I write this in remembrance of the men (and today, the women) who suffered in war, who witnessed unimaginable horrors and carried images and sounds of human terror for the rest of their lives. I write it also in absolution, in forgiveness for them and for us, their children and grandchildren who carry their agony in our genes. My father tried many times to explain this, that what we suffer makes us what we are and only now do I really understand. We must never lose our hope and our compassion.
ANZAC Day is the reason we emigrated to Australia as a family of three in 1969. Thirty years after the start of WWII, when my father joined the British Army, he realised his dream of becoming an Australian. He had served in the desert campaign under Montgomery, and during that time had been introduced to the ANZACs, particularly the Australian contingent, with whom he formed close bonds. These were men after his own heart, with a healthy disrepect for authority, and stories to tell of a wide brown land where a man could feel completely free. Well, it wasn’t quite like that when he got here, but the horizon was further away, the skies impossibly more blue and it already felt like home because the friends he had made had not forgotten him. (They only asked that he not tell their wives about thir antics in the war.)
That wasn’t hard to understand – he carried this picture of my mother through the war, and the only time he told her about a woman he had met – a destitute widow and mother in Holland, whom he helped with money and rations and who taught him to make Dutch coffee – she was a bit miffed at first, until she learned how deep the pain and suffering of the innocents in war had cut into his soul – and that woman, I am sure, remembered him with deepest gratitude.
This is one of the pictures he sent back, of some enormous vehicle that he was in charge of driving cross the desert. Yes, it’s a boat. I have no idea why.
ANZAC Day is a day of remembering, and for me, of remembering that it brought us here 47 years ago, the memories of those brave and daring men who made my father fall in love with a country he had never seen and whose dreams of a wide brown land stayed with him long after the war had ended.