On reflecting on what ANZAC Day means to me, my first recollections were back in the 60’s where old WW1 veterans told stories of the Great War to end all wars, in which my grandfather participated.
By the time I was in high school, at end of the 60’s and early 70’s the WW2 vets were taking over but this was also overshadowed by the Vietnam conflict, with those the age of my older brother being snubbed in the march because it was not a real war!
The pundits of the day were saying that interest in celebrating ANZAC Day was waning and that when the last of the WW1 diggers were gone that would be the end of it! Obviously that never happened, and as I look back over more than 50 years I would like to tell you a story.
Ben was born in outback Queensland in 1887. His family travelled around a lot working in a range of mining communities in Victoria and then Western Australia. He left school at age 14. He gained experience in a range of jobs in the transport and mining industries and when War was declared in 1914, he was working at the Cobar copper mines. The very next day he began the journey to Sydney to enlist in the army.
Following training he served in the 1st Machine Gun Company of the 2nd Battalion of the AIF. It was not long before he was bound for Gallipolli, but never landed; his ship was diverted to Egypt and after further training, he joined the war in France. He rose through the ranks to become Sergeant, and even had the chance of a commission but turned it down. He survived but his brother Joe did not.
On returning to Australia, he paid his respects to his brother’s girlfriend, and in the end married her. Ben was my grandfather and he died before I was born. It was only a couple of years ago that I saw for the first time a photograph of his medals, which included the Croix de Guire, a Belgian decoration for gallantry. On cross examination my mother simply said he would never talk about it. He carried those burdens deep within his soul, as he continued the rest of his working life on the gold fields of Kalgoorlie and surrounding districts as a winding engine driver. He passed away in 1940, aged 52.
Why bother telling this personal story? That is what ANZAC Day is about! It is not about great victories, but recognising and retelling the stories of ordinary Australians who volunteered to help a mate, and we as a nation paid a high price for it.
In every town and village in Australia there is a war memorial, and each ANZAC day a growing number gather to pay their respects, and to remember that sacrifice, which did not end with the last of the original ANZAC’s but continues to unfold with each new generation of Aussies who take up the challenge to live out those same values. It is all too easy to say “lest we forget” than to do the hard work of researching our own family history and telling those stories to our children, and grandchildren, so that “we will remember them!”
Chaplain Ian Whitley