Anzac Day is a day of quiet reflection and remembrance. For many, myself included it is a day to quietly reflect on the sacrifices made by men and women of the Australian Defence Force in conflicts both past and present.
I remember sitting in school assemblies listening to stories of war. I remember hearing of the young men who gave their lives in war and the young women who served alongside them as nurses, truck drivers, the radio operators, and other support roles.
Anzac Day is also a time to reflect on my own military heritage. My Great great uncles served in Gallipoli and on the western front. My great grandfathers on both sides of my family served in the Navy during WWII. My grandfather went to Korea as an infantryman. My uncles are in the Army and Navy. My dad joined the Army before I was born and is still serving.
I think of their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their family. The ones left at home.
The men who died in combat were sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, nephews, fathers, husbands, grandfathers. And when they died they left behind siblings, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, wives, fathers, mothers. Families.
In 2010 when my father was in Afghanistan every time a death or injury of an Australian soldier was announced on television I would tense up. I knew that if anything happened to dad that mum would have rung before anything went to the news but it still shook me. I’d breathe a huge sigh of relief as soon as they’d say a rank, age, hometown, anything that didn’t match up with dad.
I’m an adult, when dad was deployed I hadn’t lived at home for 3 years, but it was still a stressful time.
We live in a time of email, satellite phonecalls, letters, parcels – there are so many methods of communicating with our loved ones overseas. Especially with our men and women at sea. When I was at sea, back in my life before children, at the end of the working day I would send my husband a quick email and when we pulled into port I would send him a text message and then ring him once we were ashore. We were in contact. I can’t imagine what it would have been like in my great grandmothers day when my great grandfather was at sea and the only way of communicating was a letter or postcard when they went ashore.
When I was a kid my dad would often go out field and once every week or so we’d get a satellite phonecall for about 5 minutes. We’d all get a short snippet of our dads time, a minute or so, and often everyone on our end would end up in tears. I never much liked the satellite phones, I hated the way I heard my own voice bounced back at me. I loved talking to dad, didn’t like hearing myself.
My cousins were the same, although their contact with their dad was less frequent as he was (and still is now, although like my dad he’s now a reservist) in the Navy.
My uncle on mum’s side is also in the Army but has younger children so they’re going through some of the same things my siblings and I went through, although their mum is in the air force so they regularly have both parents away. I often think that must be pretty rough but those boys are very loved, and are lucky to often have my grandparents look after them.
I often think about not just the men who gave it all in war but the women who were at home. With the men at war women had to go back to work, care for the home and the children all whilst worrying not knowing whether their loved ones had lived or died. I can only imagine the fear at seeing someone in uniform walking towards the door or receiving a telegram from a government department. I can only imagine.
Anzac Day is a day I remember all the sacrifices made by military families past and present. I often think of my sister, she’s not in the military and she probably never will be, but if there were ever a birthday that dad would have been away for it was always hers. I remember moving over and over, as soon as you’d make friends and settle you’d be gone again. I remember the Christmas that dad was peace keeping in Bougainville. I remember all the times dad made it to special events like seeing me off to the formal, awards ceremonies, concerts, and all the times he didn’t.
In war time and in peace time, military families make sacrifices. We move from place to place every few years, away from family, to locations we otherwise wouldn’t dream of living often to spend a large portion of our time without our partner and our children without their father. At short notice there are duties, field trips, and deployments. Heck just last night my husband informed me he has to work this weekend and next, I have driving lessons, exams and a seminar booked. Time to replan. My husband is an Army cook, every Anzac day he leaves home at 1-2am to cook a gunfire breakfast. Even on what is considered the Army’s special day, not all the soldiers get to relax and enjoy it. This is my husbands 5th Anzac Day since enlisting and the only one he hasn’t worked was when he was recovering from facial reconstruction surgery. He will come home at about 10am absolutely shattered after spending half the night and all of the morning preparing the breakfast that is the tradition after the dawn service.
I hope someone shouts the cooks a drink for their troubles.
I’m not asking for sympathy or special consideration but I do ask this of you. When you stop to reflect today about the sacrifices made by men in war, please stop to think of the nurses and doctors who treated them. The ambulance drivers who risked going out on the battlefield to pick up the injured and dead, many of those drivers were women. Think of Simpson and his donkey. Think not just of our soldiers but our airmen and sailors. Think of the young boys who lied about their age because they loved their country so much they felt compelled to go whatever the cost. Think of the men who were too old and yet again lied about their age as they too were compelled to fight.
And think of the families at home, who worried for their loved ones. Think of the mothers who said goodbye to their sons never to see them again. The widows. The children left fatherless. Think of the men who came home broken, not just physically but those who saw too much, lost too much, gave too much.
Think of the victims of chemical warfare, who have no physical scars but suffer poor health due to what they were exposed to.
Think of the children who move school to school, who feel the peaks and pits of having their father away, who never quite know whether he’ll be there or not, and who did not chose this life but wouldn’t have it any other way.
For while the military life has downsides there are plus sides. As a child we saw amazing parts of the country, we were a tight family unit and as adults we are all very close, we saw that dad had an exciting job that he enjoyed, we had parents who loved us and we were always well cared for.
It can’t have been all bad, I joined the Navy and my brother is about to join the Army. To top it off, I married a soldier. I chose the army life for my children. It’s different now though, with better communication, better support services, and well having a Thermomix makes life easier when he’s away, but there are still challenges.
This Anzac Day remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their life for their country, and remember those who loved them. For they sacrificed so much and lived with that scar.
For the fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
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.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)