Each year I find commemorating ANZAC Day to be one of the most important annual activities I do.
I’m not sure how much I believe in the universality of the ANZAC legend myth as each man involved in WW1 certainly had his own experience and finding a way to meld so many stories into one definition just doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, there’d be commonalities between many of the men but that is where I think it ends.
I know that my grandfather and his brothers who served rarely spoke of the war, and then only amongst themselves. That is very common. But it seems to be particularly common for all returned women and men. Only with the passing of decades does that seem to pass a little.
Given I have a market stall at The Rocks and there are a lot of international visitors I’ve found myself trying to explain how and why ANZAC Day is so important to us as a country.
It isn’t a celebration of war; it’s a commemoration of service and heartfelt mate ship. It isn’t a celebration of a particular battle; it’s marking of a lost battle. It isn’t about licking old wounds; it’s much more about finding peace within. It is different to Remembrance Day – 11th November – yet similar on many levels.
I think there are very few nations that could mark a day that’s about war in the manner Australia and New Zealand does. I think Turkey is amazingly generous letting Allied Gallipoli nations come each year in such numbers and be so welcomed.
I now live close to ANZAC Pde in Sydney’s east and with my local walks I see houses that became homes for returned WW1 soldiers. This has set me thinking of what it was like for the returned nurses and soldiers. What repercussions played out in their lives, for their families and their children?
So when I found a book about exploring the ANZAC legend at my local second bookshop I curiously picked it up and I’m so pleased I read it. I have a much better understanding how the commemoration of ANZAC day came about and the social influence it has had for generations.
For the women who lost their men it gave them a time to mourn and acknowledge their loss – to come to terms with the depth of their grief and feel part of a larger community that understood them. Grief can be so utterly isolating that to have your community in the same place as you can be a life raft in very dark days. And grief never leaves you completely, you still need your days to remember and work through your mourning.
For the men who returned it gave them time to be with their mates to share old stories, remember lost mates and be around those who understood what it was like to have the world turn on an unnatural orbit so to better find a way to live with the experience.
The returned nurses were far more isolated for many years by being excluded from the parades but many still regularly met and had time to be around those who knew the experiences, who understood.
Both my grandfather’s served, one in WW1 in France and the other in WW2 in Tobruk. I’m proud of both of them for serving their country. My grandfather who served in France was really probably too young to know what signing up for war really meant. My other grandfather was in his 40’s and would have had a much better idea of the realities of war and what he was doing.
I have inherited one war diary – it’s a photo album from Africa with photos of Tobruk being bombed, of really only 6 pages of war photos and the rest of the people and places of Africa and the Middle East.
I try to figure out more and more about my grandfather from this photographic war diary that’s out of sequence and yet I’ve come to realise I’d only be guessing, I can’t really get to know this man through these photos.
What I have from him is a love for photography and an easy nature to laugh quickly. From my other grandfather I have a love for gardening and exploring. And life. And that need’s be enough.
Both my grandfathers died before I got to know them. Since I started going to dawn services as a little Brownie I’ve honoured these men. I hope I also honour the women and men who have served since and are serving now.
I wish for peace for all of us in this world of ours.