The Last Post: Honouring them from sunrise to sunset
This isn’t my last post. But most wil be familiar with the music ‘The Last Post’, a bugle or trumpet call that featured prominently at Anzac Day Dawn Services around the country this morning. I must confess that I’m not much of a morning person, so I have never ventured out to a Dawn Service, but I would like to one day. This year of 2014 marks 100 years since the start of World War One. ANZAC Day is akin to Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom or Veteran’s Day in other countries. A sacred and solemn holiday or holy day where New Zealanders and Australians commemorate rather than celebrate, and remember and honour those who sacrificed their lives in Gallipoli in the First World War. It has now been broadened to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for our country in all wars. And this year, many services will include a field of remembrance. This involves planting a field of white crosses in the community to represent the individual servicemen and women who served in World War One, a poignant visual reminder of the sacrifices New Zealand made.
War is a decidedly masculine affair and we seem to remember it that way. The battles, bloodshed and bravery. But it wasn’t glorious. It was horrible. In the World Wars almost all people would have known someone who lost a son, a father, a brother, or an uncle. Many families lost more than one son. The grief of such families is unimaginable. To lose one child is unimaginable, but two? Can we understand the depth, horror and breadth of their suffering? Some young women lost a fiance or husband. Such heart break.
History has always fascinated me, and the more that I learn about the world wars, I realise that my many in my generation are fortunate not to have experienced such horror. History tells us that for many people, the commencement of WW1, opened up an insular world. Country boys, who proabably had not left their own island, were sent across the globe. Imagine sending innocent young boys, raised for a short seventeen years or so, off to a war where they could possibly be killed. They were only ten or so years older than my son. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
And what about those who were fortunate to come back from war? We know that they were often changed. In WW1 we know that many men lost limbs, and some were left with gassed lungs or blinded. Some scars were not visible but were just as detrimental. Many suffered such horrific psychological trauma that it stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Some experiened shell shock (or what we now know of as post-traumatic stress disorder). And we know that many didn’t talk of their experiences. Counselling was not commonplace in this generation, and the field of psychiatry was only just learning about trauma.
But war affected everyone. What about the brave women who aided both war efforts? Although, for the most part, war was fought by men, it couldn’t be fought without the assistance of women. Those left behind to manage often took on roles usually the preserve of men. They may have taken on their husband’s jobs as a matter of survival. Women who took care of their families and may have struggled while in constant fear of what might happen to their loved one. Women who travelled alongside the soldiers as nurses, ensuring that they were fit to fight. Indispensable women who drove ambulances or built aircrafts by day and knitted socks by night. The women who had to work as well as support a family, all on their own. The women who had to raise very young children all on their own. And the children who may not have met their father until they were two or three, if ever. Do we remember them?
When I visit my sister we often go for dinner at the local RSA (Returned Servicemen’s Association) as it is known for the best good value food in their area. Sadly many RSA’s are struggling to survive these days. They require all diners to stand at 7 o’clock in a minute of silence to remember those who tragically lost their lives in the World Wars. And the expectation of the RSA is that all diners take this standing minute of silence seriously. Fair enough. The enormity and tragedy of the two world wars and the sacrifice made by many for our freedom, is worthy of our respect and reflection. The following Ode of Remembrance is read out.
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.
Laurence Binyon, “For the Fallen”
Whatever view you might hold about the tragic events that precipitated World War one, it was a historic episode that shaped the country in which we live. And for many ANZAC Day is an emotional day. From sunrise to sunset today, dawn to dusk, may we remember and honour the soldiers who fought for our freedom, as well as all those scarred by the horror of war.
Poppies were the first flowers that grew in the battlefields of Flanders in Belgium during World War One and are a symbol of remembrance and hope.