I've spent many an ANZAC day at the Canberra War Memorial in my younger days. Always raining. I especially like to remind others of the lesser known Aboriginal sacrifices in the Great War, many enlisted in hopes for equality in civil rights after the war, these hopes were crushed and the veterans were just forgotten. Lest we forget.
"The only thing worse than fighting with Allies is fighting without Allies." Winston Churchill
I was priviledged to attend an ANZAC Day ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) as the guest of an RAAF friend. A moving ceremony and tribute that I will always remember.
Can't remember much about the gathering afterward, other than lots of singing and countless rounds of 2-up. And I think I lost my pants somewhere during the course of events...
It's still 25 April on this side of the world, though it's already Friday afternoon down under. I wanted to salute Australia in general on this special day and the ANZACs that they honor as well. I also wanted to relate a short story to show my appreciation to that fine nation.
For our 20th anniversary my wife and I were able to finally make a long anticipated trip to Australia. We stayed five weeks and a bit, and were having the time of our lives, up to the day we rolled out of the hotel to hit the town in Cairns, on the early morning of Sept 12, 2001. While we were sleeping terrible things had happened back home. We spent most of the next two days in our room watching the news, and feeling every one of the 10,000 miles between us and home. We still had the rest of September left, on a holiday we no longer cared to be on. But for the time being everyone was okay at home, there was no way for us to get back, and even if we did, there wasn't anything much we could have done if we could get back. Everyone at home told us to just make the best of it and finish the trip.
We went through the motions without much enthusiasm, but the Aussies were awesome. Everyone treated us like old friends and it seemed like they'd made it their mission to try to make us happy again. Hugs, handshakes and a firm grip on my shoulder - we didn't sit alone in a restaurant for the rest of the trip. We had 20 million new friends it seemed.
Toward the end of the trip we drove out of Sydney to visit the site of the old WWII prison camp at Cowra. I mentioned to a fellow there, Rob I think it was, that I wished that there was something I could do to show my appreciation, in some small way, for the hospitality we'd received. He said to just tell people what a nice place Oz was, and he added that I could remember the guys that fell here during the Breakout, or raise the flag on ANZAC Day.
I try to do all three; anyone that knows me will vouch for how much I talk up Australia and Aussies in general, I sometimes miss Breakout day (5 August) but I raise a glass in August to the four blokes who died that day. ANZAC Day, though, is easier to remember: the flag goes up before 8AM, so for a while at least it's still the same day here as there. My wife makes ANZAC biscuits and we take a few dozen to share at work (12 dozen this year), and after work today I enjoyed a few Cooper's Ales while watching one of the Footy games we'd recorded last night - Essendon was on fire! Overall it was a good day.
Well the wind is kicking up outside so I'm going to bring down the flag. It's in pretty good shape for a 12 year old flag, but then it gets used three times a year; today, 5 August, and 26 January. It's the least I can do.
Here's to the ANZACs, and to Australia. We'll never forget.
There weren't many cameras in the World War I trenches. Most images of life on the front line were recorded by war artists. There was, however, a camera in the kitbag of Donald McBean. The blacksmith enlisted in 1st Light Horse Regiment in 1916, aged 35. He saw active service in the Middle East, including at Suez, Gaza and Beersheba. He was present for the liberation of Jerusalem and his photographs captured the 1918 surrender of Turkish troops. Among his pictures, published here for the first time after being kept for years in an old cardboard box, are images of an extended line of horses stretching into the distance. There are under-nourished horses and comrades awaiting medical help. As well as taking photographs, it seems McBean collected images. It isn't known how they were obtained, but there are images of Turkish soldiers engaged in routine activities behind the Turkish line. McBean's great-grandchildren, Judith and Glenda, once used the photos as playing cards, not really appreciating how precious they were. Now, one of them, Glenda Miskelly, 60, is cataloguing them for the rest of the family. "He [McBean] had a wife, Maud, and two daughters and was living on a rural property in Mittagong," Miskelly says. "The eldest was my grandmother and she would have been 12 when he signed up. It is difficult to know why he would leave them, unless he was answering the call put out because Australia was running out of men. Either that or he was feeling he should do something, having had his brother, George, killed at Gallipoli a week after the Anzac landings." She notes that in the pictures her great-grandfather looks quite even-tempered, almost cheerful, but that towards the end of his life he became a little short-tempered. "There was a story that a favoured cat went up a sapling tree where they were living and everyone was saying how are we going to get this cat down and grandfather said, 'I'll get it down,' " she recalls. "He lassoed the tree, pulled it over and let it go; the tree righted itself and the cat sailed out. The cat was fine, but that was his answer to getting the cat out of the tree. Lateral thinking or short on patience, one of the two." McBean's regiment returned to Australia in March 1919, but without their horses. They were either shot, or transferred to Indian cavalry units. McBean's blacksmithing skills stood him in good stead after the war. During the Depression he worked on Sydney Harbour Bridge as a riveter and his photograph appeared in the paper marking the start of work on the north side. He died in 1953. "As a child you don't soak up enough – he died six days before I was born, so Maud was a widow for 15 years," Miskelly says. "I wish she was here now – it wasn't until 2005 that we discovered that Maud was descended from [people on] the First Fleet and we could have asked her a lot."