This Anzac Day may well be another year of standing at the end of our driveways and lighting a candle. It may well be watching coverage on television. Or if you’re lucky enough to be allowed, you could even be attending a socially distanced commemorative service.
For those of us who have served our country – whether that be at home or on operations, Anzac Day is a day we come together to celebrate being Australians and New Zealanders and be thankful for our friendships. We give thanks to those who served and sacrificed before us. We celebrate the highs. We give thanks for growing stronger after the lows. And we take time to look forward and appreciate the next generation that are following in our footsteps. As many of us know that the path of a serving soldier is not easy. The enemy is not always able to be seen, and the effects of war are not always as tangible as a bullet.
Some of us still jump at a loud noise. We close one eye at night when someone shines a torch. We look for the safest exit when out to dinner. We re-live moments that we wish could be forgotten. We continue to be brave, even when the tank is empty. Sometimes we even hear ourselves giving military style orders to our kids. It’s in your blood. It never leaves you. Service changes you – mostly for the better, but for some it can have ongoing impact on their lives, families, and friendships.
I’m one of the lucky few who had a great military career – all 11 years of it. I joined straight out of school and went to Engineers as one of the first female Sappers in the Corps. I loved it. I got to fortify houses, to build bridges, learn how to use a jackhammer, and blow things up – which I thought was very cool! I then studied at Royal Military College for 18 months and created some of the most amazing and life-long bonds I will ever have. I learnt leadership, comradeship, tactics, weapons, communications, and lessons that would stay with me for life. Upon graduating I chose Signals Corps and was posted as far south as Melbourne and as far north as Darwin; being reposted and moving every one to two years. Operationally I served overseas in PNG at Bougainville for six months where we were deployed to prevent war and hold the peace – all without weapons. We had just our ability to negotiate and communicate. Females had to be escorted by two male soldiers whenever we left the barracks for their safety, and for good reason in many cases. In my time I was held at gunpoint, knifepoint and my helicopter was shot at resulting in an emergency landing and a very long night in a no-go-zone village. But I also got to give back by organising an event to raise money and create jobs for locals for some much-needed mattresses for the local hospital, so their patients didn’t have to sleep on wooden slabs anymore. So, it wasn’t all bad, I chose to focus on the good. But even still, some of those experiences are etched in my mind; I can recall the smallest of details, and even though it was over 20 years ago, some still feel like only yesterday.
I know I am not alone when I say that once we leave the military, many of us still miss being part of something bigger than us. I believe that feeling never leaves you. We are taught from the day you join that no one person can achieve the objective, it takes the team. Sadly, so many of my mates, and many other Vets, cannot find their groove once they leave the military. They can’t find their new norm. There is an emptiness, and they miss that feeling of belonging, of mateship, and being part of a team.
And that’s really what drove me to start the Anzac Day commemoration in Macau back in 2017. A week before Anzac Day I was out to dinner with a group of friends and I mentioned that Anzac Day was the one day of the year I am homesick the most. I missed speaking with many of my mates in Australia. I missed being able to give thanks to those who served before us. And I wanted to celebrate the reasons we served. They gave me a hug and said they would turn up with me on Anzac morning, and even if was only the four of us and our families, we would celebrate together.
That morning, over 40 people attended, and it still brings me to tears now that Anzac Day means so much to so many and continues even after I have returned home. No matter whether you served in the defence forces, or are working overseas, mateship for Aussies and Kiwis is strong and is an important part of cultures. And so much of it exists today from the sacrifices those before us made.
So, this year for Anzac Day I ask that you reach out to your mates – whether you served with them in the defence forces, on a sporting field, or overseas as an expat somewhere – and just pick up the phone and say hi. As sometimes it is nice to feel a part of that team again, to hear a friendly voice and to celebrate the life we have now. And if you have a family member or friend who served, there is no better day to reach out and just say thanks. They will appreciate it.
Lest we forget.