What ANZAC Day Means To Me
Our memorial day ANZAC Day, means different things to different people. Some New Zealanders celebrate the ‘birth’ of our nation on April 25 each year. Others honour the military and the service they give to us all, in peacetime roles and in more dangerous situations where they serve overseas. Others, sadly, see the day purely as a holiday or a chance to earn extra money if they have to work on this public holiday.
For me the day has always been filled with sadness. As a child I remember my mother always ensuring she had flowers available in the garden in April to make a wreath which we duly lay on the memorial at whichever ANZAC Day service we attended. It was a join effort the day before, my sister, brother and I helping Mum chose which flowers to put where on the wreath. Holding spindly tree branches while she tied them into the circle which would become the foundation for the flowers to lie upon. Those wreaths were made with all the love and colour we could manage. I find it sad that people no longer make their own wreaths. I remember our efforts as having masses of colours unlike today when often the wreaths are merely of artificial green leaves and red poppy-like flowers.
My father returned from three years fighting in Egypt and Greece in 1942 and was medically discharged from the Army. His health continued to slowly deteriorate until his death in 1955 when I was 2 years old. I understand he was very proud to have served his country even though that service ultimately resulted in his early death. ANZAC Day has therefore always been very poignant to my family. It is a very special day when I devote time to think about a man I never got to know. I wonder how my life would have been different, how we would have got on, would we have ‘liked’ each other. While during the services my thoughts are also on the other men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, I admit mostly I think of my father and what his service to his country cost us personally. We lost a father and husband much too soon. His loss was especially hard for my mother who was left with three young children to raise alone. Thankfully she was up to the task.
A few weeks ago I wrote a short piece for a writers’ group I belong to. Our assignment was to write about a piece of music which affected us. Initially at a loss, I then remembered how “The Last Post” always reduces me to tears. As it is appropriate for this time I’d like to share that piece with you here.
I’m tense, but completely in control. I know what’s going to happen and when it will happen. I’m ready. It won’t be like every other year of my life. This year I’ll be stronger. But within moments of hearing the first notes I’m lost, an emotional wreck. Nothing will ever take away the haunting sadness this music makes me feel. Deep breathing doesn’t help contain the loss the tune evokes, or the tightness that grabs at my chest. My stomach is next to react. It begins to churn like an off-centre concrete mixer, bumping and rolling to no good effect. The back of my throat has now tightened and I know I couldn’t speak even if I wanted to. Which I don’t. The music is invading me, freezing my very extremities, covering me with goosebumps. I can’t help it. I hug myself tight, blinking furiously. But blinking is no use. The tears are there and they’re determined to escape. They roll down my cheeks as the music reminds me of memories. Memories I could have had. Memories I should have had. If only things could have been different.
Its lonely echo hangs around me long after the tune has died. But now there’s that eerie silence. The therapeutical silence that allows me a moment to contain my heartache, my sadness, my grief. In the dawn silence I cry for the man who sired me, the man who served his country, the man who continued suffering until God finally summoned him to His side. In the cold dawn light as I listen to the bugle playing The Last Post, I mourn the father I never got to know and all the others like him. “We shall remember them.”