Our Parents Return

Robert Shiells

The following script is based on passages from George Johnston’s My Brother Jack published in 1964. The early chapters chronicle the impact of World War I on the Johnston Family. The script was performed at the Official Launch of PeaceWorks! in Canberra in 2015.

This story tells how two parents (who were involved with WW1) returned home. It depicts how its impact affected injured soldiers who inhabited their world.

Characters / Costumes

Jack, late 30s, is the older brother of David. Jack wears business attire. He wears nice suit pants and shirt (blue or light colour, not white), braces and a jacket. Finally Jack has an old hat (like a bowler hat).

David, late 30s, is the younger brother of Jack. Like Jack he wears a nice suit shirt (light coloured) and pants with a belt with sleeves rolled up.


Cane (Jack)

Pipe (Jack)

A beer bottle (Jack)

A hat (Jack)

1 harmonica (David)

2 bandages (David)


Jack and David walk on stage and stand facing the audience from difference sides of the stage. Jack walks on wearing a hat and has a pipe and a bottle of beer in his pockets. Jack uses a cane and after he walks on he places the cane upstage left in the corner then walks forward to face the audience in position. David walks on with a harmonica and bandages in his pockets. He walks straight to his position and faces the audience. There is tension between the two.


Hello everyone my name is David Meredith and this is my brother.

Jack interrupts


Jack Meredith at your service (he salutes the audience)


Yes Jack is my older brother Jack:


No Davy – You’re my younger brother. Anyway we should start the story.


Yes, you’re right!

Looks back to the audience.

This is a story about our parents’ return from World War 1.


It is called – “Our Parents Return.”

Jack and David turn around and walk upstage and then turn back to face the audience. Jack takes off his hat when he starts to talk. They use their props at different points when it is appropriate.

Dad was away at what was referred to as “The Front” for four years altogether, and Mother for rather more than three.


(Smug) Three and a half years Jack…


(Sarcastically) Why thank you David because three and a half years is not more than three. Now CAN I FINISH THE STORY?

David signals to say that Jack can proceed.

They both came home in 1919, but not together, because Mother returned, of course, in a hospital ship. An odd thing was that in all the time they were in France together they never once succeeded in making contact with each other. Dad went back to his old job at the tramway depot but Mother got herself transferred to the operating theatre in the hospital and went on being a nursing sister.

Jack picks up the cane and plays with it – walks forward with it from there.

I remember artificial hospital limbs and crutches strewn all around the hall. When the front door slammed in a gusty wind one day it shattered the decorative leadlight side panels of red and green and blue and amber glass and the limbs clattered in chaos across the entry.


My earliest image is of the troopship Ceramic, with her four rakish masts and her tall tilted smokestack, coming home to the flags and the festoons of garlands and the triumphal arches and the bands playing Sousa marches on the pier at Port Melbourne. The Ceramic was the transport that had taken Mother away; the coincidence was that it was the same ship that brought Dad home. I had not expected the vivid redness of the rust and the red-lead, which to my awed childish imagination looked like blood pouring down the ship’s side. Perhaps it was.

Jack brings out the pipe and starts to smoke.

When I was seven, and small for my age, a day stood out for me as the scariest day of my childhood. The fear involved the interminable blaring of brass bands, and a ceaseless roar of shouting and cheering, and the unending trampling past of gigantic legs. Then the scariest moment of all was when a strong voice, hoarse with excitement, began to shout “Minnie! Minnie!” and without warning I was seized suddenly and engulfed by a giant. I could only smell tobacco and beer but saw a ruddy face grinning at me below a tilted slouch hat and thin fair hair receding above a broad freckled brow. Then there was a roar of laughter, and I was put down.


Minnie was my mother. She had come back from the war three months earlier than Dad, but was at the hospital and still pretty much a stranger so on the day of the scary event, while waiting for Dad to get off the ship, I squeezed Grandma’s hand tightly.

David tries to play one of the songs on his harmonica.


At home neighbours and relatives had erected a big arch above the wire mesh of our front gate, with “Welcome Home” to mother and father picked out in daisies and snapdragons and carnations against a background of lily leaves and gum tips. The party that evening involved everybody crowded around the piano and singing “The Rose of No Man’s land”, “Blighty”, “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kitbag” and other songs. My fondest memory was everyone getting drunk and that was hilarious. I also recall that I was fed so much fruit salad and jelly that I vomited. That for me was how the First World War ended.

David uses his bandages and wraps them poorly around Jack’s arm. Jack allows him and then hits him with the cane.


Jack and I must have shared certain similar feelings about the hallway and the wounded men in our house who Mother brought home to stay. We had to be turned out of our room, and for four years we shared a makeshift bed on the floor of the verandah which was partitioned off by fly wire screens and a lot of damp ferns.

In Melbourne when the hospital ships and transport were bringing sick and wounded Anzacs by the thousands to the military hospital, where mother worked, it became overloaded with patients. Beds were shifted out on to verandahs or even crowded into hastily erected canvas-marquees. It got so bad that earlier patients able to exist on the pension outside of the hospital were discharged to make room for new patients.

This led to quite a few disabled men finding they were demobilised and helpless with no place to go. These were the people Mother brought to our house. Some stayed a few weeks or a few months, there were others who were there for years. Altogether I suppose forty of fifty of them inhabited our house at one time or another. I guess this was what peace became for them.

Blackout / Curtain / Actors walk off.