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Getting personal with Anzac Day

  • 25 April 2012

This gets personal. In fact, should I even be saying all this to people I have never met? What do I say? How far do I go? These are things I never talk about with strangers.

Anzac Day is one of those mysterious days. We know the meaning, only what is the meaning precisely? I relate more readily to certain family birthdays and to Easter; more readily to All Souls' Day with its call to remember the departed, surely one of the things that makes us more human, than to Anzac Day. The day is a memorial for the dead, especially now that none of the original men at Gallipoli are alive to tell the story, but what else is it?

My paternal grandfather, Edgar Harvey, was not only an Anzac but among those who landed nearly 100 years ago at the Turkish cove, later named Anzac, on 25 April 1915. Yet the family almost never talked about this, or subsequent events in his wartime experience. It was passed over in silence. It still is, largely.

In a country where Gallipoli is treated as a moment of great national importance, it might be expected that I would feel proud to have a grandfather who fought there and survived. While that is the case, it was never instilled in me to feel that way.

My father rarely if ever talked about his father Edgar's wartime experience. Silences in childhood may come to say that there must be secrets, or there are feelings too hard to express. Just being alive, I came to learn, is what is important, not being proud about knowing someone who was there.

One thing my father, an Anglican, did repeat while I was growing up in the 1960s was Daniel Mannix's claim that the Great War was nothing but a trade war. The vehemence with which he repeated this assertion told me it stung, he was hurt by the truth of it.

Such vehemence, I could see that probably Edgar himself agreed with the archbishop's proposition. It was for someone else's interests that young men had died in the trenches. It was an experience they had to go through, that they treated as an adventure, or took as it came. But did they know what they were