Peace and perspective: An ANZAC Day reflection
ANZAC Day is often a bittersweet experience. A national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand to commemorate the sacrifice and service of veterans, both past and present, it provides an opportunity for reflection and gratitude. But it’s a day that can also bring painful memories to the surface and highlight the isolation and loneliness many veterans struggle with, particularly once they’ve left the service.
This year’s ANZAC Day 2018, was a little different for me. For the first time since my medical discharge from the Australian Regular Army, I felt called to join the march in Melbourne. Which just happened to coincide with female veterans leading the march for the first time.
Connection in the crowd
My friend Nicky and I caught the first train of the day into the city, and what struck me at that early hour was how happy the other passengers were, gazing openly around the train carriage, making eye contact and smiling. There was a real sense of warmth and connection among a group of complete strangers (rather different to the usual closed off atmosphere of the daily work commute).
The crowd disembarked at Flinders Street Station for the walk to the Shrine of Remembrance, a diverse mix of nationalities and cultures, age groups and religions. There was no pushing or shoving, no impatience or aggression. If someone happened to be accidentally bumped, you’d hear a quiet word of apology. We moved as one, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, a peaceful tide of human beings all heading in the same direction, out of the station and up St Kilda Road.
An estimated 35,000 people gathered for the Melbourne dawn service this year to pay their respects, which also marked 100 years since the WWI battle of Villers-Bretonneux. Despite the size of the crowd, the feeling was overwhelmingly one of peace, calm and connection.
The dawn chorus
Nicky and I found a position up the front to watch the band play and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Choir perform, with the St John Ambulance crew on standby, as well as police and military personnel. The service was emotional and moving as we honoured our fallen mates.
In another first, a female serving member of the Australian Defence Force, RAAF Group Captain Annette Holian, was given the honour of addressing the service. She delivered a powerful speech, highlighting the struggle and trauma in the war zone and urged people to ask veterans about their service and experiences. This was especially significant to me, after my own years of struggle following my discharge from the army.
Time to march
Too often as women, our contribution and sacrifice as veterans is erased from the history of war. We’re frequently asked if we’re wearing our medals on the wrong side, so common is the assumption that it’s only men who serve their country in this way.
I was welcomed with a smile and a sense of belonging by everyone I met, as we were all veterans. At the sound of ‘quick march’, it was as if no time had passed. Some things are so ingrained you never forget. I was marching side by side with women I’d never met before, of different ages, service and corps, both discharged and currently serving. To take my place beside them filled me with enormous pride and satisfaction, and it was incredibly moving to be marching up the road, the streets lined with people cheering and clapping.
There were thousands of people marching; young and old, mothers pushing prams, fathers holding the hands of their children, family members assisting their elderly relatives, the elderly walking with a cane, some on motorised scooters, those unable to march being chauffeured in cars. The oldest surviving veterans receiving the loudest cheers and applause.
Peace and perspective
Afterwards, my friend and I made our way to a nearby hotel in search of my corps members (RASigs). The women veterans I had marched with arrived later and we sat together with three older Infantry veterans and talked for hours. There was much laughter, hugs and great conversation, with new friendships forged.
Throughout the day, I witnessed what I could only describe as a sense of ‘oneness’ and connection. Everyone coming together from a place of love, respect and gratitude. I felt filled with love, wisdom, humility and clarity, and with a powerful sense of peace as if I was home.
It was a remarkable experience and it reminded me that no matter what struggles we are trying to overcome, we can always find our way back to a place of peace and perspective.
From Group Captain Annette Holian’s dawn service address:
To be kind especially to yourselves
To be human – to lower the bar and accept imperfection,
We are all imperfect, but that does not make us unworthy.
Accept yourself just as you are – you are enough.
Over to you
Did you attend ANZAC Day this year? What were your observations of the day? What does it mean to you? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below.
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