A khaki felt army cap has sat on a bookshelf in my home in Sydney for nine years.
Two metal press-studs secure the brim, and the five-pointed, red communist star graces the front.
The crown has the faint odour of human sweat.
It is a partizanka, a cap worn by Yugoslav Partisan soldiers in Croatia and western Bosnia during World War II.
The partizanka is something of a collector’s piece, as few like it remain.
For me, it represents a promise I need to fulfil.
It is impossible to look at the cap and not wonder about its bloody history.
It had two rightful owners, Boris Puks*, a Croatian Partisan fighter, and Ernest ‘Ern’ Brough, a World War II veteran from Geelong, Victoria, who gave it to me in 2009.
My part in its history is a small footnote compared to the life it once led in the mountains and forests of wartime Yugoslavia.
The cap arrived in the post not long after I met Ern, accompanied by a note: “Marc – a gift to me from Puks Boris, 1944, at Cassma, Croatia.”
When I phoned Ern to thank him, he made me promise to give it to the Australian War Memorial when he died.
This artefact now belongs where Ern had intended.
The voices of World War II are fast disappearing and as Ern is still alive, I want him to have the chance to once again share his story.
* Boris Puks is called Puks Boris in Ernest Brough’s book, Dangerous Days.