Remembrance Day is exactly that – to remember. To remember those who went away, leaving their families, their community and country, to serve in war zones, risking their life and limb. Most were young and many were to die young. Nations call upon their youth to answer the call, while the older men, either military or civilian, direct their destinies. For many it was a call to adventure or let’s be frank, an opportunity to get away from an unpleasant love affair, a boring job or financial trouble. No doubt many too, enlisted because of patriotic reasons.
Remembrance Day is to remember those who served during World War I and is perhaps over shadowed by ANZAC DAY which has become increasingly popular. But on this day 11th November all those wars and conflicts our nation has been involved in, even before federation and after world war one, are also embraced.
So why do we remember and who do we remember? Remembrance Day for me is to remember those ordinary folk who served in our military forces and our nurses who gave so much. We remember the families whose sons, brothers, grandsons, friends and cousins who were thousands of miles away and they, not knowing what their fate was to be, suffered anguish. Remembrance Day should not be exclusively recalling the feats of those in charge like Generals Monash, Chauval, Birdwood, Blamey, etc, albeit worthy they were, but the young soldier, sailor and airman who plodded the jungles, the marshes, the seas, the skies, the deserts, the arctic ice and whatever for they were really the ones who sacrificed themselves on behalf of others. We remember the privates, the stokers, the able seamen, the air crew, the non-commissioned officers, the lieutenants and captains who led troops while at an incredibly young age and the rate of fatalities of the latter two, per ratio, was very high. We remember those who served in the merchant navy and our nurses should also be remembered because of their unflinching call to duty, their sense of obligation and too, their sacrifice. These are the people what Remembrance Day is all about. The generals have their medals, their awards, their exclusive clubs, with books written about them revealing their exploits on how great they were. But it was young Johnny that really fought and made the sacrifice and if he came home at all, often he did without an arm or leg(s) or perhaps a mangled burnt face as did our fighting airmen and certainly all with jangled nerves.
Mind you, one of my greatest heroes was a general – Sir General John Gellibrand, the highest ranking Tasmanian officer in WWI. A sign of a good general is one who looks after the welfare of his troops and Gellibrand was one of them. His concern was so great that during WWI he clashed constantly with superiors and in one incident, General Monash actually apologised to him, admitting he was right. Gellibrand’s concern for the men continued after the war, founding what was then called the Remembrance Club, later to become Legacy.
Gellibrand would not be easy to get on with. In civilian life he clashed constantly with those with whom he worked, but always, always, his concern was with the returning servicemen. On ANZAC DAY he marched with the men in civilian uniform much to chagrin of Monash and Chauval. In my eyes, Gellibrand was a great man who would not suffer fools easy. Oh, how we need such in these grim days – fearless and righteous leaders!
They are the ones who should not be forgotten. Many of them nameless. Many in unmarked graves in Western Europe and elsewhere, buried at sea or shot down over enemy territory. How much did their mothers and fathers, grandparents, their brothers and sisters and all those who loved them, grieve? How many ladies in black were to be seen in the streets of our cities after World War One? Three thousand young Tasmanians died in that war, not to mention the 6,000 who returned wounded.
They went away to fight for their country, their family and freedom, from the Boer War to Afghanistan and in between. We have seen, however, how fragile freedom is. It can be taken away without a flicker by the whims of those in charge, backed up by State authorities. Yes, they went away to fight for the continuation of freedoms which we enjoyed in Australia to the extent of fighting off an invading, brutal enemy – but freedom can be taken easily away. It is important, nay, imperative that we remember those who went before us to battle on our behalf and that we cherish what they believed in; freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom to make our own choices. We must never, never give it up so easily as it seems to have happened in this modern era.
Remembrance Day. To remember those who left our shores and as distance in time increases there is the possibly that it will grow dim in our memory. To do so would be selfish in the most extreme. Today and next year and the years after, let us pass the lantern to those who follow.
Left: Reginald Gordon Watson 2/12th WWII
Middle: Trooper Frederick Wentworth Watson, 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen. The Anglo-Boer War
Right: 2nd Lieutenant Richard Marriott Watson Royal Irish Fusiliers WWI. KIA