Upper Murray Anzac Day 2021

Reflections by Honor Auchinleck

This was our second Anzac Day since the double whammy of the summer 2020 fires and the beginning of the Covid Pandemic.  For the first time in 101 years since Anzac Day 1919 and the influenza pandemic, Covid restrictions ensured Anzac Day 2020 commemorations became intensely personal.  Many living in country Australia couldn’t “light up the dawn” as the media suggest we do. For some who tried, they would have found they couldn’t see their neighbours and the clammy fingers of fog compounded the loneliness and eeriness of the occasion. 

 

Seven of us gathered with social distance for a DIY 2020 Dawn Service at the War Memorial in Corryong.  There might have been more people keeping some distance in surrounding streets.  Through the fog came the haunting notes of a bugler playing The Last Post.  As dawn broke and the fog began to lift, magpies, currawongs and a kookaburra greeted the unfolding day. It was something we will never forget because our own memories of the summer 2020 fires were raw and the road ahead was long and tough.

 

During the fires the lines between all kinds of support organizations became blurred as people just got on and did what they needed to do with any resources available to protect lives and property. It is a credit to the combined action of the emergency services and the community and some good fortune there were no fatalities or serious injuries in and around Corryong. Nonetheless the shockwaves from the tragic death on 30 December of Samuel McPaul in Green Valley, Jingellic reverberated through our community.  In a freak accident a pyrocumulus storm flipped his fire truck over. Just before the fires we lost a young man to a brain tumour.  Deeply mourned in the aftermath of the fires were the losses of two other young lives in our community.  With ages ranging from 18 to 23, the young men’s contemporaries are shocked, as indeed we all are.  At a time when we thought we could take no more we mourned another death of a young man who had a much to offer and was only just starting out in life when an air accident cut his life short in an air accident. This week has seen another young man taking his own life leaving a large extended family and community in deep mourning.

 

On Anzac Day 2020 some of us thought that Covid would last about six months and probably no more than a year.  Instead, we were hearing alarming news rising death rates in Italy and UK.  A year later, we are living still with Covid as nations and states bicker about vaccine patents and supplies and the roll out that doesn’t quite ‘roll’. The news of Indian hospitals buckling and lack of oxygen supplies where it is needed in India is heartrending. 

 

This year, when I was asked to choose a poem to read on Anzac Day 2021, I realised that the meaning of Anzac Day now encompasses commemorating service beyond the service and sacrifice on Gallipoli, the Western Front and in Palestine, in the Second World War and in all subsequent conflicts.  It now also commemorates the service of our Emergency Services and all those who defended lives and properties during the fires and those young lives lost during the trauma and aftermath of the fires. Anzac Day 2021 became a day of reflection about what it has taken for communities to survive combined with the loss of young lives.  The question hung among us all: How can we ensure the safe preservation of the gift of life?  How we wish we had that gift to give?  Those very questions must have been part of families’ life-long mourning for those lost in the service of their country. For me the choice of a poem and reading it on the day was an honour and the responsibility was mine to get it right. 

 

As the work of our Emergency Services was to be commemorated when street artist Sean Burton’s mural was unveiled after the Dawn Service, I was looking for a poem that acknowledged life in wartime but was also about moving on. So I chose A B Paterson’s poem ‘Moving On’:

 

In this war we’re always moving, 

Moving on;

When we make a friend another friend has gone;

Should a woman’s kindly face

Make us welcome for a space,

Then its boot and saddle, Boys, we’re

Moving On,

 

In the hospitals they’re moving,

Moving On;

They’re here today, tomorrow they are gone;

When the bravest and the best

Of the Boys you know “Go West”,

Then you’re choking down your tears and 

Moving On.

 

(Egypt)

 

Paterson had served his country in so many ways.  He wrote ‘Moving On’ when he was War Correspondent in the Boer War.  It was published again in the last year of the First World War on May 15th 1918 in The Kia Ora Coo-ee, The Official Magazine of the Australian and New Zealand Forces in Egypt, Palestine, Salonica and Mesopotamia. 

 

Paterson was commissioned into the 2nd Remount Unit (Queensland and New South Wales) on 18 October 1915.  The Remounts were formed in September 1915 to care and train the horses while the 1st Light Horse Brigade was serving on Gallipoli.  As Major Andrew Barton Paterson he commanded the Remount Depot at Moascar in Egypt.  So while Paterson did not serve on Gallipoli he served behind the scenes all the same.

 

The other reason why I choose ‘Moving On’ is because it highlights a rhythm of life in war and for us all as we deal with our own challenges.  We often meet what life throws at us ‘choking down’ our ’tears and Moving On’.  It is what we had to do after the fires and still continue to do.  We live our today as much for those who gave their yesterday as we do for our community’s tomorrows. 

 

Paterson died on 5th February 1941, just over 80 years ago. 

 

Before my father Tom embarked with the 8th Division AIF just after Anzac Day 1941 for Malaya he tried to buy pocket editions of Paterson’s The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses and Saltbush Bill, J.P. and Other Verses.   The pocket editions were designed to fit in tunic pockets and were produced by Angus and Robertson in 1917 as gifts from home for soldiers in the trenches.  Few pocket editions came home – many suffered the fate of the soldiers in the trenches. On 30 December 1941 Tom reminisced in a letter to my mother Elyne: ‘I still remember going into Angus and Robertson last January and asking for a pocket edition of Banjo Paterson.  The shop man said there were none, they were out of print.  I said, but they had them in the last war & he said “yes they sold by thousands then” I said “well what do people read then now,” & he said “Oh heavy books about politicians!”  It was not what Tom wished to hear.

 

Tom took his own anthology of Paterson’s poetry with him to Malaya. Much to his chagrin he lost it during the Fall of Singapore.  Almost a year later on 28 December 1942 as a POW in Changi, Tom noted in his diary ‘I have run a copy of Banjo Paterson to earth.  What a joy!  Ken [Burnside] has promised to type some for me.  Ken typed not only typed copies of Paterson for Dad but for other POWs who wanted to keep their memories of Australian country life alive.  So Paterson, the poet, the war correspondent turned Light Horseman’s legacy served in Changi POWs like Tom.  Paterson’s continues to serve us today, as undoubtedly it will in future.

 

As I read Paterson’s ‘Moving On’ the near zero temperature of dawn in Corryong reminded me of Anzac Day 2003 on Gallipoli when it was so cold that I could hear my husband Mark’s medals rattling as he read the lesson at the Dawn Service.  It was the first Dawn Service held on the purpose built commemorative area just to the north of Ari Burnu and designed to accommodate the huge numbers of visiting Australians and New Zealanders for Anzac Day.  Given the political changes in Turkey and Covid, I wonder what form Anzac Day takes on Gallipoli now?  How many attend the 2021 Anzac Services on Gallipoli? Are our original Anzacs lying in the cemeteries on Gallipoli hearing rumbles of trouble in an increasingly polarised world?  With France under Covid Restrictions, what happens at Villers-Bretonneux?  And while visitor numbers are down, the French are building a wind farm nearby.  Where is the respect?  Will Anzac Day ever be the same again? 

 

Whatever happens, Anzac Day in Corryong will remain a day of deep reflection as we try to move on amid our memories.

 

 

 

Honor Auchinleck