Keep An­zac spirit alive

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OPINION OURS & YOURS -

NOT so long ago, the veter­ans of World War II were ev­ery­where. They were our teach­ers and our bus driv­ers, our doc­tors and our me­chan­ics. They be­came the old blokes wa­ter­ing their gar­dens; the el­e­gant ladies wear­ing hats for a day of de­part­ment store shop­ping. As their num­bers thinned, they be­came neigh­bour­hood mi­nor celebri­ties — the real live World War II sol­diers, sailors, air­men, wid­ows and nurses still liv­ing among us.

And now we are left with only about 21,000 men and women who served. All of us are lucky to have shared some air, how­ever briefly, with this re­mark­able gen­er­a­tion. Now we have the op­por­tu­nity to en­sure their sto­ries live for­ever; sim­ply by lis­ten­ing.

Bren­dan Nel­son, the di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial, calls them “the best gen­er­a­tion this coun­try has ever pro­duced”. How­ever, within a decade they will be gone.

One of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that de­fine our re­main­ing veter­ans is hu­mil­ity. They are un­likely to boast about their ex­ploits or even vol­un­teer their sto­ries. They are mod­est enough to as­sume they are not ex­tra­or­di­nary enough to war­rant par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion. So it is up to the rest of us — the Aus­tralians who hope to live up to them — to ask and to learn.

So this week, whether you know a vet­eran per­son­ally or not, try start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one who lived through the war. Ask them what life was like here at home, or on the bat­tle­front. Ask what they ate, what made them laugh, the names of their friends, what they saw each morn­ing when they woke, what they thought about as they fell asleep at night. Ask about the peo­ple they knew who were in com­bat, or who never came home. Ask what they think about to­day’s world. And then, tell some­one else you’ve learned; prefer­ably a young per­son.

This way, a cen­tury from now, we’ll have a col­lec­tive liv­ing mem­ory of what World War II meant, and why it mat­tered. We can’t know what chal­lenges our chil­dren’s chil­dren will face.

We can only pray it is noth­ing as ter­ri­fy­ing as blitzkrieg, the Wehrma­cht, Kokoda or Changi.

To keep our world safe, we must en­sure those words re­tain their res­o­nance.

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