Tomorrow is ANZAC day. It's one of those odd days that is many different things to many people. ANZAC day - 25 April - marks the day that Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli in 1915. The whole campaign was an absolute disaster. Not only was it poorly planned using eroneous intelligence, but we were landed in the wrong place. Yet the Australians and New Zealanders held their position for nine long months. Today, we commemorate the things that campaign brought to light about the Australian people. Courage, Compassion, Mateship, Honour. There are services of remembrance held around the country on ANZAC day. The first one is at dawn (that's when they landed at Gallipoli). Not every town or suburb does a dawn service but there's usually one within easy driving distance. The next services are at either 9am or 11am, depending on the decisions made by the RSL (Returned and Services League) in the area.
My father was the President of the local RSL branch for many years before he died. Even though he was British, ANZAC day held special significance for him. It was the only time during the year he ever drank more than one drink. The day would start with the dawn service of course. I'd wake at 3am and listen as Dad made a pot of tea before he left. The dawn service is, of course, held at dawn. Afterwards the RSL put breakfast on for members and guests. Dad would stay at the RSL hall, entertaining dignatories and toasting lost mates, until the next service at 11am. That's the one families usually go to. There's a parade of returned and current servicemen, youth groups, schools, etc. There are speeches and "Nearer my God to thee" and "Amazing Grace" are sung.
The Last Post is played by a lone bugler and silence reigns for two minutes (the first minute is to be thankful for those who survived, the second to mourn the loss of those who didn't). I love that The Last Post finishes on a high note - a note of hope and promise. It makes remembering the ANZACs less futile. Reveille follows, in the dawn service it's timed to be played as the sun peeps over the horizon. A new day, a new beginning, a new life to live. The Ode to the Fallen is recited, often just one verse:
"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."
"Lest we forget."
Emotive and poignant.
After the 11am service the RSL put on lunch for members and guests. Dad would usually roll home around 6pm, flushed from the scotch, a smile on his face and ghosts in his eyes.
Like many men, Dad enlisted with his mates. He made more friends during his service. He was the only one who survived the war (WWII).
The ones the fighting left alive, cholera took. Dad told me once about being admitted to a hospital along with 200 others (he and most of the men had cholera). He was one of only two who left the hospital alive.
He never spoke about the war, only ever mentioned a couple of his experiences during that time. All the emotion was tucked away behind his iron will and only allowed out on ANZAC day. Every year he was devastated. It never got easier. It never went away.
Not everyone attends an ANZAC day service. Many, especially when the ANZAC day holiday creates a long weekend like this weekend, go away with family or friends. Camping is a favourite at this time of year. I was talking with my mother this evening - she's staying overnight so she can attend the dawn service with my daughter and me. She got quite angry at the idea that so many people treated the day as just another holiday. It's not what those men and women in all the wars have fought for.
I disagree. I think that's exactly what they were fighting for. Our freedom to choose how to celebrate the fact that we have a choice in our lives. Our freedom to live the safe existence we enjoy. What else could possibly be worth fighting for?