Grandad was a happy, pleasant man who every morning started his day with a coffee on his back veranda while he read the morning paper.
The only exception was ANZAC Day, April 25th. (ANZAC Day is the commemoration of the efforts Australian and New Zealand men and women in war and the remembrance of the loss of life of so many who fought overseas. The day begins with a dawn service in memory of the men who fought at Gallipoli, April 25th, 1915. Later there are services in churches and at the war memorials in each town. There follows lunch, drinking and then a game of chance only sanctioned on ANZAC Day, called two-up.)
On this day Grandad would sit on the veranda staring ahead looking out over the farm beyond our place. There was no newspaper to read, only his coffee in a cup, which bore the stains of many a cup.
One year I asked him what it was that took his focus on this day. He looked at me as if trying to focus on who was interrupting his reverie at that time.
“It’s the noise,” he said as if surprised anyone would ask. “You never forget the noise. It was unrelenting. The bombs falling, the explosions, the cries of men dying, the mud, the bodies lying everywhere, I have never been able to get it out of my head. It all comes back on this day.”
Grandad was not one to attend any of the services preferring to keep it all to himself except on this day when I asked him what he remembered.
“I survived, only through luck, some of us were lucky we made it home. That’s what motivated us, going home, knowing our families would be wondering what had become of us. Getting wounded was thought a victory, you got sent to the infirmary tent, but in those days they patched you up and sent you back. One time after I was gassed and sent back I heard my older brother had been killed. He’s still there, buried among so many who like him died for a cause we thought was noble, to begin with.”
I’d never heard him talk about his war experiences before, but he fell silent once again his mind drifting off to a time I could never comprehend.
When the war began in 1914, he and two of his brothers enlisted and went to the Western front. One brother died in battle his other brother was so badly injured he was never able to marry and lived out his life with the horror of his experience as a single man. Grandad survived to marry and have two children, one of whom was my mother.
I called out to him that the ANZAC Day march was on the TV and he would come in and watch. He’d sit there and make a comment like, “There’s not many left is there?”
After it was over he’d go into his room, shut the door, and I’d hear his ANZAC Day music playing, Eric Bogle’s ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and John Prine’s ‘Sam Stone’.
ANZAC Day was his day, inside he relived a horror, he knew it was something he had to do, and he did it his way.