April 25 is Anzac Day here in Oz, and it's big here, these days. The number of ex-servicemen is dwindling, but the popularity of the day is increasing exponentially. This year is the 95th anniversary of a dreadful and bloody rout in Gallipoli that makes me shudder. It's also the day that we commemorate the contribution of our armed forces in other conflicts, past and present.
I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with Anzac Day. When I was a kid growing up in western Sydney, I used to find Anzac Day terrifying. Seriously. I would get onto a train or bus and drunken Diggers would get on, staggering after a day catching up with their war-time buddies, and as a 12 yr-old girl I found it horribly confronting. All the lovely comfortable uncle/grandpa types were suddenly crazy drunken old men. I hated it. It scared the shit out of me.
That was back in the 1970s.
That was also the time of the Vietnam Moratorium – an uncompromising anti-war era. Vietnam vets were bathed in blood flung by anti-war protesters. Poor bastards. Those of us back here at home, with no idea of what they had been through, acted as judge, jury and gaoler.
I'm ashamed to say that my fear of Anzac Day lasted until I was in my 40s. That's when I met Derek.
Derek is a wonderful bloke. An ex Navy man, he's a Coral Sea veteran (ex Hobart), and I met him through motorcycling. He is such an inspiration. This bloke in his 80s rode a bloody Vespa from Canberra to Broken Hill and back - TWICE! He's a legend!
For years now, Derek has travelled to Melbourne to march with his old shipmates, who have become fewer and fewer each year. I haven't managed to catch up with Derek over the last couple of years, but he is the person responsible for my change of view regarding Anzac Day. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
Listening to Derek talking about the joy of reuniting with his wartime buddies – people who had shared and who understood the ordeals they'd been through – how could I, so many years later, and with no bloody idea of what they'd been through, judge our servicemen/women? It's that thing about walking a mile in someone else's moccasins I suppose – anyway, I felt small and mean-spirited. And yes, I felt immensely grateful for the sacrifices they had made and the traumas they had endured.
Thank you Derek. I love you, mate. You are an inspiration. Thank you so very much for your naval service. I will never truly know what it cost you, but I am very, very grateful. You're a star.
Anzac Day 2010. Lest we forget.