I went with some of my family to an ANZAC Day dawn service this morning. My grandfather who fought in WWII, stationed in Italy, was at the service as well. There were children and babies, middle-aged and elderly attendees, all sharing in this sombre occasion; all there to remember. Regardless of our personal feelings about war, maintaining a collective memory of our past, the good, the bad and the ugly, through cultural events such as ANZAC Day, is important.
Soldiers fought for their country and their family, for the life and liberty of those they love, and for future generations. Others fought because they were forced to through conscription. Whatever the reason for fighting, I’m sure no soldier has ever come out of a war unscathed. On ANZAC day, we remember not only those who died on the battlefields or later from war-related illnesses and injuries, but also those who lived. They sacrificed more than we could ever imagine and so many have never been the same again.
As I sat through the short service, surrounded by family and many others – there was a good turn out this year – the sun peaked out over the horizon and darkness gave way to light. Tears streamed down my face and I couldn’t stop crying. I was overwhelmed with conflicted feelings: awe, despair, grief, gratitude, hopelessness, hopefulness and, above all, a strong feeling that remembering is important. Remembering is a complex process and can be problematic but we owe it to those who fought, and to ourselves, to keep collective memory alive.
Every ANZAC day I think also of my nana and other women in her situation, who sacrificed a great deal, too. Their worlds were turned upside down as they were expected to ‘keep calm and carry on’. Fit young men were ripped from their hometowns and dropped into foreign lands to fight. It must have been a surreal experience, to say the least, for the women and children left behind. When those same men came home as returned servicemen, so many wives, mothers, sisters and lovers were suddenly cast in the role of caregiver to broken soldiers, some of whom would never quite recover.
Attending the dawn service this morning has set the tone for the rest of today. These occasions are so important to our culture. They give us time to think and to reflect, to honour and to grieve for the living and the dead, and to learn from the lessons that history teaches us; I live in hope. We humans don’t have a good track record on this, so markers in our culture that remind us of our collective past, as well as our future responsibilities, help us to remember. Remembering is vital for so many reasons. I’ll be reflecting on this today.