Dear members of the Marcellin Community,
Last Wednesday morning I was privileged to be a part of what has become a highlight on the College calendar, the 2013 Anzac Day Assembly. It was a moving event with a range of prayers, presentations, the traditional laying of the wreath, sounding of the Last Post and Rouse and the reading of the Ode and a superb visual display.
I must commend our young men who were respectful and attentive throughout. They genuinely took advantage of the opportunity to be immersed in the traditions and legacy of the Anzacs and the place it now occupies in the Australian community. Guest speaker Sgt James Kolozsi ( an Old Boy from 1991-92 at Camberwell!) was excellent, bringing his experience as a veteran of Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan and making it relevant to 2013 school students.
I would like to acknowledge and thank all involved in putting on such an impressive event, especially the organizing committee led by Ms Bottari (Learning Area Leader – Humanities) and supported by Mr Noonan, Ms Easdale, Mr Barham and Mr Melenhorst.
Below is the presentation I made to the students asking them to reflect on the impact of the Anzacs’ sacrifices.
ANZAC Day Ceremony 2013 – Acting Principal’s presentation
Good morning invited guests, staff and students
Its great to be here to speak with you this morning and reflect a little on ANZAC Day; perhaps the most significant day in Australia’s calendar.
Mr Murphy asked me to speak today as he is in Brisbane so of course I began thinking about what to say and doing a bit of reading around ANZAC Day 2013. The ABC had a report about the importance of family in the whole Anzac story and another paper wrote about the role family plays in honouring and remembering the diggers who are no longer with us.
Given family spirit is a key Marist characteristic I decided to explore this a little and reflect on a bit of my family’s experience of World War 2 and the legacy left behind for families when sons and daughters go off to war. The courage, sacrifice, experience and ultimately loss of so many thousands of individual men and women in the 1940s had such a profound effect on countless families across our nation. It’s over 70 years since my dad joined the Light Horse in 1941 with the intention of fighting overseas like others from his district before him. The story of his family is typical, yet not as tragic as tens of thousands of others across Australia at the time.
My father was almost thirty two when WW2 broke out in September 1939. He was the second eldest of three brothers and they were all keen to go off and join the great adventure so far away in Europe. As they were all helping my ageing grandfather run the farm they decided to enlist one at a time, beginning with the eldest. I often wondered what it would be like for my grandmother and innumerable other mums watching in horror as their sons walked out the door, down the garden path, away to enlist and go off to a new life in the armed forces, perhaps never to return.
Dad’s older brother Gerry went off first. Gerry was a gentle soul, a genuine old fashioned country gentleman who didn’t want to fight but was determined to serve, so he enlisted in the medical corps. Gerry saw action in North Africa, was one of the legendary Rats of Tobruk and was commended for bravery, rescuing wounded soldiers under enemy fire. He was later posted to New Guinea to face the Japanese. Gerry returned from the war unscathed physically but was a nervous wreck and pretty much a loner for the rest of his life after the horrors he’d witnessed. My grandmother was heartbroken and later on Gerry’s marriage failed as he struggled with the return to civilian life.
Dad joined up next and much to his frustration his battalion was posted to North West WA to defend the coast line against the presumably inevitable Japanese invasion. He never saw active service, much to his mother’s delight and relief. However, he lived the rest of his life with that nagging feeling of “not doing his bit.” Neighbours who joined up with him fought and died in far-flung pockets of Africa, Asia and Europe and for men of the time there was that sense of guilt over not having served in combat overseas where so many others gave so much.
Not long before he died aged 90 I asked dad about the experience of joining up and living through a war. I was particularly interested in a photo of him and about eight local mates mounted on great horses in full military gear, complete with the famous plumed hat of the Light Horse regiments. Smiling broadly, proudly wearing the uniform, so innocent and seemingly unworried about what might lie before them.
I asked dad about this and why they joined the army. “Were you not worried after what everybody had suffered during WW1? Did it not occur to you that once the excitement and novelty wore off the Germans and Japanese would be shooting at you; there’d be countless ways you could get killed or maimed? You may never see home or your family again?”
I distinctly remember him looking out the car window and pausing before answering. “Yep, we all knew that of course, but you’d never speak about it and you’d certainly never let it stop you joining up. We just never really thought about it too much. We just knew we had to do our bit; everybody was involved.” I wonder how any of us would go if we were placed in the same situation and what your mum and dad would say if you were joining a conflict like WW2.
Dad’s younger brother Des was the next to join up but was quickly discharged due to bad feet. Des was the baby of the family and dad always though he was treated a little easier and his early discharge only made him more special in my grandmother’s eyes. However, as a kid I wondered if Des experienced that uncomfortable anxiety in a corner of his mind that he had not been able to contribute and had gotten off lightly when so many others gave so much.
I wonder if those of us in our generation who have no connection with military life or experience can comprehend the sacrifice, the commitment, the courage required by so many Anzacs, both past and present? If nothing else we should use this annual opportunity to remember, to acknowledge and honour those who have gone before us and those who continue to serve in Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict today.
Australia’s living connection with World War II is fading, the country losing almost one in seven veterans of the conflict in just twelve months. The sharp fall in veterans comes as the number of former Diggers across all wars diminishes by almost 20,000 people a year. Latest government figures show the number of Diggers still alive nationally stands at 372,800, down about five per cent from the 388,900 total the previous year.
Veterans groups are now so concerned about the drop off in smaller regional country towns that they are calling on relatives of deceased Diggers to return home and honour their loved ones in their former hometowns. I saw my dad march as an 89 year-old in his tiny country village with a small band of men of similar age. It was a memorable spectacle and we can only wonder at what stories and pride they and all our diggers carried with them as such an important part of our history.
Lest we forget.