Lest We Forget

Anzac Day is special to many Australians but for me it is an occasion with which I have a real connection. With no family history of Australian military service I am often surprised at how the day itself affects me.

This morning, having attended my local dawn service, I went to see the parade through the city of Adelaide. It was cold and wet and windy, but as I watched the thousands of service men and women march past, I finally realised why it is that I feel the way I do.

It has been part of a journey that started when I ran an inner city pub in the early 90s. Among the many lawyers and accountants who frequented our place, we were also blessed with those who stopped by to have a chat and a beer more or less every day. Many of these men served our nation in the Second World War.

Invariably, one beer would lead to another and one could sense the alcohol became a means of chasing away the shadows that seemed to haunt them. To many casual observers, these men were down and out, living from one pension day to another, preferring to spend their money on numbing their mind rather than nourishing their belly.

Over the years some of these men became friends and in many ways we became like family to them. We made sure they always had something to eat and lent them a few dollars when they were short. On at least one occasion I remember sharing Christmas with a couple of diggers as they had no one else to spend it with.

But Anzac Day was always different for these men. No longer were they ageing men, doing it tough. On Anzac Day they once again considered themselves as soldiers who had fought bravely in service of their nation.

They would stop by, proudly wearing a freshly laundered suit, many donning their service medals. To a man, they stood straighter, walked taller and carried with them a quiet dignity that was lacking on other occasions.

While some marched in the parade, many didn’t. I never asked why they chose not to march and if any offered an explanation I do not recall it. However, I do recall on Anzac Day they would share some of their memories with me.

Invariably, these stories were about the many good times they enjoyed from their service days, tinged with sadness remembering their mates who did not return. Often these stories were told with glistening eyes, fighting to hold back tears, sometimes of joy but more often of dolefulness, lest they be considered weak. They were not alone.

Many of these men, with whom I shared a number of years of my life, have since passed away. I am not sure if anyone regularly mourns their loss or thanks them for their service to our nation.

But this morning, as I watched an elderly veteran struggle to rise from his wheelchair so he could march past the South Australian Governor unassisted, I once again remembered how important Anzac Day was to my friends and just how important their service, and that of all the men and women in uniform, before and since, has been to us all.

Lest we forget.

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