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Edition 117 – Honour

Today is the 103rd occasion of ANZAC Day, the commemoration of that bloody battle fought on the shores of Gallipoli in what is modern day Turkey. Australian and New Zealand troops, under the command of the British Armed Forces, landed on the 25th of April, 1915 as the Allies endeavoured to seek an early advantage in their ultimate aim of capturing Constantinople, the city we know today as Istanbul. Gallipoli was a strategic position in the Dardanelles and if the Allies were successful in capturing it, all sea traffic into the capital of the Ottoman Empire from the Mediterranean would have been cut off.

In the lead up to Australia’s involvement in World War 1, Australia’s population stood at less than 5 million people. An astounding 416 000 Australian men enlisted to fight, not just for country, but for King and Empire. The Great War remains Australia’s darkest hour in terms of deaths and casualties. 60 000 men were killed and almost 160 000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

To put it in today’s terms, that is the equivalent of almost 2.1 million Australian men signing up to fight, 300 000 never coming home and 800 000 bearing the physical scars of the conflict for the remainder of their lives. Australia struggled economically after World War 1 for many reasons, one of which was that so many of the productive Australian workforce never returned home or if they did, were in some degree of incapacity.

Our own family’s history has pages written in war. My wife’s Great Uncle, Albert, was killed on the battlefields in France three weeks before the war ended in November, 1918. His nephew, Walter, my wife’s father, was born in 1921. It was his mother, Elizabeth, who insisted that Wal’s middle name be Albert in memory of his uncle and her brother.

I detailed Wal’s story in Edition 58 – Grit – and how he served in the RAF between 1939 and 1946. He was a rear gunner and radio operator in the bombing command over Europe. He was not de-mobbed until a year after the war had ended, such was the work that was required to return a country and continent ravaged by war for 6 years to some degree of pre-war normality. Today, our family still possesses his RAF logbook and his RAF uniform, each poignant reminders of the time when his life was consumed with not just fighting a war, but in purely basic terms, mere survival.

My own paternal grandfather, George, fought with the Australian Infantry in the Pacific and spent time serving in New Caledonia when the Japanese onslaught seemed almost unstoppable. He was serving overseas when the Japanese bombed Sydney Harbour, an event my grandmother often recalled to me as a time in her life when, as the mother of two small children living in Sydney’s southern suburb, she was the most frightened. Even today, when you mention the Brisbane Line to an older Australian, many of them not only know what you mean, but will recall vividly just how prepared Australia was to cede to the Japanese, so limited were its domestic forces on the ground. Many younger Australians should take the time to know what it means.

There are times we complain about the availability of staff, slow paying clients, government over regulation or competitors that don’t play fair. However, they seem to pale into insignificance when you consider the brutality of war and the sacrifices that those who served endured, including from within our own families. Today is a day to honour each of those and thank them for the enormous contribution they have made to our lives and our Australia as we know it today.

This Week’s Tip

“The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is one of the world’s finest examples of war history. Attending the Remembrance Day service there in 2001 with my wife, our two sons and my mother-in-law, who survived the blitz in London as a young girl, remains to this day an unforgettable occasion. Experience it for yourself.”