Good morning distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is an honour to address you on one of the most significant days of the year. Our overarching purpose here today, is to commemorate the service people of Australia, not only for the freedom we enjoy today but to also to reflect on our own family stories to continue the memory and tradition.
It is hard to comprehend that many young men and women my age, had to say their goodbyes to loved ones, some never returning, others only bringing a fraction of their bodies, minds and spirits home with them. I do not speak to glorify war but to honour those who served under such difficult circumstances.
When asked to speak about what ANZAC day means to me, I had no idea where to start, I have never had a direct line to war in my lifetime, and knew little about the service my family had given to this nation, so I decided to look into my family history and after asking around my aunty produced several letters written by my paternal grandfather, Ian, whilst he was away in the Second World War. These were letters describing the excitement of leaving Australia and the slow realisation that war might not be quite as ‘exciting’ as first imagined, these letters are from his time with the Rats of Tobruk in the Mediterranean. Today I would like to honour him by sharing his account:
Dear Mum and Dad, I received a letter yesterday dated May 11, with envelope and stamp enclosed. They were very welcome as writing material is very scarce.
Paddy (the dog) must be having a bad time, I could imagine the fuss made of him. It was lucky Rufus, (the other dog) did not get the distemper too. I miss Rufus very much.
Most of us are getting a bit more home sick now, and things in general don’t seem to be going too well. I hope we get out of this business here alright.
Yesterday we heard about Crete. The army seems to have forgotten us here.
There have been some very hot days lately, with the sea like glass, just ideal for swimming. I have improved a lot. Chaps that couldn’t swim before, are coming on slowly but surely.
I have discovered how to make very nice fritters. Somebody found some olive oil and flour. Any herrings, salmon, or bully beef I always make into these fritters. There are ten of us, and a tin of herrings or salmon used to do two of us, but mixed with flour, three tins makes any amount for all.
Olive oil is very nice for cooking, I suppose it is too dear at home though. The Italians use it a lot, and often you find a four-gallon tin buried. The Indian troops go mad on it, and you have to be lucky to get in before them. The primus, will, I am afraid be worn out when we leave here, but it has done an excellent job.
The snakes are very bad here now. We have no snake bite outfits either. You have got no hope against them because of their speed. It is hard to follow them with the eye. If you go between them and their hole, they will make for the hole. At night everybody examines their dugouts very carefully.
Most of them have stone walls to stop sand running in, and there are plenty of holes for snakes to get into. So far, I have not got any in mine. I have not struck any sand flies yet, and so have not used the cheese cloth.
The watch is going very well, some have stopped with the continual concussion. The rubber glasses have been a godsend too. Not here so much, but when we were at the prison compound. We are lucky now, in being out of the dust and the heat inland.
There is always a cool sea breeze, and the water for cooling off.
Sometimes we are in and out all day.
Well I hope Paddy gets better alright and give Rufus a pat.
Love to all, Ian.
P.S. I have received no parcels yet. My last letter was a green envelope. Let me know how its contents reach you. Don’t forget to send any interesting newspaper cuttings.
My grandfather Ian, unfortunately passed away before I was born, but he left behind many pictures he took himself on his Brownie, of war in the Mediterranean.
For me this letter speaks of the day-to-day sacrifices made by these soldiers.
Moreover, on Anzac day I have always spared a thought for the people who are still fighting in overseas conflict and peace keeping operations. My maternal uncle served 30 years in the Australian army and he left as a lieutenant colonel. I am always filled with pride and honour when I think of him and the commitment, not only he made but his family made to protect others.
At today’s Anzac Day services you will hear the names of young men and women who served their nation at war. But look around, and you will see today’s families volunteering to help the day run smoothly, helping to make a better community. The men and women who fought for our freedom may not have known what they were getting into, but they knew what they were leaving behind, families across Gippsland and this nation will remember their sacrifice not only on this day but they will honour them every day by continuing to build the communities, that so many Gippsland soldiers fought to protect.
Together with the photos taken by Ian, projected on the wall behind the stage, it provided a snapshot of his wartime experience that couldn’t have helped but move the big audience in the Community Hub hall.
The address was one of the highlights of a wonderful tribute to our ex-service and current service personnel.