My ANZAC

Poppies are sold every year as an act of remem...

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I am pleased to offer this guest post from TB: My ANZAC.

I could try and wax lyrical about the Aussie Spirit of Anzac and the professionalism of our ADF members (for they truly are) . . . but my authoring capabilities are fairly limited to my own experiences and thoughts.

Anzac Day is, I believe, many things to many people and in fact has become Australia’s de facto Remembrance Day (11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month) .

A few still seem think that it’s a sabre rattling exercise – far from it, most soldiers I know/knew aren’t all that keen about being shot at! (Unfortunately, free speech doesn’t actually come for free).

Despite the awful mess at ADFA this year, that, I believe, should not taint the professional service of hundreds of thousands of military personnel past, present and future.  They are, after all, human, just like the other 99.8% of the Australian population – in round figures the ADF is about 50000 out of 22 million.

I didn’t want to be a soldier and I haven’t been in combat . . . but I’ve known a few who have.

Both my grandfathers served in WWI.  One served in France and was gassed but survived.

My parents served in WWII, Mum on anti aircraft batteries during the London Blitz and my Dad in the Royal Navy on Atlantic convoys (North and South) as a signalman.  My mother’s sister also served in the ATS and two of my uncles in the Navy.

Post WWII, two more uncles served in Germany as National Servicemen, one in the air force and the other in the army.  Another uncle, a professional, served as a WO during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the 1950’s.

In 1961 we emigrated to Australia and in 1969 I was called up for National Service . . . I never left Australia but two of my training platoon mates never returned from Vietnam . . . our training platoon was unique in that we had a volunteer with us – an Aboriginal . . . the National Service Act didn’t apply to Aboriginals. (I became an Australian Citizen some years after my Army Discharge).

My son served in the ADF for over 12 years, enlisting as an army apprentice, he was attached to a number of units and was eventually accepted into the Paratroop Regiment, 3RAR. He was deployed to Bougainville and Timor, where he was seconded to the UN – 11 months in Timor with two days leave!  (His wife and two year old son eventually came from Townsville to live with us for six months).

My first “real” Anzac Day was at Bulimba in Brisbane … I was part of the Honour Guard provided by 1 Base Workshop . . . a dozen diggers in polyesters and shiny boots lugging an SLR rifle about . . . commanded by a very nervous 1st Lieutenant (pronounced “left-tenant” for those who watch American movies).  Then back to the Bulimba RSL for a beer or two and a chat with the old diggers there.  Very dim memories!

I avoided Anzac Day Parades for nearly thirty years after I left the Army. (Nothing to do with me – I was just another Nasho).

But . . . I hadn’t been speaking to my parents for a number of years and Dad asked my son if I’d go to the local Dawn Service – I did – and when the wreaths were laid, a little girl, eight or nine years old, slowly wended her way through the crowd, clutching a small, wilted, bunch of yellow flowers and laid it gently amongst the poppies.  I’ve never missed a Dawn Service since.

My son and I are both ex-members of the Royal Australian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (RAEME).

We’ll attend the local Dawn Parade with my 13 yo grandson (who proudly wears his great grandma’s WWII medals, my son his own and his grandad’s).  We’ll have our own Gunfire Breakfast on the seafront and pour three tots of rum – one for me, one for my son and one for my father who passed away nine years ago – a small ritual, that we began in Dad’s RSL, the year he died.

And then into the city by train at 10 am to meet up with the RAEME contingent.

One of us a Nasho soldier and one a professional but we’ll march, side by side, father and son, through Brisbane (something else that was never on my “bucket list”),  to remember our colleagues and their families – NEVER forget the ADF families and the support they give our troops and the hardships they suffer while loved ones are away.

I have never believed in the “reasons” for the wars in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan but I will always support the diggers, air force and navy personnel that have had to fight them.

Even our former enemies, and now friends, understand and remember.

I saw this for the first time (I know it’s been around for a long time!) at Anzac Cove last year . . . carved into a massive stone.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives.

You are now living in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Written by Kemal Ataturk, the Commander of the Turkish 19th Division during the Gallipoli Campaign and the first President of the Turkish Republic from 1924-1938.  Ataturk must have been an exceptional person.

Ironically, last year, we were in Nurnberg on Anzac Day.

Every generation of my family has served in some capacity in international conflict.  I sincerely hope that my son was the last.

From a Nasho digger . . . thank you to all who have served before me, with me and serve now . . . and thank you to all the people who support us all . . . the living and the fallen . . . on Anzac Day.

TB

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

“For the Fallen” – Laurence Binyon – Poems of the Great War (1914)

27 comments on “My ANZAC

  1. Thank you for that wonderful anecdote, TB.

    It’s refreshing to read something positive about ANZAC as over the last half a day I’ve been hearing every piece of bull**** imaginable. The saddest is that ANZAC is an excuse for old diggers to glorify war.

    Obviously those people who make such claims never lived with a returned soldier.

    My Dad spent 18 months in New Guinea – which must have been the most horrible 18 months imaginable – yet he hardly whispered a word about it. As a child I spent a lot of time around the returned soldiers while we lived in the camps on Kangaroo Island and I neither heard a word from them about the war. The horrors of the past were buried deep within.

    Now in 2012 they are being accused of glorifying war.

    It wasn’t much fun growing up as a baby boomer. It was though I never had a father. The man who sired me had not long before been fighting in the jungles of New Guinea, and from those battles he would be wounded for life.

    He was unrestrainedly hard. He had no emotion. He was a complete bastard. I cannot describe how much I hated him.

    A few years ago I read a book about the Kokoda Trail and cried as I had finally found out why Dad was the way he was. I had never known what he had been through. “Why didn’t he ever tell me?” I asked myself.

    But he was never going to tell me, nor anyone.

    And now he is just considered another old bastard who glorified war.

  2. Thank you TB.

    Today was the first local dawn service and march I’ve missed in so long I can’t remember the last one I missed. So your wonderful piece was uplifting for me.

    I am not very well at the moment with debilitating migraines that came out of the blue and incapacitate me when they hit. I know the cause and it’s all self inflicted, thus for the first time I’m using the five day Easter break to do nothing but relax.

    I cannot add anything to the thoughts on ANZAC day only it has become more important to me now as an ex-serviceman than it did when I was a serviceman. The reason back then was that often attending the ANZAC day observances was mostly compulsory and you were told were to attend. I often got guard and cenotaph duties, being single, which after a time became a chore the older I got. Now I would never hesitate to volunteer for these duties though I don’t think my tired bones would hold up to standing still for so long.

    Thanks again.

  3. Here is my ANZAC story and this one is for my father. My dad didn’t believe in war as a way to solve problems and when conscripted he took off for “the wilds” of Box Hill but was caught. Dad served at Milne Bay and never spoke about his experiences except this one:

    The Australian soldiers were on very short rations existing on tin beef and many got sick as a result. The solution was to do midnight raids on the US soldier’s camp as they had luxuries such as coffee and chocolate. And to this day I have a US Army teaspoon to prove it. Dad always smiled when he related this.

    It wasn’t until my dad had passed away that I sent away to the National Archives for his War Service Record. Although my father had said that he had been repat’d out of New Guinea with malaria which was the truth, what my father hadn’t told me was that he had ended up in a psychiatric unit. Things such post traumatic stress was a shameful thing.

  4. Thank you TB. Your story shows so clearly how the Anzac Day demonstrations of respect for war veterans and those who died in wars past are not about the glorification of war, but rather are an expression of grief that those wars happened and a reminder of the suffering they caused to many, particularly to servicemen and their families.

  5. Until 30 or so years after the Vietnam war, the veterans basically had to deal with their trauma alone, or only in the presence of their mates, and just as today, with any form of mental illness and stress, they sometimes found that alcohol, and in the case of some of the Vietnam boys, drugs, eased their pain.
    PTSD is recognised today, but from the experience of some of my friends, it has been a long road for the “five criteria ” to be met and recognised by the Dept of Veterans Affairs.

    Anzac Day is about paying our respects to these fellow Australians and any other negative opinions would best be left for another time, if at all.

  6. I suppose this guy might be, or have been, suffering from PTSD, and so deserve a bit of slack, but I wish he would show the same amount of respect for gays who want gay marriage, and Muslims and any other minority group who fails to meet his “moral” standing.

    Christian leader uses Anzac to slam gays [and Muslims]

    http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/christian-leader-uses-anzacs-to-slam-gays-20110425-1dtnz.html

    I’ve just had a read about the Australian Christian Lobby on google, I’ve cut him a bit of slack, and now I would like him to go away and be really, really quiet.

  7. Pip, from your link “A former Special Air Services commander turned conservative Christian commentator has conceded that a tweet he made attacking homosexuals and Muslims was ill timed on Anzac Day.”. Ill timed at any time I would say.

  8. The National Archives site describes ANZAC Day as:

    The spirit of ANZAC, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity.

    Whether or not our service personnel ever believed that they were courageous or that serving their country was ‘a sacrifice’, even though it might mean their own lives I cannot say, but the thing that always stays strong is mateship.

  9. Min, it’s the mateship that has kept my Vietnam veteran friends going; a couple of them were very ill with PTSD from the 70’s, and others say they hit the wall at around the 30 year mark, but it was the same black dog and they all understand exactly what it’s about.
    A couple of the wives who are still with them say that the mateship is more important than their marriages, but they understand. They all muddle through the tough times together somehow and have celebrated all the usual family milestones together. It’s the ones who find themselves on their own to deal with their demons that are the starkest reminder of the uselessness of war.

  10. This was posted on Facebook by a young man who happens to be the son of one of my dearest friends.

    After years of abuse from the

    hippies and the minority for being

    forcibly sent away to fight a war

    that was not popular in Vietnam, it

    is good to see you march with

    pride in a world that you and my

    grandfather helped provide for us.

    Thankyou dad for putting up with

    your stress disorders so that the

    rest of us can live free xxx ooo

    xxx

  11. Sue, I like this Rev. Jim Wallace far more than our Brig., Jim Wallace.

    Rudd spiritual adviser sees a leadership trinity

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/rudd-spiritual-adviser-sees-a-leadership-trinity/2008/07/25/1216492733328.html

    KEVIN RUDD should lead a “troika” of progressive Christian politicians to eradicate poverty in the developing world, one of America’s most influential pastors has said.

    and

    He says the power of America’s “religious right” has waned because instead of lowering the abortion rate or strengthening traditional marriage, it has delivered its followers “tax cuts for the rich and a war in Iraq”.

    Progressives, in the meantime, have reclaimed the scriptures.

    “How did the gospel become pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American?” Mr Wallis asks.

    “When I was in the seminary, we found an old Bible and we cut out all the references to helping the poor. We ended up with a Bible full of several thousand holes, falling apart in your hands. It is a compelling reminder of our call.”

    The Brigadier would be wise to rethink his way of practicing his faith in my humble opinion.

  12. Estimated Australian population at 9.45 tonight was 22,590,763. In 1976 when Australia signed the international refugee convention our population was 14 million. The number of refugees arriving by boat since that time? 27,000.

  13. Pip, I must plead guilty to being one of the hippy protestors during the Vietnam Protest Marches and on reflection it was not about the soldiers themselves it was about the futility of war, the human cost of war and especially that young men, brothers and boyfriends were being called up at the whim of government to fight ‘illegally’.

    During WW2 conscripts could only fight on Australian soil or in direct defence of Australia hence the reason that a good number served and with valour in New Guinea. But along came the Vietnam War and the reasoning was that this was not ‘a war’, it was a peacekeeping mission. I stopped attending the protests when it became clear that a few radicals were directing much of the agenda and taking their anger out on the soldiers – the same soldiers who we and many others were protesting ‘for’. I was about 16 at the time and my parents would have ‘shot’ me if they knew where I was, at a protest march instead of at the pictures with a girlfriend 🙂

  14. Thanks for all your nice comments above – sorry I coudn’t reply earlier – but I’m sure you understand … 😉

    Had a wondeful day meeting up with people I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, and meeting new … numbers were down in both ex service personnel and spectators but I suspect that was Easter and the lo-ong weekend. The enthusiasm was still there though – thank you Brisbane.

    The “speeches” seemed to be more inclusive recognising those who haven’t been on the overseas “adventure” (as the RAEME Assoc President, put it) – that’s always a fall of the dice in the ADF anyway … but troops in the field need anywhere from 12 – 15 people to support them. Individula players may kick the goals put it needs a team to get the ball to them.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Min, I remember being abused and spat on when in uniform (and I disagreed with Vietnam!!) I was waiting for a Brisbane river ferry to take me to work and a “hippy” couple in their twenties arced up … we were under strict orders not to discuss the war or military … so for once I shut up, luckily the 40 something bloke standing alongside me didn’t – he tore strips off ’em. 😀

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Adrian, get well soon, mate, sorry to hear your unwell and thanks for the “positive” vibes – nice to know I didn’t let the side down 😉

  15. I notice my alter ego keeps popping up! 😆

    Ahh! Well subterfage was never my scene … for obvious reasons!

  16. I suspected that it would have been a big day for you yesterday 😀

    Son and crewmates copped a little of this when the Tobruk arrived back from the Gulf..a couple of his mates got a bit hot under the collar but J* typically took it all in his stride. Same for son..don’t discuss the war.

    I think that something some civilians often forget (or perhaps don’t realize) is that service personnel have political opinions of their own and most consider their job apolitical – they serve Austalia and her people, and not any one political party who might have happened to have won an election. I know that it used to annoy the you-know-what out of son when Howard used to grandstand.

  17. I didn’t like to mention TB but…just a smidgey bit obvious…or maybe it’s your twin brother 😀

  18. Min, I picked up on the hippy comment too; it might have been better if he had clarified his point, but I’m guessing he was seeing the effect it has had on his father and the family generally. I’ll have a talk to him sometime when it’s not so close to ANZAC day 🙂

  19. Pip, we were all hippies in the 60’s 🙂 I think that it is excellent to know that young people such as your young friend are thinking seriously about these issues.

  20. It amuses me that the AFL gives ANZAC medals to the footballer who most displays the courage and heroism of our diggers.

    What a complete load of crap.

    Whilst it is good that they honour the ANZACs I don’t think that comparisons can be drawn between a digger at war and a footballer chasing a kick.

  21. Migs! I could not agree more … I’m not keen on the VB ads either … bloody Uber Kapitalism at its worst IMO!

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