Australia and Turkey fell silent today. Half a world apart, people gathered before dawn in local parks, on beaches, at cliff tops and in nursing homes, then joined in remembering the fallen. Wherever Australian or New Zealand troops are stationed, they too stopped, stood and remembered. These words were read into the smudged dawning light:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.¹
Thousands murmured in reply “Lest we forget.” A bugle sounded, repeating and echoing throughout the day around the earth, mixed in with sounds of waking kookaburras (where I was in Australia) and waves on the Gallipoli shore.
Later in the morning, when the sun had risen on the beaches and fields once emptied of young men in Australia, and then filled to sodden in Turkey and Europe, more thousands lined main streets to cheer and wave at the veterans walking, rolling, chauffeured and shuffling past. Flags flew to commemorate in which conflict, disaster, humanitarian or peacekeeping missions these people served, medals were pinned to both the chests of those who came home and the family members of those who did not, or who have since passed from this life’s battles.
It’s been nearly one hundred years since the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops on Gallipoli in 1915. ANZAC Day has evolved to be an opportunity to remember not only the fallen, but those who have served, who have suffered, who waited and those who continue to wait.
It is also a remembrance of those not forgotten, but unknown. The Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier lies in The Australian War Memorial, visited by millions each year, known by none but God. This soldier is one of countless fallen, whose name and details were lost in the chaos and destruction of war, from just one war arena amongst many. But someone knew that soldier – knew him as a cheeky brat chasing chickens, or knew the perfect curve of his cheek as a babe, or watched him march in line away from the town’s centre. Or realised too late that he’d run away to join the war, the action, his Dad, brother, uncle, friend. Someone knew him as a son, or as a brother, someone else knew the cackle or slow rising tide of his laugh on the ship to Europe, someone knew his dreams for when he got back, or when he landed so far from home. Not one of those people knows where he is buried.
I have a great-great-uncle who served in WW1. He died in France, in the stinking mud and fury of Pozieres, part of the Battle of the Somme. I have copies of the Red Cross confirmation another soldier made of seeing him being stretchered past, of the telegram sent to the Cowra clergy asking his father be advised of his death, and the careful calligraphy of a scroll his parents were given from the Commonwealth’s King. What I don’t have is a picture of his grave.
I know where he is buried. He is laid to rest safely in France surrounded by thousands of his fallen mates. But no family member has yet been able to make the journey there, to feel his etched name beneath fingertips, to bear witness to his sacrifice, to lay some poppies and rosemary in thanks and remembrance. I want to go to France. I want to make my way across the field and seek out his name. I want to take a picture of where he lies. I want to be able to tell him that I am family. I want him to know that he is not forgotten.
¹For the fallen, Laurence Binyon (1869–1943).
Do you have family who have served their country? Are there any remembrance activities you participate in? Is there a part of history that intrigues or enriches you?