Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ANZAC DAY: Rob Remembers

Last week,  when I asked my partner Rob if he'd like to share his thoughts about Anzac Day on this blog, we were on our way home from an appointment with a psychiatrist who specialises in treating serving and former members of the military. Rob's a retired army officer, and the last few months have been tough.

We talked about the doctor's waiting room. Men and women in their twenties, through to Vietnam veterans in their sixties, waiting. They're all good men and women who carry with them the psychological hangovers of war: depression, anxiety, PTSD. Some were chatting about Anzac Day, others were silent.

Anzac Day has its own story, as unique as each of the people it honours. These are Rob's thoughts.

Anyone who's ever worn a uniform takes a moment on Anzac Day. The traditional Anzac Day activities - the Dawn Service, the Gunfire Breakfast, the Anzac Day March and Service, old mates and two-up at the RSL. These are the outward signs of remembrance. Like a duck on a pond, there is much going on under the surface that you can't see.

For those of us who have a lot to remember, attending the Anzac Day Ceremonies can be too hard, too intense, too soon and too late.  Everyone who's been deployed has seen too much and felt too much already - why the hell would we want to be reminded of that?

Memories come as a package deal. Even in war, not every memory is bad. But you can't just select which images and emotions you'll let in. Remember the makeshift cricket matches and the marathon card games and inevitably, you remember the other stuff too. You don't ever forget completely.

There are mates. Anzac Day might be the only time I would get to see them, and even if I don't go to the Anzac Day events, I'm thinking of my mates, remembering our shared experiences, the way we would talk in short-hand, the smells and sounds and tastes. Our shared experiences bind us together.
They bind us to other generations too. The original Diggers are all gone now, just three years short of the Anzac Centenary. Their wars were different to ours, but they set a standard. They were the Anzac Spirit, as we were, and all of those who came between, and those yet to come.

Anzac Day was out of favour from the late 60s to the 80s. It wasn't cool. When I was a young officer, most of the senior officers and NCO's were Vietnam Veterans who'd avoided being blown up or shot, and who'd come home to a different Australia from the one they'd left.  We sent them to fight in a hopeless jungle war. And when they returned, we spat on them. In the aftermath of the peace-and-love 60s, warriors were not welcome. Not even our reluctant warriors, the Nashos, were considered in the same class as the original Diggers, the WWII Diggers or those few who travelled to Korea.

They're scarred, yet many are not as bitter as they should've been. As a society, we should be ashamed of what we did to those men and women we sent to Vietnam.

We've come a long way in 97 Anzac Days. Everyone who's served remembers, in his - or her - way. Respect is everything. 

Some of us are ready to pin on our medals and march with our mates. Some of us, like me, remember more quietly. I'll go to a Dawn Service this year, but I'll stand quietly up the back, remembering. No rum-laced coffee at the Gunfire Breakfast for me this year. I know the other men and women there will recognise me as one of them. Something about me will give me away. I know that they'll respect my solitary presence. This quiet acceptance is now part of the Anzac tradition.

These last few years when I've avoided Anzac Day services have been solitary too. For all the shared experiences, my memories are mine alone.

Perhaps next year I'll stand up the back, wearing my medals. I don't know. What I do know is that Anzac Day goes on. My young friend Nate is just starting his Anzac journey. He's a good bloke. Last year, on Remembrance Day, we were working together in retail. Some shoppers bowed their heads or just waited quietly at eleven am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Others went about their shopping. Nate and I, two generations of soldiers, stood at ease, heads bowed paying our respects to those who didn't come home. The shoppers had to wait.

My generation of servicemen and women has much to remember. Somalia, East Timor, Iraq 1, Iraq 2, Afghanistan, but nothing is more important to remember than those who came before us and those who never came home.


  1. Good on you Rob, it's good to see past the razzamataz to some of the real meaning

  2. Hey there Rob,

    I thought I was one of the few who needed some space at he back of the crowd.

    Thanks for your words, thoughts and the part of you revealed.

    Be kind to yourself today...


  3. Rob I just read your deeply moving post and I can hardly see the screen anymore. I'm currently studying One Day of the Year with year ten and I think they might need to read your statement just to get a glimpse of what it all means. Thankyou.

  4. Well said Rob....Lest we forget

  5. Thank you Rob for sharing your thoughts. I have a greater insight now. I got tingles when you spoke about you and Nate standing at ease with your heads bowed on Remembrance Day. That's a great example for the rest of us to follow (especially former Army Reservists like myself). I hope the next few months are better for you. Cheers!

  6. Thank you Rob - more relevant to me than you can imagine. Very comforting to see these ideas in print.