Today is ANZAC* Day
It is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”
ANZAC Day 2020 was not like the ANZAC Day that so many of us are used to participating in. There was a Dawn Service at dawn, with wreaths laid by 4 dignitaries, but the service community and the public stayed at home. The public’s observance was not cancelled. It was just different. The millions of people around the country who would normally attend, at 6.00am stood instead on their decks, their balconies, their drives and their front yards, holding a candle to Light Up the Dawn, wearing their own or their loved one’s medals, and Stood To.** Those who could, bugled the Last Post or piped a bagpipe lament. Millions of red poppies were placed in front lawns, grass verges and footpaths. Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours, we stood in sight of each other, together but apart.
As the Last Post was played during the ANZAC Day Dawn Service, we observed the minute of silence to respect and pay tribute to our veterans. Many people took a photo of how they and their neighbours had observed the day, and shared it on the RSL (Returned & Services League) Facebook page using the hashtag #STANDTO. It will be a moving testimony of how much we value and respect the sacrifice of those who served.
I’m only an ‘honorary’ Aussie, adopted late in life, so I have no Australian forbears who served in WWI to commemorate today. My grandfather did not fight at Gallipoli, where the ANZAC tradition began, but in the killing fields of the Somme. He entered the war as a private, received a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant, was wounded and spent the end of the war in a German PoW camp, while his fiancée, my grandmother, believed him dead.
These are my grandfather’s medals, normally proudly displayed, but this morning, I wore them in his memory.
On the right are three medals: ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred‘, which are the nicknames given to three WWI campaign medals: the 1914-15 Star; the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The medals were automatically sent out; soldiers did not need to apply, but the recipient needed to have fought in a theatre of war; they were not given for simply turning up. (The medals’ nicknames come from a popular comic strip of the time from the Daily Mirror newspaper. Pip was a dog, Squeak a penguin and Wilfred was a baby rabbit.) On the left, the fourth medal shown is the Military Cross, granted in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land“.
My grandfather carried a wounded comrade to safety under heavy enemy fire.
Lest we forget.
*Australia and New Zealand Army Corps
**‘Stand To‘ is short for Stand-to-Arms, the WWI practice of standing to arms at dawn and dusk in preparation for possible enemy attack under cover of darkness.