It’s pitch black on ANZAC Day, well before dawn.
Driving in convoy we are held up at the big roundabout, the one some people want to get rid of and put in traffic lights. The only thing open is McDonalds but no one is there.
The line of cars is endless to my right and I have to give way. Coming through in perfect formation, lights on, that’s all that can be seen. I am happy to give way. We are all going to the same place, it’s our duty and our chance to honour our ANZACs. I join on the back of the convoy and now I am one of them. It feels good. No one in the car speaks. Silence all the way. No road rage, no tooting, no swapping lanes, no rushing to get to the front.
Now we stop. We get out in silence. Masses of people are walking in front and behind and beside us. No one is talking. A mother breaks the silence talking to her little tot who’s running to keep up. “Do you remember why we are here” “Yes” says the little tot, “because of the ANZACs”. ”That’s right” says Mum. No one looks or speaks, we all just walk very fast.
The biggest dawn service I have attended in my life and we hear the cadets marching. Those beautifully disciplined Army, Navy, Air Force cadets. They march past us without a fault in their step or a crease in their uniform. Parents look on with pride. They have practiced hard to get this right. Many hours have gone into this parade, often giving up weekends to make sure it’s perfectly done: the brasso rags still on the kitchen bench from final touch up last night. I know, because my son is one of them.
We can’t hear a thing nor can we see a thing. Something they will have to fix next year. I hear the bugle and then silence. Apparently someone is saying something but none of us can hear a word. Are you sure they are talking I ask my husband. I think so he says. The crowd is so controlled, so well behaved. No one talks, no selfies, no phones. It’s like we are in the 1950’s.
I look at the clothes and hair and nothing stands out. No one is here to be noticed. I watch a dad with a baby in his arms. She’s tickling his face, he kisses her fingers. The baby snuggles into his neck. He cradles the baby’s head and the baby looks at me. A happy smiling baby. As I can’t hear or see the service I study the people one at a time and as I look at each, I wonder “who is the ANZAC in your family?
The ANZACs in my family are standing with me now. I see their faces. Every year I am so grateful to all the ANZACs for giving me this life we have today. All the ANZAC families have an history and all should be told and heard. I think about my Uncle Noel.
There is no memorial for Noel Rogers as he didn’t die in the trenches. He didn’t, but he did. Noel was the much loved brother of my father’s family of 7 children and English parents. Very young Noel was when summonsed to war. My father was too young to go so said goodbye at the family gate all the kids swung on. Noel and all the other boys just sailed away and my father missed him badly as did his sisters.
Noel was standing next to his best friend Tom when Tom’s head was blown off.
Noel was unceremoniously discharged from the army suffering war related brain damage. I don’t think Pop was altogether proud of him. Noel got shipped home, unable to get a job and unable to settle into life with his family. Noel and Pop argued constantly and Nan was upset was how Dad described it. Always crying Dad said.
Noel was eventually sent away to the mental hospital (I never knew it by any other name until my late 20’s) for electric shock treatment. Noel never came out of that hospital and never spoke another word until just before his death in 2002. I don’t think my Nan saw Noel again as he was in a vegetated state and it was believed she was best not to be upset by it. The parents and family were instructed to stay away, out of concern for the patients. How long the electric shock treatment went on for is unknown but it left him completely brain dead. He was nursed for the rest of his life.
As small children we would go every second Sunday with Dad and Pop to visit Noel. Mum always packed a picnic lunch and a flask of tea and we would take Noel to the duck pond. Uncle Ernie took Pop to see Noel on alternate weekends.
The family all said it was pointless as he never spoke, never looked at anyone, never got out of the car, only wanted to look out the car window, at the ducks. He always had a sad face except when my sister and I spoke to him. I am told the words my Aunt heard him say before his death sounded like “like the ducks” but she can’t be certain.
I often go to the War Memorial Museum where the names of all the dead soldiers are on the walls. Tom’s name is there but not Noel’s. The sun is now up and the service is nearing closure except for the national anthems of Australia and New Zealand. I stop thinking about Noel and look at the baby and the Dad, wondering if he is here like I am or for another reason. I wonder how he would feel if that cherished little thing in his arms had to go to war.
I will never forget these heroes.