Sunday, 25 April 2010

Anzac Day Angst

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.


lemmiwinks said...

It's a tough one isn't it? I have the utmost respect for the service men and women in the armed forces, regardless of my opinion of the conflict they are or were involved in, after all, when you sign up you don't get the option to pick and choose where you go. Even though I strongly disagree with the Vietnam war I'm absolutely appalled at the disgraceful way veterans of that conflict were treated on their return. Anti-war protesters beef is with the government, not the people in the services.

I'm very wary of patriotism, jingoism and quite a few of the other ism's though. The first two tend to piggyback on these types of events. The cynic in me says that the popularization of such events is being promoted to maintain new recruit intake and suppress criticism of wars for oil. Also lot of young people seem to be under the false impression that ANZAC day and the Gallipoli landing is about the "birth of a nation". Gallipoli was after Federation (surely a more appropriate definition of the "birth of a nation"), Gallipoli was about incompetent, uncaring British command screwing up and screwing over Australian and New Zealand soldiers (and not for the first time either!)

Julie said...

It's 20 years as of April that my dad passed away from mesothelioma - largely caused by asbestosis from his time in the RAN during the Korean war. He was only in his mid-50s.

Dad always marched proudly with his mates when I was a kid, and of all the days of the year when I miss him, Anzac Day is the worst.

It was good to meet some young sailors out and about after the 'official' part of Anzac Day this year. They're wonderful young men and women, and as a country we should be proud of them.

Sue said...

Lemmiwinks, I think you hit the nail on the head, especially re Vietnam.

I'm as suspicious of 'patriotism' as you are - too much thuggery takes place, disguised as patriotism and national pride (admittedly, most of that comes from redneck morons, not our armed forces!)

Jules, you made me sniffle, talking about your dad and Anzac Day.