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Lest We Forget

By Kellie Purcill

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 fallenLaurence 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?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

12 thoughts on “Lest We Forget”

  1. I liked the account of your great-great uncle. I hope you can go to France someday.

    I don't have much family who have served in the military, nor have I attended many memorial services of any type in the US. But I have had the chance to attend a variety of memorial services in other countries, and to interact with current and former members of several countries' militaries while living overseas. It's particularly interesting to me to see the other side of different conflicts and when I hear someone pray for the troops or see a yellow ribbon, I think of people of many nationalities, not just my own.

    Today I was at the WWII memorial in my city. It's probably the closest this post-Soviet city comes to a state-sanctioned religious site, but it's also a beautifully landscaped park where children play. Victory Day will be here soon and that park will be filled with WWII veterans and their families. It's important to remember, even if the remembering is complicated.

  2. This post was a healing moment and a tender mercy for me. It is beautiful, and I thank you.

    This week my grandfather, a WWII veteran, has started his journey with hospice; the beginning of the end. Thank God for the heroes–those who died for freedom and right and those who lived and continued fighting for these same principles every day of their scarred lives!

  3. I have known about Gallipoli from a young age because the Peter Weir film of the same name is a favorite of my parents'. When my kids get a little older I will share it too; it's a great film for starting a discussion about the price of war.

    My father was in the military for a long time, and my grandfather served in WWII. Neither spent much time in combat, however. I have not spent much time participating in any sort of memorial services, but perhaps I should.

  4. My father and grandfather were both US Army veterans and so Veterans' Day and Memorial Day are a big deal in my family. My other grandfather was from New Zealand, so my mother tried to remind us of ANZAC Day, too. 🙂

  5. Lovely post, Kel. Brought tears to my eyes, solemnity to my heart.

    I have three uncles that served in WWII, one a spy that also was in the D-Day invasion, one that mt the pope while in Italy, another in Japanese prison camp that survived trading his cigarette ration for food.

    My father served in the navy on a submarine during the Korean war, but didn't see combat.

    Having gratitude for their service is important. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Kellie, this was such a beautiful post. My interest in WWI began after reading Anne Perry's World War I series. Then I started doing research and studying the war. I don't have ancestors who participated in that war. And I think that it is a pity that a lot of people pass over studying that period because it was terribly important.

    The reality of the cost of the war hit me at a very odd time. I was in Israel with my family and we had traveled to Beer-sheba. Right next to this incredible playground that my children loved, I spotted a cemetery. Cemeteries are different in Israel and this one looked more European to me. So I went over to explore it and discovered that it was a WWI cemetery filled with the graves of Scottish, British, and Australian soldiers, some very young. What surprised me about the cemetery was how well it was maintained. There were even fresh wreaths of flowers on the monuments. I was humbled that people still take time to care for that place, to tend the graves of those fallen soldiers, even in such a remote place.

  7. Amira – I find it fascinating how different countries and cultures remember war. Loved this: "It’s important to remember, even if the remembering is complicated."

    Aundrea – I'm sorry that your grandfather is "starting his journey with hospice" (what a beautiful way of explaining it). WWII veterans have been through so much, I admire them hugely. You are (both) in my thoughts and prayers.

    FoxyJ – Gallipoli is one of my favourite movies. So many stunning movies deal with war with respect and dignity. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts if you do attend a memorial.

    Jennie W – calendars are full of "Huh?" dates. ANZAC Day is solemn here – but also lots of laughter and games of two-up.

    Sar – two memorial days? I didn't know! Like Melissa Y said, it's interesting to learn about other countries.

    Anon – that's so much experience in those family members! D-Day to Japanese camps covers the entire arena of WWII. Amazing. (And I wanted to be a submariner – fun stuff!)

    Tiffany W – I agree that studying the war(s) is important. Thank you for the description of the cemetery in Israel – it's nice to know the fallen are looked after so far from home.

    Michelle L – Both wars fascinate me, and make me cry. So much pain, but beauty and nobility too.

    Thank you all for sharing!

  8. Kellie – I loved reading this. Your nation's way of pausing over the fallen, those who have sacrificed and served for freedom – it was inspiring. Especially the thoughts about your great uncle. Tender. Someday you'll make the journey to France.

    My husband's uncle was killed in Vietnam, shot by a sniper one day before he was to go home. He was a twin. And every time we visited the Vietnam memorial in DC (when we lived there) we would stand below his name and remember. It is no slight thing to die or live for liberty. Beautiful post.

  9. I cried when I read your desire to visit your great great uncle. Family is such a precious gem – I hope you realise your dream one day and find yourself there and feel his spirit greet you. xo


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