…entre nous soit dit…

between me you and the gatepost.

ANZAC Day: They were and still ARE our legends

A friend of mine posted a blog on his blog website called ANZAC Day talking about ANZAC Day and its commemorative value and ideas. Seeing as he’s a good writer and usually rather entertaining, I had a look because I haven’t done so in a while and wasn’t surprised to see quite a few new blogs. Reading them, I came across one Blog which I found no humour in and quite frankly I disagreed with down to almost every sentence.

I have just arrived home today from a trip across to Thailand and during my trip, we took a tour to Hellfire Pass for four days so that we might commemorate ANZAC Day, a very special day on the Australian Calendar, at Hellfire Pass, which I have previously written about because I’m doing a project on it. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience which was incredibly amazing and mind blowing. All my expectations for it were blown away and overwhelmed by far. I can’t even begin to say how amazing it was and how eerie it was to be at the place where I have heard of so many stories that took place there. To imagine the hardships that our men had to endure and of all the things that the six men that were prisoners of war and that I have come to know, respect and that now have a spot in my heart, had to go through.

Having now been to the service, knowing veterans who fought and even before going to Hellfire Pass, reading this blog by my friend gave rising to feelings and passion on the subject. 

First of all, if you ever take part in an ANZAC Day service and listen to the speeches (no matter how long they may be), they usually always admit the fact that World War One was indeed not the first battle the people from this country fought in. They always acknowledge the fact that we did fight in the Boer War, the Sudan War and the Boxer Rebellion. These are commonly known facts seeing as they are taught to kids in schools these days as part of the mandatory Australian History.

However World War One was the first time that Australia foughtas Australia. Before the First World War we hadn’t been a united country. Australia had been young and as it was so commonly shown in those days, still a child. The wars they we took part in and helped with prior to World War One had all been fought as West Australians or Queenslanders or New South Walers – not as simply Australians. We were still a divided nation and if you had paid any attention to history in school, or even if you were bored enough to look at the one dollar and fifty cent coins from 2001 when there were huge celebrations, our country only became one nation in 1901 after federation when we became the Commonwealth of Australia (seeing as you love wikipedia: federation for dummies). So the First World War really was Australia’s first War as a whole nation and not as separated states, and Galipolli was Australia’s first battle, which is why we celebrate it as the beginning of the ANZAC Legend. Rather than it being something like the NSWQLDTASNTWASAVICACTNZAC which is what it would have been if we weren’t one nation and wouldn’t have been much more igificant than any other battle, the legend of the Australian New Zealand Army Corps was born at Galipolli because it was our first battle and it was the first taste  of war that our nation had been given, hence the news headlines “Baptism of Fire” by the newspapers.

We went to war not because we thought we were under direct threat of invasion as we were in World War Two, but because we were still apart of the British empire. Federation was just the first step to becoming our own country. Britain had developed our nation and although we were on our way to becoming independent, we weren’t even recognised as separate to great Britain until after the war when we were recognised for our efforts in all our battles, the lives lost and then after the war when Prime Minister Hughes demanded that Australia represented itself at the League of Nations and that it signed for itself on the Treaty of Versailles and not be represented by Great Britain. So because Australia was still very much a part of Britain before the war, people still had strong bonds with Britain and when the “Mother country” was in jeopardy and at war, most did feel the need to help fight for it. 

Although we did not have any direct invasion threats and weren’t defending Australia itself when fighting in Turkey, is it not true to say that just one possibility, if circumstances had been different and the Allies hadn’t won the war, is that Germany would have claimed the land it so desired once it had beaten Great Britain and the other Allies. It wouldn’t have stopped at taking just a few countries – it would have crippled Britain and the other great powers and then taken all the land it wanted until it would have become one of the greatest powers. If Britain had of fallen from power as Germany did, then who would have protected the newly federated and still young Australia? We are certainly too big with too small a population to completely defend ourselves and all our shores. It is well known that when fighting on the Kokoda Trail, if the Japanese had penetrated and defeated Australia at Port Moresby and further then we would have been very close to defeat and probably would have had to conduct some sort of treaty because Britain would not get their troops there in time – and Japan did get within around 50 kilometres of Port Moresby. So where we fought was in each scenario to help the Allies yes, but in doing so Australia ensured its protection by Britain and it’s Allies in the event that we were under direct threat. 

It is also commonly known that the Galipolli campaign was a failure and none deny that, because the ANZACS did have to withdraw their troops, and that is what is taught in schools around Australia. However stating,
I just find it very hard to equate the nobility and honour of saving the innocent with the sheer dumbfuck battle tactics on display at Gallipoli, especially when it gets warped and twisted into some kind of ideal Australian value, soaked in blood 
and implying that we glorify Australia’s ‘dumbfuck battle tactics’ which caused so many deaths is wrong, because not only was it mostly (not that I’m saying completely, because Australians did do quite a few stupid things) the British commanders and officers who, firstly, planned those suicidal mission, and secondly, made Australian’s carry them out.

But the most important thing that needs to be recognised here is that despite anything that is said, these men did die for us and they deserve to be recognised for that. Whether or not they had stupid commanders who sent them on suicidal missions, they went to war for a reason that was or wasn’t anything to do with their country, or whether or not our country was in what some would call real danger, these soldiers fought for what they thought was right and they died believing in their cause. The soldiers died fighting for a cause that they thought would protect their families, their homes (be it Britain, Australia or both) and their rights as free men.

So no matter what you believe about the war they fought in, they lied their lives down for you, and for those that came back they endured such horrors at war, that they were never the same again. I know men who have come back from wars and been so horrified with what they have been through and how they were treated that they became an alcoholic for over thirty years until finally their wife divorced them and they woke up from their drunken lifestyle. And others who on the night of their honeymoon with their wife been woken from dreams about Japanese soldiers to realise the hotel manager is pulling them away from their wife who they just strangled in their sleep – he was lucky his wife survived. Others haven’t been so lucky – one man smothered his wife in his sleep with his pillow and when he woke to realise he’d killed her, he took a shot gun and ended his life. This was a regular occurrence it seems to many of the ex-veterans. Even my mother grew up on the farm as a child after World War Two and knew when Barry stayed the night at their house they had to stay in their rooms even if they heard odd sounds, and they were to keep their door locked because he was prone to bad dreams and sleep walking.

Most of these men went to hell and back fighting for our country – some of them against their will and some of them out of the kindness of their hearts. Either way, we should all remember their deeds and their history, because theyare a big part of our nation’s history and they fought their way into that so they deserve to be remembered. I have personally been touched by the stories of people that have become dear to me. And although I might not find the same spot in their heart as they have for their comrades who understand each other on a deeper level than we could ever hope to gain, I shall still admire, commemorate and always, always remember them. Men and Women that fought alike…

Lest We Forget.

May 9, 2008 Posted by | ANZACs, friends, life, people, society | Leave a comment

They Fought For Us.

Something that is really saddening and not really thought much about in this society is the past. I know I’m a big believer in leaving the past in the past and letting go of it because what’s done is done – that’s it, there’s no more. However lately I’ve found myself looking back quite a bit. Our society gets all hyped up about being proud Aussies and once a year when ANZAC Day rolls around on the 25th of April, we all come out to celebrate and remember the brave soldiers who fought for us to give us the nation we have today – and then there are always that stupid idiots who don’t give a damn and only see it as a day off work. 

Lately I have been doing a class assignment for History and I decided to do mine on the Thai/Burma Railway Prisoner of War Camps from World War Two. I chose to do this subject because I’m flying over there in 11 days to do a jungle trek ending up at Hellfire Pass for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service there (Hellfire Pass is the main cleared area from the POW camps), and so I wanted to do my assignment on something that I would understand and have sort of experienced in a way  – plus it would make the actual trip that little bit more moving. So by chance we saw an ad in the Newspaper saying that there was going to be a meeting for all the members going on a certain trip up to Hellfire Pass for the Dawn Service (they are on a different tour group to us however). So we phoned up to ask if we would be able to come along to the meeting and maybe even interview some of the veterans there if possible. They gave us the A-OK and so I went along.

Since then I have interviewed only one of the five veterans that were present, read books, watched documentaries and been through piles of photos and records. But I think what has hit me the most in doing all of this is the willingness of the lovely man that I interviewed to open up to me. He has shared his experiences, told me things I would never have thought he would admit and has even shared his own personal belongings with me to look at (including his own journal, photos, scrapbooks and even original pieces of paper that he wrote while inside the POW Camps). Looking at those things wasamazing and the things that he has shared with me has been overwhelming.

I’ve also been in contact with a few other veterans who have all been more than willing to share their stories with me, and one thing that they have all had in common was that they all said that there was such a strong relationship and bond formed between the all of the POWs that were together and that even after the war ended a lot of them felt closer to each other than they did to their wives and families – because they all went through the same atrocities together and no one else would be able to even understand the things they went through. These men formed unbreakable bonds that they would carry with them for life. Now 62 years after the ending of the war they still carry that bond in their hearts, but even as they still hold onto it, it’s slowly dying as slowly less and less of those brave souls, who are so often overlooked, are leaving us.

Getting to know this one veteran has really opened my eyes to this whole world of theirs that the average person hasn’t even the foggiest hope of ever imagining and only someone who actually cares about them can only glimpse. Walking into his home today, I realised how strong this bond is, and how for many of them, after the war it was all they had. His home was so small consisting of two rooms if they could really be described as being two actual rooms. Although his marriage broke down as a result of the war and the bond with his fellow POWs being stronger resulting in him being a bachelor the rest of his life, his home was so small for one person, it was amazing to see just how much he could fit in there.

It was like one large shrine to the his friends and family who served in the war and have passed on. As you walk in the door there is a framed newspaper article about the death of Vivian Bullwinkle who he never met but none the less she became his legend. Walking two more steps and your half way through his “house” where on the wall he has created a collage from floor to ceiling of war memorabilia including stuck photos, original discharge papers from the army for himself, his brother and his father, photocopies of certificates, medals and notes. The rest of the house is well organised and yet cluttered with old photos everywhere and a book shelf with labels reading ‘Autobiographies’, ‘World War Two Books’, ‘POW Books’ and other assortments of war related books ending in the Readers Digest Short Stories. 

Its amazing being in there and finding that the cluttered yet neat house of an elderly man can hold so many memories. Just sitting inside the home you feel at home and somehow, you can feel the spirit lives on inside that house, like as if the bond is still present within that home and the memories are still kept alive by this one brave man.

Leaving his house I shed a tear at the sadness and yet the happiness that one man can hold within himself with the memories he shared and the bond that is stronger than most will gain in a life time, and at the same time the knowledge of some of the most horrible crimes committed. He doesn’t get rewarded or even the proper acknowledgement he deserves for what he endured for our country.

But he’s almost alone now. No family, friends slowly leaving, body ageing, and eventually he will be the last one left. What then? Does the memory live on?

For every veteran out there today, whatever race, I thank you for the deeds that you did for you country.

To every ANZAC out there, I hope you still hold that bond close to your heart, because together and alone you are all something so much more special and rare than anything you can find on this earth today. Each of you should be commemorated, remembered and loved like you are owed. For all that you did for us and for all that you endured to shape our country to the lucky place we live in today, Thank You.

To all the men who lost their lives for us in the many battles, thank you.

Lest We Forget.

April 9, 2008 Posted by | ANZACs, life, people, society | Leave a comment