Friday, April 25, 2008

Aussie Spirit

Today commemorates all those Australians who fell during the conflicts this world has seen.

It is: ANZAC Day, born out of the landing of Aussie soldiers on the inhospitable shores of Gallipoli on this day, 1914.

Once, young people saw it as a day off school, as a day where old people marched down the street wearing shiney medals and holding flags designating their armed forces unit, as a day when those marchers went to the pub, played two-up (illegal except for this one day), shed a tear or two in remembrance and got absolutely trashed.

But a new generation of Australians are determined to remember those fallen. Today, tens of thousands of Aussies - young and old - travel to those distant shores to remember and pay homage to the courage and indomitable spirit of the young men who fought and died there.

For the first time in ninety years, a similar memorial service is being held at Villiers-Bretonneaux in France. Here, Australian troops turned back the advance of German soldiers. Every year since, the French have held a memorial service, and yet this year is the first, official commemoration ceremony by Australia.

I now have a personal interest in World War I. I always knew my grandfather fought in Europe, but it was a vague kind of thought. Having researched the tree, his courage and determination is ever more real. He was one of two surviving brothers - four brothers and three sisters having died in early childhood - and his parents must have been alternatively proud and scared silly at his enlistment.

On my mother's side, her father and six of his brothers returned wounded; my grandfather, without a leg at the age of 19.

In two weeks, I'll be searching the WWI memorials for two names: a great uncle and his cousin; one at Thievpal, the other on the Menin Gate.

And when I step onto those long past battlefields, walk where my grandfather once marched, I shall step lightly and respectfully, for here lie the brave and the unforgotten of both sides who fought and died for their country.

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