As we find ourselves hurtling obsequiously and unerringly, yet resolutely and steadily, towards Christmas and a new year, 2022, I’ve found myself pondering on the uplifting concept of “Hope”. Defined optimistically as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen”, hope is intrinsically interwoven into the nuanced fabric of each of our lives, and is as much a prerequisite for the survival of the human race, I would argue, as air and water.
Could there be anything bleaker in a human life than the devastating absence of hope? I’ve read memoirs of those who have survived Nazi Concentration Camps (from the Second World War), and been told by these ex-prisoners in their stories that once fellow captives ‘gave up the ghost’, or lost all hope of surviving, death would follow soon after. There are two different examples of hope from my family that I’d like to share; in the first example, only starkly tenuous hope, and in the other case burgeoning optimism. The first case entails my paternal grandfather, Bill, who became a despondent prisoner-of-war of the Japanese, after being captured in the ‘Fall of Singapore’ in February 1942. Bill was sent to a menacingly abhorrent work camp in Burma, to work on the ill-fated Burma Railway.
The conditions in the work camp were abominable – the nicest possible way I can think of describing them. Prisoners were systematically starved, tortured and beaten by the guards, in addition to being forced to work when sick, and executed at the whim of a merciless guard. It is a miracle that Bill survived. His brother said to me years later that it was the merest flicker of hope that Bill held, that he would see his wife, Evelyn (my grandmother), and young son Bill (my father), again that engraved in him the will and fore-bearing to endure the heartbreakingly unendurable, and the inner strength to face another day.
Evelyn bore the cruel burden of having a husband M.I.A. (Missing in Action) for a long period of time (yet never gave up hope that Bill would be found alive), and wrote devotedly numerous letters to the Red Cross to attempt to find out firstly if Bill was alive or dead, and secondly his whereabouts. The Red Cross located Bill after a considerable amount of time had passed – in Burma.
Although terribly physically unwell, and deeply traumatised, after the war finished, Bill went on to live another twelve years. Although he died relatively young as a result of his war-time injuries and didn’t get the unreservedly ‘happy ever after’ ending that he wanted, my gallantly courageous grandfather showed to many that hope can exist in the unlikeliest of places.
I’d also like to share the story of my maternal great grandparents, Maud and Albert, who emigrated to Australia from London in 1912. Sensing, and ever-hopeful, that their children (they ended up having five; my grandmother, Betty, was the second eldest) would have a better life in Australia than England, Maud and Albert left England on a boat with only one pound (about one dollar and fifty cents in their pocket). Albert only ever did unskilled labour work to support the family, while Maud took in washing from wealthier families, scrubbed floors and taught the piano to children to contribute to the family coffers.
Despite never owning a house in Australia (Maud and Albert later told their children that if they’d had the money, they could have bought a house for 50 pounds at that time), and living meagerly, Maud and Albert were able to educate all of their children at the Brisbane Grammar Schools. The children (Maud, Betty, Albert, Rene and Ron) all went on to have stellar careers, marry and have successful, redeeming children and grandchildren. All of Maud and Albert’s children bought their own houses; a fact no doubt highly pleasing to Maud and Albert.
The hope imbued in Maud and Albert’s spirits as they set sail to an unknown and mysterious land, Australia, was to stay in their hearts up until their lives’ end. Maud and Albert’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren reaped the rewards of Maud and Albert’s bravery in seeking a brighter, shinier future for their children and their descendants.
With the dawning of Christmas and 2022, let us all cling to the amount of hope we possess in our lives – no matter what our circumstances. Let us count our blessings. Let us hope for a better year for ourselves and the world. That is the beautiful thing about a new year, we can leave the old behind, and look forward with hope and belief in our hearts that the new year will be better and more beautiful than the last, and that our desired dreams for ourselves and others may just come true.