“Armed combat is the highest form of public service. When Australian serving men and women come home from whatever conflict our government sends them to, we owe them and their families all the help and support that we can possibly give them.
“They didn’t count the cost — and neither should we.”
“We honour our veterans and we must stand beside them when they face the difficult challenges of coming home… so often bringing with them psychological as well as physical injuries.”
These are the words spoken by singer and songwriter John Schumann, best known for the iconic I Was Only Nineteen (A Walk In The Light Green).
They were spoken in a video that was recently shared on the Facebook page of Engadine RSL Sub-Branch.
The page added a very simple, poignant observation:
“Honour the fallen. Support the living.”
Today, November 11, is Remembrance Day.
The day has its origins as Armistice Day. As the RSL’s website said:
“At 11.00 am on 11 November 1918 the guns fell silent as hostilities ceased on the Western Front, ending four years of death and destruction. Earlier that day, at 5.00 am, the Germans signed an armistice in a railway carriage at Compiègne. In the following year, the Treaty of Versailles made the cease-fire permanent.”
Tragically, the Great War wasn’t ‘the war to end all wars’, as our forebears desperately hoped, so Armistice Day became Remembrance Day, and is observed with a minute’s silence at 11.00am each November 11.
This year marks its 100th observance.
We remember all of those who served our country in war and war-like conflicts.
We remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
We remember those who came home, but in great and small ways, carried (and still carry) psychological and physical scars.
I watched the movie Danger Close on the weekend. It is a wonderfully made recreation of the Battle of Long Tan — perhaps the best known Australian action in Vietnam.
As the son of a Vietnam Vet (although Dad wasn’t at Long Tan) it was particularly moving.
Perhaps more moving than the film itself was the roll of honour that played slowly at the end — a list of the men who lost their lives in that battle.
As well as the sheer loss of life, what was most moving was the last column on the roll: the ages of the soldiers. They were men, undoubtedly, but most, if not all, of them wouldn’t have been old enough to drink when they left Australia.
The same jarring reality confronted me at the enormous war cemeteries on the Western Front in France and in Papua New Guinea’s Bomana War Cemetery.
So many young lives lost. So many young lives irrevocably damaged.
As the RSL sub-branch said, it falls to us.
Our sacred duty is to honour the fallen, and support the living.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest We Forget.