Dad was a WW11 veteran. He saw active service in New Guinea and was in Burma after the armistace.
As far back as I can remember my dad marched in the ANZAC day dawn services. As a small child I would watch the marching on the TV. As Dad marched in Sydney alongside his army mates, the whole family watched carefully, hoping to catch a glimpse of our dad. It was a futile cause as there was thousands and thousands of marchers, but I suspect that mum wanted us to feel a part our dad's march. We didn't really understand. The war wasn't something that dad would talk about.
As the last of his army mates died, dad chose to march at a service closer to home, and so for the last 15 or so years of dad's life, we joined him for the Dawn Service. I would leave home at 4am, taking with me any of my girls who wanted to come, and meet my sisters and brothers and their families, and mum and dad at the collection point.
Dad, wearing his medals proudly on his chest, joined the other Diggers on the road as they began their march to the Cenitaph. There was a long line of Diggers, service men and women, scouts and guides, and various marching bands. Family and friends walked along the footpath waving and clapping as the Diggers passed.
We all reached the Cenitaph just before dawn, listened to speeches, hymns and verse. And standing there by the lake surrounded by trees, which were full of singing birds, we listened as the bugler play the last post. It was always a very moving service and we were keen to find dad amongst the other old soldiers and give him a big hug.
We celebrated then, over breakfast. Mum, dad, dear friends, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, husbands and wives. Dad was in his element surrounded by his family, joking and laughing and making everyone feel loved and special. It was a lovely day of memories and celebration. Breakfast was always followed on this day by an icecream each, a family tradition, enthusiastically promoted by dad and eagerly anticipated by the children.
Dad had already had one operation for his cancer just before his last Dawn Service. Nobody was sure that he would be up to it. So we toned it down a bit and organised to attend a smaller and later service with a shorter march. With his good mate by his side, he completed the march and we all joined him at the local RSL for breakfast. A lone piper came into the club and played. It was as though he played just for dad, as if he knew it was dad's last march. It made dad very happy to listen to the bagpipes- he was the son of a Scotsman after all!
I remember, as a child, tracing the scar on his back with my finger. It was a schrapnel wound from a handgrenade explosion when he was serving in New Guinea. He told us that the shrapnel was still inside his back too close to his spine to be removed. He told us how the ''Fuzzy Wuzzy's'' carried him down the mountains after he was wounded and how sad he felt that he couldn't repay them with cigarettes, as was the custom, as he didn't smoke. He told us that there is a place named after him in New Guinea to commemorate the place where he was wounded. He told us that he knew his cousin had been killed because, while he was recuperating in hospital, he was given his cousin's parcel from home. Whenever a soldier died his parcels were shared out amongst the patients. Later, just years before he died he started telling my brothers other things about the war. He told them how his mother kept vigil outside his bedroom door when he came home at the end of the war. She listened for when he'd call out with nightmares and be there to reassure him. He told them about mates who were killed.
As children he never let any of the atrocities of the war affect the way we lived. He was a gentle soul at heart and I can imagine the war was awful for him. I can imagine why he didn't talk about it for so long and why he would want to talk about it as he neared his own death.
Dad never, ever glorified war. To dad the Dawn Service was always a tribute to his army mates. In the beginning a gathering of those still living to talk and remember, and at the last, remebering all those gone before him.
I haven't been to a Dawn Service since dad died. It wouldn't be the same. I would just be too sad.
ANZAC Day 2013
They shall not grow 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
LEST WE FORGET