“Are you marching in the ANZAC Day parade this year Grandad?”
“No Mitchell, you know I don’t like to march.”
“But why Grandad? You fought just as hard as anyone else. Besides, since I’m joining the Army soon, I thought maybe we could march together.”
Grandad closed his eyes and took a deep breath before allowing himself to look at his eighteen year old grandson. Mitchell was surprised to see tears in Grandad’s eyes as he opened them again.
“Mitchell, when I was growing up, my father used to tell me stories of when he fought in the Great War. He always said it was the war to end all wars. I grew up on tales of the bravery of the ANZACs as they fought in the trenches at Gallipoli and then in Europe. My father lost his leg in a battle near Amiens in 1918, but he always told me the loss was worth it if it would bring peace to the world.
“When war broke out again in 1939, my father was devastated. It seemed that everything he had endured was wasted. I joined the 8th battalion, the same battalion my father fought with through the First World War. I thought he’d be proud of me, but when he found out I’d enlisted he cried for hours. That was the first time I ever saw him cry and afterwards he sat me down and began to tell me the gruesome side of war. He wanted me to be better prepared than he had been. That talk began to shatter my boyhood ideology of war but I still had no idea what it would really be like.
“I was in Darwin for my twenty-first birthday. We spent the day digging bodies out of the ruins after Darwin was bombed again. My father died while I was in Darwin and my mother was left alone to endure a second war knowing her loved one was on the front lines.
“In September of 1944 we headed for the Solomon Islands and in July 1945 we attacked the Japanese at Commo Ridge.”
Grandad paused and placed his hand on Mitchell’s shoulder. A single tear ran down his cheek as he tried to steady his voice before continuing. “My two best mates died that day, Mitchell. When I close my eyes, I can still see them walking just in front of me.” Mitchell watched as Grandad’s eyes closed. As if reliving the moment Grandad turned his head to one side and, raising his arm as though to protect himself from something, he continued the story.
“There was an explosion and the next thing I knew, there were arms and legs flying everywhere. We won that battle but it was at a high price in my mind. That day, I understood exactly how my father had felt.
“When I returned home in October of 1945 I couldn’t live with the fact that life at home continued as though nothing had changed. My family owned a little cabin up in the mountains so I shut myself up there for six months until the nightmares eased a little and I determined to put that part of life behind me. Mitchell, I have not spoken about the war to anyone until today. For sixty-eight years, I have held the memories at bay. But now my boy, I need to tell you; war is not about heroes and victory. It’s not about the mother country, or duty or honour. It’s ...”
Grandad’s voice finally broke, and dropping into the nearest chair he began to sob. It was several minutes before he could speak again.
“You know, Mitchell, it’s such a relief to talk about it at last. I’m not sure now why I joined up, but I survived because of the bond I developed with my fellow soldiers. We didn’t fight out of loyalty to the mother country, or from a sense of duty, we fought because of the mates standing beside us every day. We would have done anything for each other. If you are going to become a part of the ANZAC tradition, you need to understand this one thing, the men you fight with will become the best mates you ever have. Your lives depend upon your trust and loyalty to each other. The ANZAC spirit is about comradeship, courage, selflessness and sacrifice.
“Mitchell, I think maybe I will march this year. I’d be honoured if you would march beside me.”
Editor’s Note: ANZAC stands for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”. The ANZAC soldiers during WWI gained a reputation for endurance, ingenuity, good humour, mateship and disdain for social differences. Today this is known as “the ANZAC spirit”.
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