Life

Lest We Forget

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I grew up knowing that my Granddad had served in the Navy during World War II, but that he didn’t like to talk about it.

He was a boiler stoker on the HMS Shropshire, and he signed up in 1941 when he was 19.

I don’t know much about his time in service other than that, except that he was apparently at the signing of the peace treaty in Japan. Family rumour even has it that he has a photograph of this auspicious event, but I’ve never managed to see it.

Whenever we commemorated ANZAC Day at school when I was a kid, I would buy my ANZAC pin and think of my Granddad.

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When I was very young I’d think about the fact that he was here, and that so was I, and that the War had ended because people like him fought. I was proud of him, and a little bit sad that some people were dead who didn’t deserve to be.

When I was older, I thought about how terrifying what he did must have been. To be trapped in a small, dark room in the middle of the ocean while bombs rained down on you. Not knowing what was happening, or how close they were, but having to carry on shovelling coal so that the boat could keep going… My heart ached for what that must have been like.

And now that I am older, I think about the waste, the horrible, horrible waste of so many people dying. Of the debt that I, and we, and our children will owe to those who have served, who are serving. To those who will never return.

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It is because of this debt that for the last three years I have attended the dawn service on ANZAC Day – twice at Frankston, and once at the Shrine in Melbourne. I have stood there, cold, tired, hungry and uncomfortable, and never have I been more grateful. That I had slept the night before in a dry, warm bed. That the sun would be rising and that I would be free to go where I would without my life being in danger. That my stepchildren were sleeping safely in their beds.

As the service ended and the National Anthems of Australia and New Zealand played, never before had I been so stuck by the truth of the opening line of the Australian National Anthem: Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free. For this I thank all those who have fought, who are fighting, and who will fight on my behalf. I feel overwhelmed by how little I can do to repay such an obligation, except to remember and give thanks.

Lest We Forget.

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