Today, while the sun is shining brightly, there is an iciness to the wind that hints at winter finally arriving in the Southern Hemisphere. Snuggled in bed this morning, safe in the soft folds of my many blankets, I managed to talk myself out of getting up, and am now suffering the guilt of not going to the local ANZAC Day dawn service.
I have to admit a pretty lax attitude towards attendance at such services over the years. As a kid in a small country town we marched every year. Decked out in scout or school uniform, my brother and I would stumble, bleary-eyed, to the car to attend the dawn service, followed by the 7:30 service, and then break for lunch before the hour-long drive to take my mum’s parents to the afternoon service. As I got older other things became more important, like sleeping and assignments. I have attended a total of zero ANZAC services in the past 14 years.
As the years have slipped away, so has my once strong knowledge of the ANZAC tradition which, I decided today, may bear impact on my inability to show the respect deserved by getting out of bed before sunrise just this once. I remember my favourite parts of the services as a child being the Last Post and the Ode of Remembrance, two things I’d always been curious about as a kid. Enter the internet—where information once found in dusty encyclopaedia at a distant library is now available with a quick Google search. A few facts for you:
- The Ode of Remembrance—the verse above—comes from the 1914 poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon. Too old to enlist in the war, Binyon volunteered as a hospital orderly, and wrote a number of other poems on the subject.
- The Ode of Remembrance has become a tribute to all casualties of war, repeated every year on ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand), Remembrance Day (Canada), and Remembrance Sunday (Britain).
- Following the Ode, the response of Lest we forget is often given by those listening as a mark of respect. Alternatively the last line, we will remember them, is repeated.
- In military tradition, the Last Post—a bugle call—traditionally symbolises the end of the day’s activities. Over time it began being played at funerals for dead soldiers, and is now an integral part of memorial services, particularly Remembrance Day and ANZAC day in Australia.
- Traditionally signifying the end of the day or end of duties, during funerals and memorial services it is a mark of respect and final farewell, symbolising the duty of the deceased is over and they can rest in peace.
- The Last Post is followed by a period of silence (one – two minutes) as a period of reflection and sign of respect to the fallen, followed by the rouse or Reveille—symbolising a move to a better world for the dead, and a call back to duty for living.
These moments of ceremony in the ANZAC Day service always surprise me. I have seen otherwise stoic, hard men shed tears, and the wildest, most boisterous of children stand statue-like as the bugle plays. At one event a family feud broke out after a woman blew her nose during the moment’s silence and was shushed by her father-in-law—divorce followed 6months later.
While I do not condone war, seeing fighting for peace as a decidedly ironic and futile activity, I have a deep respect for those among us who have had that level of pride in their country. These men and women ultimately signed their lives over to the state, because they believed that the freedom of future generations was worthy of their sacrifice. That’s amazing. Especially by today’s standards—would our modern society give so willingly of themselves for future generations?
Would we be able to trade Facebook and designer threads for khakis and muddy trenches? I know hundreds of men and women already do, and for this I’m grateful, but on the same scale? During World War 1 approximately 331,000 Australians served overseas, almost 7% of the population. Today, with a population of over 21million, that would equate to 1.5million willing servicemen and women leaving our shores with the strong possibility of never returning. Would you do it, or would you be like me—struggling even to get out of bed and sign up because it’s just too darn cold?
To those who have and do fight for freedom, from Australia and everywhere else, thank you. My gratitude and prayers go out to you and your families, especially those currently serving in unstable zones.
My thoughts are also with families in Beaconsfield, Tasmania today, as they commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Beaconsfield mine collapse. On 25 April, 2006 a small earthquake triggered a rock fall within the mine, trapping two miners—Todd Russell and Brant Webb—for fifteen days, and killing Larry Knight. With the release of the TV movie Beaconsfield this week, this tragedy is again in the minds of the Australian public. While clearly not as impacting as a World War, the death of even one person in such an horrific event deserves acknowledgement and a hope that it will not be repeated.
Lest we forget.
**Poppy image taken from Prana Holistic, words from Australian War Memorial.