This post was originally published a few years ago. Before I became a mum and when I defined myself as two things: a journalist and an Army wife. My husband ‘Sarge’ was a solider for 13 years before discharging in 2013. He did many tours overseas. I did many tours at home.
Before the sun kisses the horizon, a lone bugle sounds The Last Post.
The mournful brass notes cry the final farewell, a message for the fallen: your job is done, rest in peace.
And then – in the darkness – we fall silent.
Because the words thank you will never be enough.
The Anzac Spirit and our nation’s character were forged on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915.
A century later and Anzac Day is a great day off: a chance to sleep in and not think about work.
Some Aussies will flick past the parade on the TV and give a thought to what Anzac Day means.
Some might head out to a parade or a dawn service. I mean, who doesn’t love a game of two-up and a beer at 10 in the morning?
For some, it’s a day of community and respect. A day to be proud of our history.
Can I tell you what Anzac Day means to me?
Anzac Day is not just for the fallen. It’s also for the battle weary: men and women who came home and brought the war with them.
It’s for my hero, my husband. A man who has left me behind countless times. A man who changes, just a little bit, every time he comes home. The man who still looks like the boy-band heart-throb I met at 18 but who can never tell me what he’s seen or what he’s done.
For this one day he can avoid the concerned people, searching his eyes for signs of emotional damage. He’s with his mates who never need to ask.
They already know.
On Anzac Day I see snowy hair and lined faces, I see biker jackets and tatts, I see clean cut boys and girls who are still enlisted. They’re all smiling on ‘their’ day, back slapping and reminiscing. But beneath the smiles they’re carrying scars only their mates can see…. they recognise the battleground in the eyes of their brothers and sisters in arms.
It makes me want to say:
What you went through was more than we should ever ask of a fellow human being.
While I can’t fully grasp what you did or how it changed the way I live today, I want to say thank you for doing it.
Thank you for leaving your family, your friends and your home.
Thank you for travelling for months on end to sit in a pit of horror and watch your mates die around you while you waited for your own end to come.
Thank you for doing it even though you might not have known what you were getting yourself in for or maybe you had no choice.
Maybe you hated every minute and sobbed silently at night, wishing with every cell in your body that you could go home and be safe and warm again.
Maybe you hated yourself for being weak enough to cry out for your Mum.
Maybe you think you made no difference because when you came home you were spat on and called a child murderer.
I wish I could take that back for you. I know you were just doing what you were asked to do. What you were told to do. I’m sorry if we ever made you feel otherwise.
And to our newest diggers I want to say: I’m sorry if we don’t acknowledge that it’s hard for you too. I’m sorry we don’t give you credit for the work you’ve done. I’m sorry we talk more about Australia’s insignificance and futility instead of talking about your progress and contribution.
I’m sorry we never take a moment to honour your mates before using their deaths as a reason to start polling public support for the war.
You’ve faced an entirely new kind of warfare; you’ve fought an invisible enemy.
They don’t wear uniforms. They don’t rest at night. They’re everywhere and nowhere and your life could end at any second without warning. They can reach you from the safety of a mountain top, kilometres away. They can reach you with every step you take on roads littered with explosives. That’s a torture we can never understand. It’s our generations’ shell shock.
I hope one day we’ll know how much you did and the difference you made. Then we’ll stop questioning the politics and just say… thank you.
General Douglas Macarthur said: “The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
Our diggers are haunted by sights, sounds and smells we’ll never know. They’ve driven down dirt roads in the Middle East, not knowing from which direction they could be hit. Knowing that each metre of ground travelled brings new threat from below.
They’ve faced kids, the age of their own children, who’ve turned weapons on them. Tiny faces that haunt them.
But they’re the ones who can say, without a doubt, that they’re making a difference. It’s why they go back. They don’t enjoy it, they feel it’s the right thing to do. It’s what they’re driven to do. For us.
It’s why they feel so alone when they hear us say we don’t care, or that we think our forces are useless over there…
It’s hard to comprehend how they’ve made our lives better. We’re spoilt enough that we’ve never had to learn the alternative.
So even though you’re probably in desperate need of a good sleep in and you’re dreaming of sitting in your PJs until 3pm watching old movies, please take a moment to think of our brave men and women.
And if you do make it out of the house, buy a digger a beer. Ask where they served. Talk to them about what they remember. Their pride can be breathtaking and you might just feel some yourself.
Let them know we haven’t forgotten them. We never will.
Lest we forget.