Thursday, 24 April 2014

"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."

This morning I made my annual pilgrimage.  The alarm woke me at 5.30am in the dark and by 6.00am I was out the front door, the first morning glow was just starting to show on the horizon.   My windscreen was iced and I spent several minutes with the heater on full and the wipers going until a space big enough for me to see had cleared. I travelled to a nearby town, parked my car and stepped out into the crisp, fresh morning.  As I moved onto the sidewalk, I turned to look back down the road and I could see many other people, rugged up in coats, beanies pulled over ears, gloved fingers balled into fists and scarves rolled up around necks at an attempt to keep the warmth in and the creeping cold out.

I joined the throng as we all moved like a flowing stream, one destination in our minds. As we turned the corner and got closer to our goal we were joined by more and more, and as we arrived, the sombre crowd was a sight to see.  There were the very young, still in shock at having been pulled from warm slumber and wrestled into hats and coats.  There were teenagers, forming small groups with friends, glad they had someone of their own ilk to be with, deleting the necessity of having to stand with parents.  There were the mothers, fussing over children, making sure warm coats were done up and noses were wiped.  Fathers also were out in force, hands shoved deep in pockets, many wearing medals rewarded to family members – and wearing them with pride.  There were also the elderly, struggling on frames and walking sticks, grateful for the chairs that had been placed for their comfort and ease.

I swallowed a lump that had caught in my throat…it was 6.30 and the service started.  I took a deep breath and stood among the crowd, surrounded by family, friends, acquaintances and strangers as quiet took over and we stood with respect, listening to the service.  I did not join in the hymns…I am not religious and feel a fraud if I pretend.  There was too much religion in the ceremony for my taste but it was all a part of the reverence and esteem that the occasion called for.  I justified it by thinking that many of the people we were there to respect had embraced religion in their everyday lives and many would have found that religion comforting as they faced the horrors and fears that they did.  I have thought for several years now that they need to tone down the religion, and temper it to appeal to a wider audience…especially the younger generations.

The bugle sounded…and silence filled the park.  The sun had started to show above the horizon, and lovely shades of red and yellow started to leak into the sky. I thought of my grandad…of how he might have felt when he first arrived in Pt Moresby.  Luckily he arrived after the fighting had finished and was there for the clean-up operation.  Still, he must have seen some terrible sights…he never spoke about his time in PNG….the images too horrific to be put into words. Witnessing the horror of life on the Kokoda trail too much to bear…and maybe some guilt as he had gotten off so lightly compared to so many others.  War can be devastating in so many ways.

Another lump in my throat as my emotions take over.  A couple of deep breathes and I’m back in control as some of the crowd…the elderly who lived in such a different time and place….stand and sing “God Save The Queen”.  Then, finally, something I feel proud to sing and I join the voices around me as “Advance Australia Fair” rises clear and strong.  I always get emotional when singing the National Anthem.  I love this country and am glad and grateful to have the privilege to call it home.  The people we have come to pay tribute to, fought so we could be free, and deserve our respect….our admiration….and our thanks.  The service ends and the group move off, rambling down the road to the town hall, for a shared breakfast of cold toast lathered with jam or vegemite, tea or coffee topped with rum for those that want to partake, and Anzac biscuits to finish off.

As emotional as the service is for me, it is one that I honour every year and I am extremely proud that my children also attend…a tradition I hope they will also pass on to the next generation….lest we forget.

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