ANZAC Day — 25th April

Lest we forget

Aussies going into action, 25th April, 1915

I hope we Australians never forget.

“It was a cruel war …”

So said my grandfather, offering the only commentary he would give on World War II.

War is a cruel and bloody thing. She offers no mercy, shows no partiality. She robs both men and women of the joy of living and in its place she plants horrid images, rasping memories of death and destruction. Grown men weep as war veterans returned, decades later still haunted by the pain — both physical and emotional — that war offers as her parting gift.

5th Battery, 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, 1915

Men who return eternally changed discover that the images of war cannot be easily erased. The stark reality of losing people next to you, behind you, in front of you — the constant fear of being next. You soldier on because you must. Hopefully you’re one of those that return as unscathed as possible.

But then there’s the faces … another human being to kill.

Kill or be killed.

It’s a harsh reality; it’s war. War that keeps good people trapped like animals in some cruel experiment, like mice contained, running, fighting, surviving. I doubt we can truly understand it if we haven’t been there ourselves. And thank God if we haven’t.

My family and I visit the Australian War Memorial (where these images come from) when we visit our nation’s capital, Canberra. We’ve been there twice this year. My son is now six years old and it’s sobering to have him wander through the displays with me, asking insightful, probing questions. How do I explain this to a boy so young, so full of life? Honestly, that’s how, but only as much as he can handle.

When he and I exited the World War I exhibit, he said to me, “I don’t like this place, Dad. It’s so sad …”

That is an appropriate response, I think. Sadness: at the loss life, yes. At the loss of innocence, at the cruel beast that tears worlds apart. Sadness so that we need not have it again.

But there is in these memories a camaraderie, a sense of deep friendship borne from harrowing circumstance. That kind of friendship is as precious as a diamond, I suspect, formed only through time and pressure. ANZAC Day is about remembering the loss as much as it is about remembering the beauty of friendships forged in those times. It’s remembering the lives that were — and those that are — so that we can remember how precious today’s lives should remain.

At the Glen Lachlann Estate College of Arms, every year we honour those who’ve engaged in battle. We choose to never have a lesson about sword fighting or unarmed combat on ANZAC Day, so that instead, we can meet together in honour of these courageous soldiers.

May we never forget the sacrifices that these warriors made for king and country. Let us not forget that those who died were those who had families, lovers, children, siblings, parents and livelihoods — all of them left back home, never to be seen again. And let us remember those warriors who made it back, from whichever war they fought, scathed, scarred, bearing burdens we never knew a person could. They are our friends all, our mates, our next door neighbours and the reason we have the life we do today.

So thank you, warriors all, for your courage. Thank you for your sacrifices.

Lest we forget.