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Some thoughts on
ANZAC Day

by Colonel Ian Edwardson

Across Australia every city, town and hamlet has one.   We pass them every day, but rarely see them.   But on one day of the year, the nation's focus sharpens to take in the familiar statue or monument, the list of names and the sad echoes of tragedies which touched every family in a young country.

EACH ANZAC Day in future will no doubt be like ANZAC Days past.    The Dawn Service, maybe a procession, a memorial service, ex-servicemen and women in sometimes quiet, sometimes boisterous groups sharing recollections of the good times -- never the bad times, grandpas' medals on young chests.

(Photo Right:-  Typical Australian Country town memorial)

 

ANZAC Day can bring special memories of the day itself.   For some it's of the first time the old unit got together after demobilisation.    For others it's the long walk down the main street behind the Salvation Army band, hanging tightly on to Dad's hand as his rough mates gently chiack him for being "too ugly to be the father of such a good lookin' kid".

 

The common link is memories -- memories of people, memories of places, memories of events.

(Photo Left:  -  Typical country Anzac Day Parade)

I was one of the lucky ones.   I served more than 30 years in the Army and never heard a shot fired in anger. But in that time, I knew plenty who did.

I was also lucky because I was able to be part of ANZAC Day and other similar occasions around the world.

These are the memories ANZAC Day brings to me....

Like so many people of my generation, ANZAC Day was a fairly routine event.    My memories of World War II were fairly dim and were related to the excitement of the times -- uncles in uniform, strange and wonderful sights at the local air base and in the railway yards, the strange accent of my aunt's American husband.

But it all came home to me after the Dawn Service in Port Moresby's Bomana War Cemetery in 1969.  

There was this headstone that said, simply, "An Australian soldier of the Second World War".   The cemetery was a mass of white headstones representing hundreds of those who died in Papua New Guinea, but this one anonymous headstone (and there were many -- too many -- others like it), brought home to me the tragedy, the pain and the emptiness of it all.

(Photo right:-  Port Moresby's Bomana War Cemetery)

 

Some years later, watching my first Sydney ANZAC Day march, the pathetic little groups which represented units which had swung down the same streets on their way to the Old World 60 years and 20-odd years earlier moved me to tears.

Yet, on another occasion, the sight of an almost forgotten face amongst the marchers and the race to the finish point to renew contact with that age-old Aussie greeting "You old bastard!" had an almost indescribable joy to it.

In Singapore I lived at Changi.   On the way to the Dawn Service at Kranji where some of the bloodiest fighting occurred before the fall of Singapore, I drove along the road built by Allied prisoners of war.   In that sort of environment it's easy to feel the ghosts.   It was here especially that the nature of the Digger was evident -- the huge tree and the bridge which slight deviations to the road alignment by the builders caused many an enemy accident showed the Diggers were down, but not out.   Even the steps up to the old officers mess, cut at different heights, played their part by forcing the hated captors, it was said, to adopt a comical gait as they climbed them.

( Photo right:- Changi Prison War Memorial - Photo taken 1951)
 

ANZAC DAY - It's Not All Serious

Just as a conversation on ANZAC Day inevitably turns to the funny side of the veterans' experiences, there's been some lighter moments in the services themselves.

The solemnity of the occasion was shattered at a service in Samurai, on the south-eastern tip of Papua New Guinea when a dog latched itself onto the leg of a very military police sergeant acting as the parade commander.    His direction to "Go away" (or words to that effect) had to be censored from the radio broadcast.

And during the ceremonies for the return of the Unknown Australian Soldier, a young Digger was barely able to stifle a giggle as the bearer party, made up of senior Navy, Army and Air Force warrant officers, carried the casket along the ranks.   Explaining afterwards, he said "It suddenly struck me that when he was alive he probably had the RSM on his back all the time.   Now he's on theirs."

Author of The ANZACS, Patsy Adam Smith, tells the story of World War I veterans on a sentimental journey back to France.   They arrived at their hotel to find a banner welcoming "Veterans of Foreign Wars (an American organisation) 1914/1918".   During the night, someone amended the banner to read "1917/18" and later someone else added "Late-1917/18"!

Closer Than Best Mates

The famous Light Horsemen of World War I had a special place in their memories for their horses.   Of the thousands who carried their riders across the deserts of the Middle East in appalling conditions, only one returned, that of Major General Sir William Bridges, brought home after the death of the noted commander.   Quarantine regulations prevented the others coming home.  

When the word went around that they were to be sold to local dealers, the Light Horsemen took things into their own hands.   "We'd seen how animals were treated there," one veteran said with tears in his eyes.  "We couldn't let that happen to them.   They were closer to us than our best mates."

 

"Men would go off into the desert with their horses.   An hour or so later you'd hear a shot and the men would come back, red-eyed and carrying the bridles.   No-one asked any questions."   On the Sunday closest to ANZAC Day, the 10th Light Horse remembrance service in Perth still includes a sheaf of oats amongst the wreaths.

(Australian Light Horse Regiment in Egypt)

Footnote to History

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey was established to represent Commonwealth participants in World War I.   It came about, the story goes, when Britain told the Commonwealth countries it did not intend bringing home the remains of millions of its soldiers from European battlefields, but that Commonwealth countries could decide their own policies.

Australia led the way in stating that, having fought as a Commonwealth, it was appropriate that the Unknown Warrior represent the Commonwealth.    The real reason, though, the story goes, was a less noble and more practical one.   At the time, it was felt there'd be an unseemly squabble over whether a similar Australian tomb would be in Sydney or Melbourne, there being at that time no Australian capital.    When the Australian War Memorial was built in Canberra, its design allowed for the incorporation at some later stage of a "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier".

Like the naked city there are a thousand stories in the
Sunshine Coast Hinterland

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