Humour proves to be just the tonic
AS the battle raged around them, Jody Tieche wanted to calm Chad Elliott’s nerves as well as tend to the bullet wound in his upper thigh.
So, in the great Aussie tradition, he cracked a joke.
The exact words can’t be repeated here, but the lewd comment did the trick and changed the mood in a moment that for most people would amount to unimaginable stress.
“It was along the lines of how close the gunshot wound was to his tackle,” Tieche said.
“It was pretty funny at the time, given the circumstances and how much tension was in that situation.”
Black humour is a common — and healthy — coping mechanism among soldiers, according to former military psychologist Major Clint Marlborough, who served with Sydney’s 2nd Commando Regiment.
“Dark or gallows humour is an incredibly good way to cope with a traumatic situation because we can’t normalise some situations but we can try to take the intensity out of them. If we mock them they don’t seem as bad.”
Elliott said Tieche’s joke was one of the few things he remembered about the day he was shot on patrol in southern Afghanistan.
“I guess that’s a pretty Australian thing,” he said.
“The dark humour definitely helped.”
Marlborough said dark humour included things that would seem “grossly inappropriate” if taken out of the context of the intense situation where it occurs.
Former commando Major Bram Connolly said the practice dated back to Gallipoli.
“I recall stories about guys on the way out of the trench ... walking past and shaking the hand of someone who had been killed,” he said. “Obviously that’s not funny, but it probably was to them.
“For us it can be a similar thing. Once we were patrolling ... and a huge explosion happened and the Taliban started shooting and someone yelled out ‘awesome, they’re shooting at us’.
“We all started laughing. Then we started shooting back.”