Despite learning about Anzac Day all my life, it wasn’t until recently I found its meaning to me.
As a child, I did attend Dawn Service with my Dad. I tried my best to stay awake and not appear bored.I remember reading the plaque which had far too many names for a small country town. But it held little impact.
At school, I learnt all the history. The First World War, the enlistment of the Anzacs, the training in Egypt, the failed attack on the Dardanelles, the Anzac landings, withdrawal, the trench warfare in France. But history much like news only happens to other people. It had little meaning to me.
But at secondary school, my attitude changed some more. As part of a team working on the school magazine, a debate arose over what to write about the school’s Anzac Day commemoration. Should we put the Ode of Remembrance or something else?
In the end, I lobbied to have the last two verses published. Reading those last two verses as a boy of 14 or 15, about young men going to war and dying really hit home. I felt sad for their loss and thought that but for a mere few decades I could have been at Gallipoli.
The next shift occurred while reading my family tree. Several great-uncles had lost their lives in the First World War, at Gallipoli and France. I absorbed the information and accepted it. After all a family tree is names on a page.
But there I was standing in our street in Footscray talking to our neighbours about its history. After the First World War, many houses were simply vacated as fathers, brothers and sons did not come back home. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. Here was the emptiness of war.
The Dawn Service that I had attended with my spouse (her grandfather was in Changi) the year before suddenly had new poignancy for me.
You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”