Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Last Post

Not really the last post. Just something taken out of this story I read in The Age yesterday which, for those who did not know, was ANZAC Day.

Fifteen Australian World War I soldiers killed in battle in Belgium finally came home this year - in an unexpected form - under the watch of the newest generation of defence forces.

Victorian air force cadet Robert Schneider and navy cadet Loretta Coste, both 19, were last year named among 12 RSL cadets of the year in Australia.

Their prize was a two-week European trip in February, including a tour of the Western Front. It was an eye-opening and emotional journey for the pair, who were also chosen to take part in today's dawn service at the Shrine Of Remembrance.

As Ms Coste yesterday put the finishing touches to a speech about the trip to deliver this morning, she remembered her time at Belgium's Menin Gate Memorial, where the Last Post is played every night at 8pm.

After laying a wreath, the young group was approached by an elderly Belgian man. The mysterious figure in a wheelchair carefully placed figurines made from shrapnel in their palms. His gesture reduced many to tears.

"He was making these little figurines for all the thousands of Australian soldiers who never made it home," Ms Coste said. "Every time an Australian would make it to the Last Post ceremony he would give them a figurine, and so he's slowly but surely sending home our Australians that never made it home.

The story of the ANZAC's has always made me that little bit proud to be an Australian. As a kid I remember going to the Dawn Service at the Shrine of Rememberance on St Kilda Road in Melbourne. And one cold winter night a few years ago, I stood by the Rememberance Flame in the fore court of the Shrine and, savoring its warmth thought about all it stood for.

I have just finished reading Bryce Courtney's Solomon's Song and the latter half of the book is a rather graphic telling of the Galipolli landings and the subsequent 8 month battle that consumed thousands of lives needlessly. I am of the generation that watched Peter Weir's Galipolli starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee in my teens. I think the depiction of the English compared to the raw, fresh-faced, eager Australian & New Zealanders set forever in our minds the what those brave men ultimately fought for. They went out fighting for King and country and for mother England - they came back having experienced horrors only each other understood. They saw the futility of the campaign but rather than come home empty handed and beaten, they forged a legend of mateship that endures to this day.

Australians have never held much regard for authority. I suspect this stems from the nature of her settlement by the English who used the far flung island as a dumping ground for her lower classes and unsavory types. Funny how now, 200 years later that the number of English 'overstayers' i.e. visa expires but they don't leave, is higher than any other group of 'illegal immigrants' in Australia.

I digress. The Aussies disdain of authority - I wonder if the blokes who fought in those campaigns in WWI under the direction of old, weathered English Generals realised then that to hold a loyalty to distant monarch was not the way to go. Did they see then that they were being used as canon fodder for the English? Did they understand how lightly their plight was taken by those in authority, those calling the shots?

Nearly all the old diggers are dead now, they do not march in Melbourne on ANZAC Day anymore. However yesterday, 10,000 more people than last year attended the Dawn Service. This made me glad. I want to go next year and I want to take Ian with me. I feel it is important to remember those who fought well for their country - in a malestrom not of their making (I think I just quoted John Howard but he does not write his own speeches so I feel only slightly less dirty) for their sunburnt country and land of sweeping planes.

Listening to: Various Cold Chisel tracks.
Reading: Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje


Anonymous matt said...

the fishbowl was was my bizarre reference to Kro2, which is on Oxford Road next door to the BBC. i used to work there. i don't really recommend it but then again it has lots of outside seating and is convenient to some stuff that i do.

nice to meet you - kind of a meeting i guess.

11:43 PM  
Blogger claudy said...

Ahh - I go home past Kro2 every day. It has got a great outdoor space - on of the few in Manchester. I'd even use that space in winter as it sure beats the smokey, noisy atmo inside.

Are you Australian?

Yes, nice to meet you too. It is a kind of meeting. Its actually how I met my husband so very much reality in one sense eh?


1:00 PM  
Blogger Marvin B. Stokes said...

I went to the dawn service once and felt like crying. All the old blokes there with their medals and berets. During the silent period you feel as though you are there alone, but really you are surrounded by thousands of people all sharing a common experience. - Awesome!!

Check this out if you are interested in the Shrine:


11:47 AM  

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