Keep Anzac spirit alive
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.