there aboard naval ships which then provided covering fire for the landings. One of the campaign's main sponsors was Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty (the political head of the British Royal Navy).

Head and shoulders of Winston Churchill in naval uniform
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The campaign proved to be a disaster for the Entente powers. The only success they had was when they vacated the peninsula without casualties in January 1916, nine months after the landings. The Ottoman Turks didn’t twig to the withdrawal but rightly claimed a great victory. 


Why did the Entente powers suffer this snafu (military acronym for major stuff-up)? The major contributing factors were:

  1. Poor and hasty planning. The Gallipoli landings were actually the campaign's ‘Plan B'. In mid-March, Plan A was attempted – a  British naval attack aimed at forcing a way through the Dardenelle straits and capturing Constantinople. It was seriously dealt to by the Turkish gun emplacements and mobile artillery on the peninsula and failed in its efforts. Yet, little over a month later, Entente Army units were being landed from naval craft on unreconnoitered shores beneath a steeply-hilled terrain which the Turks had fortified. In the dark and with tides having not been sufficiently taken into account, the Anzacs ended up landing a mile further north than was intended, at what became known as Anzac Cove. Both landings suffered heavy casualties and could only establish toeholds which in the end, despite much heroism and bravery, were unable to be expanded.
  2. Underestimation of the enemy's prowess. The campaign's planners thought that because the British had earlier defeated the Ottoman Turks in Mesopotamia, they would be 'easy-beats' in Gallipoli. That first battle was against conscripts from Iraq. The Gallipoli peninsula, however, was defended by experienced Anatolian Turks who were protecting their homeland from invasion. Capable German and Turkish officers were in command (including Mustafa Kemal, who went on after the war to found modern Turkey). The Turks held the high ground, fought ferociously and the Entente land forces could not dislodge them for any length of time.
  3. Atrocious conditions. The toeholds gained by the Entente troops were insufficient for supplies to be stored, waste to be disposed of and bodies to be buried. Wounded soldiers had to be ferried back to naval ships waiting offshore. Infestations of rats and lice broke out and dysentery was rife, spread by huge swarms of flies breeding on the unburied corpses.


Sepia-toned photo of soldiers pointing rifles and moving out of trenches at Gallipoli
Turkish soldiers fighting at Gallipoli.
Credit: Canva
The campaign led to large numbers of casualties on both sides. At the highest level for the British, the outcome also resulted in Winston Churchill being demoted. He then resigned from the UK government, joined the army and fought in France. (Churchill's humiliation probably contributed  twenty-five years later – when he was British PM – to him strongly insisting on meticulous planning for the D-Day landings of World War Two.)


Today, in and around Trentham Camp, there are permanent reminders in the form of street names of those terrible World War One battles - Anzac Drive, Messines Avenue, Suvla Road, Gallipoli Road, Somme Road, Gaba Tepe Way.  Each year on the 25th of April, New Zealanders and Australians pay special homage  to those who died in war. We wear red poppies (as abundant on the hills of Gallipoli as they were in Flanders’ fields).  Local communities mount street banners with poppy emblems on them, and memorial services are held throughout each country and in other countries, including Turkey. The day is known as Anzac Day.

Street banner of a poppy emblem on a lamp-post
Poppy banner, Lower Hutt, April 2024
Image: Keith Westwater

Monday, April 15, 2024

Anzac Reflections – the man, the donkey, and the quail


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Sculpture of a wounded soldier astride a donkey being led by a medical corpsman
(, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Man with the Donkey, Pukeahu National
Memorial Park, Wellington, NZ 

The bronze sculpture of The Man with the Donkey, by Paul Walshe, depicts New Zealand Medical Corps stretcher bearer Richard Henderson and his donkey carrying a wounded soldier from the battlefield at Galliopli in 1915. Henderson continued his work at the Battle of the Somme the next year. He repeatedly rescued the wounded while under heavy fire and was later honoured with the Military Medal.

Photo of a medium-sized tree in bloom with red flowers
Credit: Lainey Myers-Davies

The statue sits beneath a stand of Pohutukawa Trees. Also known as New Zealand's Christmas Tree, their red flowers bloom in December and provide magnificent displays up and down most of the country. Close by is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which contains the remains of a New Zealand soldier who died on the Somme during the First World War.


photo of a Californian quail showing distinctive brown and grey plumage
Californian Quail (Image: Canva)

The man, the donkey, and the quail

After midnight, when the traffic quietened, the man could hear the quail calling "Where ARE you? Where ARE you?" as it marched towards the tomb. 

"G’day mate," said the man. "I see you’re back on duty tonight. Smart uniform you’ve got there. I like the browns and the plume. Nice grey tunic. Very Kiwi, very Army. You are a Kiwi aren’t you?" asked the man, looking a little puzzled.
"Well I’m a Californian quail, actually. But I hatched here, so I guess that makes me a Kiwi as well," said the quail. "And thanks for the compliment – I try to look my best for him," he remarked, looking at the tomb. "He deserves it – so, do you, come to think of it."
"Just did my job for the Anzacs, mate," said the man. "If anyone deserves a fuss, it’s the donk here, not me. Must have carried a good couple of hundred wounded out of Quinn’s Post." 
The quail nodded his head towards the Unknown Warrior. "Was he there?" he asked.
"Dunno, mate," said the man. "Could have been. He copped it later on in France, possibly the Somme. I got gassed at Passchendaele. We Kiwis lost thousands on the Western Front – more than at Gallipoli."
"I was up country when they brought him home," said the quail. "About a year ago wasn’t it? What was it like?"
"Aw, mate, you missed a show. Eleventh of November it was – Armistice Day. Your Army lot did him real proud, slow-marching him here all the way from the cathedral, crowds lining the footpaths, real quiet-like, big-wigs all over the place, famous poets, padres, not a dry eye for miles. Tell you what though, that funeral march they played – it still makes me fair shiver, the way it sounded."
The quail stood silently on one leg for a while, leaning against the tomb.
"How many more guard-nights are you on for?" asked the man.
"Not sure. No one else seems to be putting their hands up. Why?"
"Strewth," said the man, sounding embarrassed. "It’s just that I could do with some company over the next few weeks – my nerves get a bit stretched this time a’year. Truth is, around Christmas this tree here starts bleeding all over the ground and I...I mean the donk doesn’t handle it too well."

In early November 2005, a Californian Quail was reported to have taken up a periodic sentinel by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the steps of the National War Memorial.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Anzac Reflections – Gallipoli missing

drawing of old buildings backgrounded by pen-writing on old paper; image of young boy with cloth cap
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Photo of a large memorial with crosses on its four faces. Graves are in the foreground
New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Lone Pine,
Gallipoli, Turkey. Image: Lainey Myers-Davies

Recent research indicates that at least 16,000, possibly more than 17,000, NZ Expeditionary Force (NZEF) soldiers served at Gallipoli in the First World War (Wikipedia) in the period April - December 1915. During the entire War, the NZEF experienced a 58% casualty rate, one of the highest of any country's forces in WW1. Given that New Zealand's total population at the start of the War was just over one million, the country was hit hard by its losses. At Gallipoli, due to the extreme terrain and type of combat, 67% (1,862) of those killed were recorded as 'missing' (had no known grave). The New Zealand Memorial at Lone Pine – one of many features on the peninsula that was closely-contested by Anzac troops  – has the names of 753 missing NZ soldiers recorded on it. There are four other memorials at Gallipoli dedicated to New Zealand Anzacs.

Map showing Anzac Cove in relation to named features on the Gallipoli Peninsula
Gallipoli plateaus and ridges the Anzacs fought on. Source : Gsl at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gallipoli Missing 



ANZAC Cove  Chunuk Bair
Courtney's Post   The Daisy
Patch   Dead Man's Ridge
Destroyer Hill   The Farm
Fishermen's Hut   Gaba Tepe
Happy Valley   Hill Q Hill 971
Howitzer Gully   Hughes Gully
Johnston's Jolly Long Sap   Lone
Pine   Malone's Gully   Monash
Gully   The Nek Otago Gully
Outpost No. 1 Overton Gully 

Plugge's Plateau   Quinn's Post…














......Taihape  Tairua   Takaka
Taumarunui   Taupo   Tauranga
Te Anau   Te Aroha   Te
Awamutu   Te Kauwhata   Te
Kuiti   Te Puke   Temuka
Thames   Timaru   Tokoroa
Turangi     Upper Hutt   Waihi
Waihi Beach   Waikouaiti
Waimate   Waiouru   Waipawa
Waipukurau   Wairoa   Waitara 
Waiuku   Wakefield   Wanaka

Warkworth   Wellington.....…..



Keith Westwater

This 'shape' poem was commended in the New Zealand Poetry Society's 2015 International Poetry Competition and published in its anthology Scattered Feathers. The horizontal bar of the cross names a few of the large number of NZ Gallipoli missing. The top portion of the vertical column identifies battle-sites and other features on the peninsula that the Anzacs fought for and over. Some of the villages, towns, and cities that New Zealand soldiers enlisted from to travel to fight in a war half a world away are listed in the lower part of the cross. All these places have war memorials naming their casualties.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Anzac Reflections – Counting Casualties

drawing of old buildings backgrounded by pen-writing on old paper; image of young boy with cloth cap

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photo of sun shine on sea with stony beach in foreground
The Aegean Sea from Anzac Cove at sunset Image: Lainey Myers-Davies

April 25th is known as Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. The day commemorates citizens of the two countries who were killed in war and honours returned and serving servicemen and women. It was on this day in 1915 when Australian and New Zealand troops, or Anzacs as they came to be known, had their first major military action of the First World War. That action was the landing at ANZAC Cove on the Dardanelle Peninsula in Turkey at the start of the Gallipoli campaign.


photo of naval ships in background with soldiers moving up steep gullies and hills at Anzac Cove

New Zealand and Australian soldiers landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey.

Credit: New Zealand Free Lance: Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-5936-18. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22768446

Counting Casualties

Battlefield statisticians were good

at counting Gallipoli's casualties – 


2, 779 died

4, 852 wounded

67 % missing 



for how our soldiers expired

were compiled – 


died of wounds

died of sickness

died of other causes

just plain killed. 


After, when the stench

from the trenches resiled

and the rats and the flies

ran out of flesh to defile

artefacts for the dead

were erected on the Peninsula – 




Memorials to the Missing 


With no bodies for burial

home soil saw proliferation of – 


War Memorials

Rolls of Honour

Gardens of Remembrance 


Other consequences

attributable to the Expedition

went uncounted – 


holes in the fabric of families

women unwed for the lack of men

bedrooms preserved in memory of sons

suicide of boys-school headmasters

(they’d blown the recruiter’s bugle)

premature ends of those at home

(and those who made it back) – 


died of despair

died of brokenness

died of sick in the head

Keith Westwater

I wrote this poem after hearing an anecdote about a headmaster at a large school for boys who, in response to all the jingoism at the start of the First World War, actively encouraged school-leavers to enlist in the NZ Army. As lists of 'Old Boy' casualties - particularly of those who had been killed - grew, the head became increasingly depressed and died in circumstances that suggested suicide. He was probably not the only headmaster to do so. From my experience in serving in the military, I was already aware of the way the casualties of war are counted and classified. I was taken with the notion that we don't put the same effort into counting and categorising those 'back home' who also become casualties of war.


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