Friday, April 25, 2008

Marking ANZAC Day

The 25th April 1915 is a special day to all Australians and New Zealanders. In World War I on that day a combined force, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps as it was styled, attempted a landing on the west coast of the Turkish penninsula at a place we call Gallipoli. They were sent to the wrong landing place by their British commanders of the time, and the Turkish troops were waiting for them. The terrain was impossible, steep hills and gullies and only a narrow shingle beach. The allies were slaughtered in their hundreds often before they could even leave the beach, it was a monumental defeat by the better positioned Turkish forces. They withdrew after many months, leaving behind their dead comrades but having earned themselves a reputation for fighting against incredible odds.

I know the stories well, as do all my generation of school children who learned Australian history at primary school level. Then came many years of schooling where the subject of Australian history fell out of favour and Maths and Science became more fashionable. Even English language and grammar took a back seat for a while. I'm glad to report that Australian history is now gaining favour again, as witnessed by the huge numbers of young Australians and New Zealanders making the annual pilgimmage to Gallipoli for the commemorative Dawn Service, and attendance at Dawn Services around the country is growing every year as the youngest generation starts to realise the sacrifice that all servicemen and women made on their behalf.

I have a link to Gallipoli and the later war in Europe in WWI and WWII through my father. My father's father Harold Fillingham went to Gallipoli as a re-inforcement with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion 1st AIF not long after the landing. I have photos of him training in Egypt, then sailing through the Mediterannean to Gallipoli. He survived, unlike thousands of others, to be deployed to France in 1917-1918.

The photo shows him posing for a photo in his uniform before he left for Egypt. My youngest brother resembles him a lot, same eyes and that cheeky look. Papa brought back a few items of "trench art", an army cap fashioned from a shell casing, and a pot plant holder fashioned from the top of the shell I think. These used to stand on the hearth in front of the fireplace at his home. I remember him going into Sydney every Anzac day to march with his mates, wearing his best suit with polished shoes and medals, and a sprig of Rosemary for rememberence. They marched, not to glorify war, but to honour the fallen and revisit the good times with mates who had also gone through the horrors with them.

Papa was awarded a Military Medal in 1918 in France and a copy of the citation for his medal is under his photo, above. He came home and married my grandmother Sarah Elizabeth (Tiz) in 1919, and had 2 boys Ken and my father Ray.

Ray served in WWII in New Guinea towards the end of the war. He was in the RAAF, the Australian Air Force and was an aeroplane mechanic on the Catalinas, an amphibious plane. He didn't like to talk too much about the war, other than to tell cute stories about keeping a little native cus cus (possum) in his breast pocket, playing the ukelele ( a small guitar like instrument with 3 strings) and Pigeon English from the natives. He used to love to recite the supposed Pigeon (the native interpretation of English) phrase for a man playing the piano. Let me see if I can remember it,

"Man he sitta down alongside bockus, bockus he 'ave 'im teeth all b'longa crocodile. Man he hit 'im bockus, bockus he cry out!"

Not sure how correct that is, but you can see the picture, I'm sure !

My father died late last year, so although he could no longer march in the Anzac parade, I still watched the televised coverage, and looked for his unit marching. The vetereans are certainly fewer now, after all it has been 60 years since WWII. The televised Dawn Service from Gallipoli and Villers-Brettoneux were both worth watching and very moving.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post (at the risk of repeating myself for the third time on an ANZAC related post) - we never went to ANZAC marches as kids (Im 40) but we take our kids now. I have been wondering at the upsurge in interest. I wonder if it has anything to do with age. I didnt have any family who went to war - they were always either too young or too old - so Im guessing a lot of people my age would be in similar situation. I wonder if that is why we didnt go to the marches. Now that we have young children it seems very important to me that they experience the ANZACmarches and learn about it, even though it apparently wasnt that important to my parents. i wonder why?