This is a true story.
My grandfather was an old man. He lived in a big house on a bend of the Murray River and spent his days watching the world pass by from the comfort of his verandah.
When I was eight years old my mother showed me her father’s medals.
“Granddad,” I blurted. “Did you ever shoot anyone?”
The old man lifted his head and smiled sadly. “I think I might have.”
I wanted to hear more.
“One morning the Germans attacked our position,” he spoke softly. “I raised my rifle and took aim. He fell over, that’s it.” The sadness in his eyes was terrible.
It would be another twelve years before we talked again.
“I hear you want to become a pastor.”
My grandfather had summoned me to his office and he did not look happy.
“I thought I might try Bible College first,” I offered.
“I never had much time for the church.” The old man pushed a large pulpit bible across his desk. “My grandmother brought this to Australia,” he said. “I want you to have it."
I opened the wooden cover and read the date – 1820.
“Did you ever read it?” I asked.
The question appeared to surprise him.
“I tried once, but couldn’t understand it.”
“Did the war have something to do with that?”
As soon as I spoke I regretted my audacity.
“Actually, it was one of our chaplains that stopped me from going mad,” he said with unusual gentleness.
Again, I wanted to hear more.
“I thought I killed a man.”
“The German soldier,” I suggested.
The old man’s eyes glassed over.
“The chaplain asked me two questions.”
I let him tell the story at his own pace.
“He asked me how many men were standing beside me in the trenches. Then he asked me how many of them might have fired at the same man.”
“He just said I could never be sure it was my bullet that killed him.”
What an odd way for a hero to think, I mused.
“When you go to Bible College I want you to answer a question.”
Suddenly I felt very much out of my depth.
“In the war our chaplains prayed for us to kill Germans.” I opened my mouth and then decided to shut it. “A hundred yards away there were chaplains praying for the Germans to kill us.” Grandfather pressed his fingers against his forehead.
“Tell me how that makes sense.”
Five years later the family gathered to say goodbye to Hector Macklin. His large family filled the church to overflowing. Later in the evening I placed the old Bible on the table.
“I want you to have this, Mum.”
“No, no, I couldn’t. He gave it to you,” my mother hesitated.
“Well, leave it to me in your will,” I offered.
My mother picked up the book and carefully opened the front cover.
“The war affected him deeply,” she murmured. “I remember the day our Mother dropped a pan. He was so upset he ran out of the house.” She closed the Bible. “We found him an hour later in the top paddock. He was in a terrible state.”
“Today they would call that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” I suggested.
We sat quietly, each with our own memories.
“Sometimes he would walk down to the church and sit outside. He liked to listen to us singing hymns.”
I found that piece of news comforting. Five thousand men died at Fromelles and another five thousand at Pozieres. Yet somehow my grandfather had survived.
“They told him it was the war that would end all wars. They told him to forget everything he had seen and never look back,” Mum continued. “But somehow I don’t think he ever got over it.”
Unfortunately I never found the answer to my grandfather’s question. But I had prayed for him.
"You know, just before he died he called your Uncle Bob," my mum added pouring herself a cup of tea. "He said he had made his peace with God."
"That's wonderful," I smiled.
"Thank you, Lord," I prayed silently. "Thank you for Granddad's life."
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