As part of a family with a proud military history, Anzac Day should be a special day for me.
But in the lead up to every Anzac Day, I find myself more and more isolated.
Anzac Day attracts huge crowds but the meaning of those commemorations is increasingly lost in the jingoistic politics, patriotic sentiment and a watered down history.
It is the watered down history that I object to most – it has created the legend of the Anzac Digger, and turned those WWI veterans, none of whom are alive to defend themselves today, into two dimensional caricatures.
Anzac Day has grown so much – to the point where tickets were balloted out to be ‘won’ to attend the Gallipoli Dawn Service 2015, millions of dollars will be spent on 100 anniversary ‘celebrations’ and there are Contiki tours across the European battlegrounds.
It has grown to such an extent it overshadows the complex history around Australia’s military service.
The people behind this history are lost in the ‘celebrations’ of a drunken long weekend.
My family is luckier than most. My great, great, grandfather, who served in Gallipoli and France survived, was promoted to the rank of Major and was considered ‘important enough’ for the Army to record his memories of his time in the Army on tape.
He was an old man when the recordings were made, but you could still hear how the war affected him.
He jokes about which brothels in Egypt he was warned from, all the while maintaining his innocence; he remembers sitting behind a bush in Anzac Cove trying to pry out fleas from his pubic hair and being joined by the captain, on strict instructions not to tell the other men.
His voice cracks when he recalls how his troops were starving in France and upon coming upon a wounded pig thought all their Christmases had come at once; but having no means to remove the pig’s hair, had to use his razor. It’s not known if he was subsequently disciplined for having unruly facial hair.
He also records how he felt training up new recruits for WWII and sending them north.
There is a tiny bit of tape dedicated to why he went to Anzac Day parades – to see his mates and see how they were faring through mustard gas poisoning, shell shock, amputations and unemployment.
Other families may have had their stories recorded.
Now, however, it’s time for our parents’ and grandparents’ WWII memories to be preserved – before it’s too late.
I’ve missed the opportunity to get my two grandfathers’ memories down.
Where my grandad went as a merchant Navy man is lost, who he met is lost; what my grandpa heard over the radio in New Guinea is lost, how he felt about his eldest grandson marrying a Japanese girl is lost.
But there is some hope.
My grandmother, now a Legacy widow, has been writing her memoirs.
I’m so proud of her for ensuring the men and women she knew won’t be two dimensional caricatures.
She is giving them a voice, preserving their stories and adding to the complexity of Australia’s military history.