I spent my childhood living on Army bases, Friday nights at the officers ‘mess hall’ eating packets of crisps (that’s what my Dad called chips) and running around under the bright lights of the tennis courts chasing cane toads.
Yes, I’m what we call ‘an Army brat’…the child of an Australian Army serviceman.
I wasn’t born to a serviceman, nope the man who fathered me was a drunk weak man who took off when I was just six months old.
He told my mother he was off to buy a packet of cigarettes then phoned her later in the day to say he was going fruit picking. That was the last I saw of that man until I was in my late teens. Certainly no hero!
Thankfully only a few months later my ‘Dad‘ came into our lives. He was a man with his own demons who nursed a tortured soul but he was a good and kind man who welcomed a woman with two kids into his life. Marriage soon followed and together they had a son and we were a family.
My Dad joined the British Army at thirteen to spite his officer father who had berated him for not saluting him. Thirteen!…it’s so bloody young isn’t it?!
Of course he lied about his age and in the mid 1940’s he was given a uniform and a weapon and he saw and did things men won’t speak off…because they can’t.
Actually he did open up once, a sliver of history…a glimpse. He told me he broke his ankle parachuting into water and spent a week alone and waiting for help.
I don’t know geographically where he was but it was war. Wars rage all over the world, some small, some big, but all so bloody devastating in their own way.
As kids we always attended the ANZAC dawn service, living in Army towns meant it was mandatory. They were always filled with military pomp and ceremony but also always eerie and moving.
Dad would shine his black dress shoes to a mirror finish and starch his military dress uniform so that his collar was stiff and creases sharp. Then, he would steam his slouch hat, a hat he proudly wore for a country he wasn’t born into. The Brasso would come out and he’d buff his medals for what seemed like hours.
I wonder what thoughts swirled in his head as he polished his medals? Who he was missing, whether he had regrets or whether he had any happy memories.
War is gory and insidious and certainly not anything to glorify but for the men and women who serve it’s also about honour, pride, survival, those passed and mateship. This is what we commemorate.
Mateship is what keeps them going and gives soldiers strength. Mates are who they mourn, and also who they turn to remember…or maybe to forget.
A dawn service for me was about the men and women in uniform, my Dad shouting the call to arms, cannon fire and rifle salutes. There was the bugle as it played the last post and the collective click of heels as mirror finish black shoes on the feet of serviceman clapped together and salutes were given.
It was the flame atop a monument, the glow as the sun rose, rain (always raining), numb fingers and noses from the cold air and the welcome thermos of milo after the service.
Dawn services were about seeing my Dad come alive, he was a very introverted man who didn’t give much away but on days like ANZAC day his barrel chest was puffed with pride, his eyes glistened, he was handsome in his full dress uniform and he smiled with his mates.
Today I attend Dawn Services and while I don’t have my Dad’s medals I do have those childhood memories and the pride that comes from being an Army brat.
This morning our service was near the beach and as I listened to the service I could hear the ocean lapping and crashing and I thought of my Dad parachuting into water and how brave and bloody shit scared he must have been.
I thought of what led him to be a soldier and the stupidity of family and his Father who couldn’t find it in his war hardened heart be a Dad to his boy.
Instead he pushed his only child to a life of bloodshed, fear, pride, honour and mate ship.
I thought of all who had held a rifle or sailed on a ship, huddled in a trench, been in combat, returned home forever changed…and those who would never return home.
I also thought of those who were currently on tour far away from family and friends and the Army brats around the country missing their parents.
War is awful and I wish it never existed, that we could co exist peacefully…wishing doesn’t change the truth and the reality of our society though.
To my Dad who fought and was changed forever I say ‘Thankyou‘, for what you went through, all that you saw and endured, and Thankyou for finding your way to me.
I wish your Father could have been a better Dad and I wish you had told me you loved me but I know why you couldn’t…because you never had that and because war changed you.
Thankyou to all the service men and women who ‘have served’, ‘are serving’ and ‘will serve’. Thanks also to the families who support them, miss them and care for them.
My Dad passed away twenty years ago, and today I miss him. I’m going to make a strong cuppa (just the way he liked it) and enjoy a biscuit, rosemary Anzacs.
What’s your memories of ANZAC day? Do you attend a dawn service?
Lest we forget.
Til next time,