This past weekend, it was Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand.
For those of you who are not from either of these countries, it is the day we remember all the men and women who have given service in the armed forces – from way back, right up to now.
The day usually starts with a dawn service in every tiny town, suburb and city all over the country. There are also services all over the world wherever there are Australians in any number. And there are huge dawn services held on major battlefields of the First World War in Turkey and France.
At mid-morning, there is a very slow, quiet march of current service men and women, and then of all the veterans who are still alive. Often the children or grandchildren of old soldiers who have passed away march in their place, wearing their medals, and carrying a picture of them.
There are no big parades of weapons, or talk about victories, or anything grand. It is all very subdued. After that, people usually spend time with families or friends.
The whole day is extremely important to the Australian identity, I guess because Australia is only about as old as the First World War. Not to mention that Australia and New Zealand lost so many people in the wars.
I have to confess, although I am respectful of Anzac Day and think it is such a beautiful thing, I personally am not impacted as significantly and deeply as my fellow Australians. Perhaps this is also true for the wider Asian-Australian community, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because we are mostly more recent immigrants to this country, and don’t have the same personal family connections to the wars.
Anyhow, my husband had made the boys watch the march on TV. We tried to explain who all the marching men and women were, who the very old men were, and why everyone was wearing special uniforms. But the boys didn’t really get it. They came away thinking that every “old fashion soldier” was called an Anzac.
Later in the day, I took the boys to visit my parents. It turned out that a friend of my father had spent years in the Air Force, and served overseas in peacekeeping missions! He had just been marching, and spending time with other veterans.
He was dressed up in a nice suit, and had all his service medals pinned on his jacket. The boys were so impressed with the medals (Sean thought they were money at first).
In the car on the way home, the boys asked lots of questions. Why is there war? What is it for? Which side is God in the war? Why do they use guns? Why do countries fight? Why did good people want to fight in the war?
It was pretty difficult trying to answer their questions and explain everything, and also why it is so important to remember those who fought in the wars.
My heart was in my throat, and for me, the wars suddenly became more real. What would it be like to be a mother, watching her sons go off to war, as so many did. And I prayed that my sons would never have to experience the tragedies of war.