ANZAC Day 2021
Here we are each taking time to pause, to reflect, to remember, to hold on to something … what is that something?
Each of you today have reasons to be here. It may be family, thankfulness, preserving, or handing on to the next generation.
What is it here today that we individually and collectively preserve and cast our gaze toward?
Certainly, Gallipoli was the first major conflict that Australians had participated in internationally. 27,000 Australian and NZ troops landed at ANZAC Cove on April 25 1915. What must they have faced! I cannot imagine it. Films and books may help one see or feel a little of what it may have been like, but goodness……what must they have faced! I don’t know about you….but I cannot begin to imagine.
We know according to a British war correspondent’s words that ”they waited neither for orders nor for boats to reach the beach, but, springing into the sea, they waded ashore, and forming some sort of rough line, rushed straight into the flashes of the enemies’ rifles.”
The characteristics that were displayed there included courage, endurance, ingenuity, good humour, mateship, respect for the enemy, and a larrikin streak. Was it forged there in the face of unimaginable fear and horror? Or did it exist already in people who had had to battle in life and was laying waiting to rise collectively in such a sustained challenge?
Is it those values that we are reflecting on today? Is it these that we are hoping to preserve…to pass on like a batten to each generation?
Or is it remembering those who served to protect their country, their families, their values?
Other than Rabaul in 1914, I understand that Gallipoli was the first Australian participation in conflict overseas, and the Western Front in Europe, Africa and the Middle East saw well over 300,000 Australians serve overseas. This was around 10% of the entire population at that time.
From LHI a similar ratio saw nine volunteers serve in WWI. I want to name them today and I hope I do not miss someone. Please bear with me because they are all individuals who remain a part of you, a part of this community. AL Dignam; C Fenton; TG Innes; N King; HG Nichols; WT Retmock; NC Thompson; GC Wilson; RW Wilson.
In WWII 24 volunteers served from the then population of around 170. Six were in the RAAF and 18 in the Army. I will not read all the names here this morning. However, on a timber plaque in the museum, you can see these people’s names. I encourage you to do that. Les King went on to also serve in the Malaysian Emergency after WWII.
Three did not return and I am sure that those who did were forever changed and some suffered the horrors of prisoner of war camps.
Garth Nichols and Stan Fenton served in the Vietnam conflict. Tim Wilson and Peter van Gelderen more recently served in Afghanistan.
So, is today about remembering and valuing the sacrifice of these people? Yes it certainly includes that.
These past 18 months have been very different with bushfires and flood affecting Australians and Corona virus affecting the world. Have you like me, paused at times this last year and thought about what it must have been like during those major worldwide conflicts?
Please do not get me wrong. I am not saying that somehow living during COVID19 has been like WWI. However, when we experience seasons in life, if we pause, if we reflect, it can give a glimpse of understanding, a renewed appreciation, increased empathy and some personal challenge.
On 2 August 1914 when bulletin boards outside Australian newsagencies announced that Germany had declared war on Russia and the Australian Government had offered unreserved help, it must have been ominous, like a dark cloud. However, the conflict was so far away. Did they know what it would mean? Certainly not the scale, duration or horror. When Corona virus was announced in Wuhan, we did not know what it would mean except that it required planning and preparedness. It helped me to catch a glimpse of 1914. It helped me to appreciate afresh.
Back then, they had no idea how long it would take. Most expected a short campaign. Months not years. I am sure as it dragged on and deepened, there must have seen seasons of fear, hope, encouragement, and major setbacks. Again, renewed appreciation for what it must have been like for those serving overseas, those living in conflict zones, and those here.
Last week, when I saw on TV the tearful reunions of Kiwis and Aussies holding each other at Sydney airport after over a year of not seeing their loved ones due to border closures, it was very moving. The grandmother seeing two grandchildren for the first time was overflowing with joy born of separation and distance.
However, being able to talk to loved ones trapped overseas using FaceTime, having information flow in real time and all the other current circumstances create such a contrast compared to what it must have been like to have absolutely no idea when or if your children or spouse would come home again. What are they doing? Are they injured or sick? Are they coping? Will I ever see them again?
Again, a glimpse, a flicker of the sustained torment that I frankly cannot understand as being tolerable at all. And for some perhaps it was intolerable with lasting effects.
When I see people rebelling against restrictions in their freedoms due to covid restrictions, again it has caused me to think about the restrictions during war time. Food rations, secrecy (loose lips sink ships), massive disruption to industry, jobs, employment, income…… In England and elsewhere, curfews, no lights allowed after dark, bomb drills and real attacks and sheltering. Huge restrictions to simply stay safe.
Again, has this given you a heightened appreciation of the restrictions and impacts of those in past conflicts, as well as those still in conflict such as the middle east?
Have you been incredibly thankful living where we live during COVID? Being in Australia and of course, being on LHI is a privilege. Just like WWII when attacks did come to Australia, COVID has had its minor invasions. However, the current refuge that is Australia, must not be taken for granted, must be protected and it causes me to be incredibly thankful. However, my empathy is profound for those in India, South America, Asia, the USA, Britain and elsewhere who are currently having a very different experience and impact to their lives and loved ones.
What must it have been like in the relative refuge of our Australian island home and here on LHI when large parts of the world were in war, to act with discipline to protect it, but strangely for it to be a long way away physically if not emotionally.
This past year has caused me to think about others. Those who have gone before. Those who have sacrificed. Sacrifices that include, but go well beyond losing one’s life, as those left behind and those with scars well know.
I trust that today we each contribute to whatever it is that ANZAC Day is about. Remembering and being deeply thankful for our freedom, our lives, our blessings which are many, and that these blessings have not come cheaply.
I trust that somehow today means that those who have sacrificed have not been forgotten and not left behind.
I trust that our vision has been broadened to recognise a little of what impacts war and conflict have inflicted, as well as what they have protected.
I trust that those values, those characteristics of the ANZACS ranging from courage and endurance to respect, humour and mateship are appreciated and valued.
AND I hope that what the world is currently facing in its many different lands and different ways, causes us to pause, to appreciate and to have a glimpse of what our forebears, as well as those still with us, have experienced and continue to experience.
This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 30 April 2021.