ANZAC Day has always been a special. I recall being captivated by the stories told at Primary School ANZAC ceremonies about the deeds of Simpson and his donkey and VC recipient Albert Jacka.
Australia lost 60,000 people on the battlefields of World War One. Our population at the time was 5.5 million. Australians were engaged in battle from 25 April 1915 until 11 November 1918. A mere 3 years and 7 months.
To put this in perspective, The USA suffered 60,000 casualties during the war in Vietnam. Their population was 250 million.
The impact of the First World War on Australia was extraordinary.
And what about the soldiers who return, alive but mentally scarred from all wars.
As brave as they are, braver still but in a different way are their families to whom they return. No-one could possibly return from a battlefield experience and be the same as they were before.
An event a few months ago highlighted to me just what we ask our service people to do when we ask them to go and fight a war, and how out of character it must be for most, if not all those on the battlefield.
My Grandfather was a veteran of Gallipoli and the European theatres of the First World War. I should say our Grandfather because all 6 of his Grandchildren loved and admired a warm, generous, intelligent, inquisitive, interesting, kind and gentle man. He was an even tempered gentlemen who walked tall.
He turned 18 at Anzac Cove having arrived as a member of the 28th Battalion in September 2015.
An e-mail I received about 6 months ago brought to my attention a tiny piece of information as to what our service people do on our behalf.
It was a photo taken at the ANZAC memorial in Albany Western Australia of a home made trench warfare weapon, a weapon used in face to face battle. The soldiers designed and manufactured such weapons as they were more effective than a bayonetted rifle. I contemplated including the photo in this post but cannot bring myself to do so. The weapon is horrific and you can see just how effective it would be and how easy it would be to use against the skull of another person.
Our Grandfather was named as the user of the weapon in seven successful trench raids on the European front.
I am not aware of any PTSD symptoms suffered by our Grandfather. I find it difficult, if not impossible to believe there would not have been some affect from his experiences.
I am lucky. I cannot perceive the horror of war. The photo I received was disturbing on two levels.
I was confronted by an image of our Grandfather that I would rather not have and simply cannot reconcile with the person we knew and adored.
More broadly, we can never understand just what it is we send our service people off to do on our behalf.
I would like to re-invent ANZAC Day.
Traditionally, the focus is on our deeds at Gallipoli. I would like to see equal emphasis given to Kokoda, Crete, Passchendaele, Long Tan, Herat, Timor, everywhere.
We tend to honour the deceased. I would like to see formal recognition given to the survivors of our wars and thank them for taking on the burden of their experience for the rest of their life.
I would like ANZAC Day to formally and openly acknowledge and remember the families of returned servicemen. *
I would like the efforts and courage of the wives, daughters, sons, brothers and sisters of those who have fought and survived the battles to be hailed as heroes, be it a different kind of hero.
I would like to exclude all politicians from having any active role or being acknowledged at all commemorative events except where they are also returned service people.
In the words sung by Edwin Starr:
War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing
Lest we forget