Today is Anzac Day in Australia. It is one of the most revered days on our calendar. This year, we celebrate the centenary. What is it and what is it about? It was on 25 April 1915 that the armies of Australia and New Zealand entered into their premier battle of the First World War, at Gallipoli, Turkey. At the time, Australia had only been recognised as a federal commonwealth for thirteen years, yet many Australians were sympathetic to the United Kingdom, which they regarded as the motherland. So, the volunteer armies of Australian and New Zealand, eager to fight the good fight in the war, bravely landed on the shore of the Gallipoli Peninsula with the intent to capture and secure a safe passage for Allied navies.
At Gallipoli, the Anzacs faced off with one of the fiercest armies history has ever known. Despite landing under the cover of darkness, the Anzacs were met with immediate bombardment and gunfire. On the shores of Gallipoli, the Australian and New Zealand armies fought for eight months forcing a stalemate. Eight thousand Anzac soldiers lost their lives before the Allies called for an evacuation.
Yes, Australians all over the world will be honouring the fallen today, as I have done in the past in Italy, Turkey, Thailand, USA and London.
"THANKS DIGGER" (C)
To commemorate this special day, I'm including a short story that I wrote some years ago. The actual idea was conceived when I saw a McDonald's advertisement for Anzac Day on television. It was one of the best advertisements I've ever seen. It was short and silent, but it packed an emotional punch. Here is one of my favourite short stories, dedicated to the diggers who fought for us, especially for those who lost their lives ...
He was eighty-four this year and vowed it would be his last Anzac Parade. Every year it became more difficult to muster the energy to appear at the R S L re-union, let alone walk the full distance down the main street with his few surviving mates. He’d woken early and was dressed and ready to go a good hour before the bus left. Waiting at the bus stop, he adjusted his tie for the umpteenth time, slowly ran a hand through his depleting silver hair and deftly touched the medals that adorned his jacket.
The bus had been late. It always was, but he didn’t mind. He had plenty of time. His destination wasn’t far away, but he was glad when he gingerly stepped onto the grassy nature strip outside the mall on Old York Road.
‘Have a good day!’ the driver yelled. The Digger waved and peered up at the sky. It wasn’t such a bad day for Anzac Day, considering what the weather had been like in previous years. The news bloke on the radio had told him it would be twenty-three degrees, overcast but fine. Frowning, he soon located the spot where his battalion was to muster prior to the march.
‘Yep, there it is … Same spot as last year, right outside the Chinese takeaway shop,’ he murmured.
A quick look at his wristwatch revealed he had forty minutes to spare.
‘Typical. Always bloody early,’ he muttered, and spotted the fast food place that often advertised on television. ‘Yep, why not? Got heaps of time,’ he said, and slowly made his way to the zebra crossing. Looking left and right, then directly at the red, orange and green direction lights, he waited for the green ‘Walk’ sign. Seconds later, a youngster appeared on one of those flash-looking BMX bikes with all the streamers and handle grips that never existed when he was a lad.
‘Mornin’, sir,’ said the boy.
‘Hello young fella.’
‘I can help ya across if you like.’ The Digger stared at the youngster who couldn’t have been any older than eight years-of-age. One thing was obvious. His forebears had migrated to the lucky country at some stage in the past. The boy had deep brown eyes, black hair and a tanned complexion.
‘Thanks. I’d really appreciate that. Gettin’ a bit shaky these days.’ The boy smiled and moved closer.
The lights turned green and vehicles of all shapes and sizes came to a halt. The young boy took him firmly by the arm and steered his BMX with his free hand. They arrived on the other side just as the red ‘Don’t Walk’ sign flashed and the weird alarm beeped loudly.
‘Will ya be okay now?’ asked the boy, throwing a leg over his bike.
‘Sure … And, thanks. Appreciate ya help.’
‘No worries. Have a good day. I’m goin’ home to watch the March on tellie with me family.’ The boy waved and took off.
‘Good on ya, son!’
Automatic doors had always enchanted him. They slid open as he approached. Entering the restaurant, he searched for an empty seat and found one located near the front window. It sure was a busy place. All types of people were sitting and talking, munching on food parcelled in colourful wrappers, and drinking a variety of beverages. The restaurant was full of happy chatter; a warm and inviting place to be. The bright colours, the cleanliness and the uniformed staff impressed him.
‘What a slick-looking place,’ he whispered.
One of the staff spotted him the moment the doors slid back. His presence brought a smile to her face and her heart nervously fluttered. She’d been waiting for a customer like him and watched his every movement. Whilst serving people lined up for take-away, she observed him closely. He looked old, maybe lonely, but he was neatly dressed and appeared cheerful enough. The Digger reminded her of her grandfather, also a returned soldier who would be marching that morning, possibly for the last time. Eagerly, she approached the Digger, the first of many she hoped to serve that day.
‘Good morning, sir. My name’s Jennie. What would you like?’ He glanced up and noticed her name clearly emblazoned on the smart-looking uniform. Then, he saw the most wonderful blue eyes and a smile that would open any door.
‘Good morning, Jennie. I’m not sure. Ya know. I’ve lived here all me life but it’s me first time in here.’
‘That’s okay. Welcome. Are you hungry?’
‘Oh, maybe a tad … Just a coffee would be fine. God, ya sure have a nice place here. It’s got a friendly atmosphere. I like that.’ Momentarily, she looked at other customers and smiled. The old Digger was right.
‘Thank you. I’ll get your coffee, sir.’
‘Sure … Thanks.’
The coffee tasted delicious and was served in one of those fine bone china cups that his wife had loved, the real thin ones that have a matching saucer. His late wife, Ruby, had always appreciated the elegance of a cup and saucer. She hated thick mugs and anything plastic. On a separate matching plate were two homemade shortbreads, and alongside was a tiny vase of flowers and an Irish linen napkin; neatly ironed and fresh as a daisy.
He enjoyed sitting at the front window. It was interesting to watch children tackling hamburgers they could hardly grasp, and amusing to observe them drinking from tall cardboard containers. Workmen were also there, eating meals it would have taken him a week to consume. Those workmen sure had an appetite he mused.
Glancing at his watch, he noticed he had ten minutes to reach the meeting spot for the battalion. Jennie remained attentive and saw him check the time, not only on his wristwatch but also at the big colourful clock on the wall behind her. Realising that he was about to leave, she approached him.
‘How was the coffee, sir? Did you like the biscuits?’
He offered her a wry smile. ‘The coffee was delightful and the biscuits were absolutely scrumptious.’ Jennie gave him her undivided attention and smiled proudly, pleased by his comments.
‘Hey, Jennie. Can I ask ya a question?’
‘Well. I noticed I was the only one with a vase of flowers, a beautiful linen napkin and … The only person usin' this beautiful fine bone china. All the other customers are drinkin’ from plastic cups and mugs. Any reason for that?’ She looked embarrassed and fidgeted with her apron.
‘Yes, there is. The fine bone china belongs to my Nan and Pop, but I made the shortbreads myself … Especially for today. Being Anzac Day, I wanted to make a difference … For any returned soldiers who came in. You know, to thank them for keeping us safe.’
He stared, almost gaped, at her beautiful face. Tears flooded his eyes.
‘My, what can I say? That’s so nice. God. It’s a memory I’ll cherish. Hey. When ya get home, tell ya folks they should be proud.’ Jennie’s eyes lit up.
‘You’re more than welcome, sir … Thanks,’ she said and blushed.
‘Listen. I better go and meet me mates for the March. How much do I owe ya?’ Jennie smiled. She’d waited for this very moment.
‘Nothing, sir. This is my shout,’ she replied.
He wiped tears from his cheeks with a neatly ironed handkerchief, and the muscles on his parched face quivered when he tried to smile. The thoughtful gesture had touched him deeply, maybe because Ruby had died a few months back. It was his first Anzac March without her. Whilst waiting patiently for him to get to his feet, Jennie admired the medals on his jacket, wondering what brave deeds he’d performed. Finally, the Digger leant on his walking stick and coughed nervously.
‘Thanks.’ Jennie wanted to reach out and hug him. Instead, she stepped forward and respectfully touched his arm.
‘No, sir … It’s been my pleasure … Thanks Digger.’
Clancy's comment: Thanks for keeping us safe, Diggers.
Lest we forget!