I went to the ANZAC Day Dawn Service – by Colleen Rogers

Dawn 10710238_1561302134081275_1882842763954208194_o cropped

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?

Uncle Noel's tobacco tin

Uncle Noel’s tobacco tin

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.

ANZAC veteran Uncle Noel liked the ducks

ANZAC veteran Uncle Noel liked the ducks

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.

Colleen Rogers – 25 April 2015

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3 thoughts on “I went to the ANZAC Day Dawn Service – by Colleen Rogers

  1. Oh Colleen, that was marvellous to hear your story. It has taken the edge off what I was going to say. I too went to the service with my husband and three children. I wanted them to be able to say “I was there at the 100th anniversary for the ANZACs”. We drove, also in silence, parked quite a way away from the service, as there were so many people also attending the service. We merged into the crowds that were walking in silence and soon realised there were many people in front of us, bright, seemingly endless headlights to the side and a massive, silent crowd behind us. We all converged on the same roundabout above the service area. We stopped and waited as more and more people arrived. We then heard, and caught a glimpse, of the cadets marching past proudly. Shortly after we heard a muffled voice and the word `welcome’. Ever present was the hum of the Bay FM generator…. and nothing else. We moved further towards the canals and stood above the service area. We could see and hear nothing of the service…. except for the small toddler next to us who decided to speak (as they do) and the parent who frantically tried to find food to distract him. It was wonderful to see that these families also wanted to share this experience with their children – even if they were too young to realise the significance…. great stories for the future!

    I stood, extremely disappointed in the planning of this ceremony, as I wanted it to be a memorable occasion, not only for me, but for my children as well. I wanted them to be able to hear and see the people speaking, to see the cadets standing in line watching in earnest, to see the wreaths laid in formation against the concrete wall and to be able to experience the atmosphere. Unfortunately my children lost interest and I fear the whole meaning of the day was wasted!

    I don’t know whether there was a lack of planning on the Councils part with someone deciding the noise levels had to be kept to a minimum so as not to disturb the locals who had decided to sleep in, but for my part, I wanted to be able to hear the words proudly ringing out across the community. I saw what looked to be a big screen to watch the events on, but it was facing the people who were already able to see the service, as they were right in front of it! I think the screens, if this is what they were, should have been faced the opposite way, so the people who couldn’t get anywhere near the ceremony could also see and participate.

    I wanted to be able to be emerged via all my senses in the occasion. I wanted to walk away with that feeling that I had really participated and honoured those who served to protect us. This remembrance ceremony was a FAIL. Congratulations Mayor – another FAIL. Can’t believe you let the momentous 100th anniversary pass by with so little effort,thought and planning! Deeply saddened that so many of your constituents did their part and turned up and you… you disappointed probably about 85% of them. Shame on you and your council!

    Only positive out of the morning….. plenty of time for self reflection and gratitude to those who served and are currently serving and for the families who allow them to go! Thank you for your commitment and sacrifice for our great country!

  2. Thank you for sharing your families story. We must as a nation remember those men and women who come home may also be so damaged and need our care, love, thanks and respect.

  3. Beautifully written Colleen and thankyou so much for sharing you story, we should all be very thankful for the many sacrifices these people made to allow us to live in a free country.

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