Today is Rememberance Day. I know a few people who’ve served in Vietnam, Korea and similar places. My grandfather worked in the Airforce as a mechanic during WWII. I have heard many a tale of bravery, camaraderie and shenanigans when on leave. The stories I’ve been told have almost exclusively been happy, funny or somehow cool. None of them really had much to do with the real nature of war.
I don’t think any of the people talking about their experiences want to share the hard stuff with someone who hasn’t experienced it for themself. It’s just an impression I get, as the outsider without the shared history, or point of view. From what I know about war I can understand why. I don’t think I’d much like talking about some horrific experience of mine with someone who won’t really appreciate the depth of feeling behind what I’m saying. No matter how much I might try to empathise, there is no way I can really understand.
One of my earliest memories of today is being at a service held at my school. I would have been around six or seven. I understood the purpose of the pomp and circumstance as a child of that age would, but without truly grasping the concept behind it. At least, that was until they played a certain song. Over the PA system, for reasons unknown to me, someone had chosen to play “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. This is not a happy song. It doesn’t celebrate war, nor make heroes out of those who have ‘made the ultimate sacrifice’. It is more about people who were blown up, seemingly for no reason. It’s about the ANZACs at Gallipoli who were slaughtered wholesale in one of the most mind-bogglingly stupid assualts in the history of armed warfare. It was a massacre.
I came to understand what we were really remembering because of this song. It was with horrified amazement that I had my youthful innocence stripped away, and to this day I cannot bring myself to participate in any of the exuberant rhetoric that seems to surround depictions of warfare and those who participate in it. Whenever I hear that song, or read its lyrics, or simply recite them to myself in the cold silence of my mind, tears well up in my eyes and I have to fight the urge to cry.
This is how I remember on this day.