Today is Anzac Day, a day to remember those who fought for this country, and in particular, those who made the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in action.
For my father’s family, Anzac Day is probably the most important day of the year. They rise early for Dawn Service, march again in the Civic Service, and drink a lot and often throughout the day to the memory of Pop and others who are no longer with us.
Many an Anzac Day has seen members of my father’s family stumbling out of the RSL just before, or just after, lunch time to continue their drinking and reminiscing at one of their homes. No, they’re not a bunch of alcoholics, it’s just that Anzac Day is the one day of the year they really let their emotions take over and seriously remember those who have passed. The rest of the year they have a strict image to uphold, and the public, and often the private, expression of emotion has no place in that image.
Pop, my father’s father, was a Rat of Tobruk. He would often reminisce about the War, seemed happy to take part in Anzac Day ceremonies, and to talk about his experiences.
My mother’s father, on the other hand, would never talk about the War. He rarely attended Anzac Day ceremonies, but he would attend the annual reunions held later in the year for his Battalion to spend time with his mates and remember those who did not return home.
The difference between the way the two men thought and behaved in relation to the War has always intrigued me.
Perhaps it was due to the difference in their personalities – one was loud and gregarious, the other quiet and unassuming – or perhaps it has more to do with their experiences in Service. Of course, there is also the difference in that one was involved in one of the most well-known and often regaled battles of World War II, while the other fought in an arena so different it might as well be considered a whole different war.
Both of these men have influenced my life in different ways.
Because of the ever-changing factions and in-fighting in my father’s family, my relationship with my father’s father was on-off to say the very least. I knew him more from the stories others told, until we re-connected only a few months before his death. As a child he was someone to fear – he was loud, had a bit of a temper, and my earliest memory of him is standing out the front of his house with him yelling at my parents that he was not going to look after “your mongrel kids” as they drove away and left me and my brother there. Not a good start. As an adult, however, I came to know Pop as a man who lived life to the best of his ability with the ‘tools’ that he had available to him at the time.
My mother’s father, Grandad, on the other hand, was more like a father to me than a grandfather. We went fishing together, watched cricket together, talked together and joked around together. He was always interested in the latest book I “had my nose in” or what I had been doing at school. Although quiet, he was a practical joker, and he was fond of telling me, my aunt and my cousins “don’t get wet” when we would tell him we were going to the beach for a swim. Grandad was an anchor, a safe-haven, and is the once person I miss most in the world and wish ever so dearly that I could have really known him as an adult. Unfortunately, Grandad passed a week after my 21st birthday – a time when I was confused, out of control, and unable to make sense of what I had lived through as a child. I often wonder what he would think of me now, the choices I have made, and the woman I have become.
So, on this Anzac Day, as I sit on a beach thousands of kilometres from either side of my family, I remember these two Soldiers who did what they had to do during the War, and who also left a lasting influence on my life.
May they both Rest In Peace.