The song says you “were only 19” and many of you were. But whether you were 19 or 21 you were still just boys, lads – only a few years earlier you were pulling girls pigtails and playing your air guitars. Young lads sent to fight a war you didn’t start, a war that returned you (if you were lucky) as men.
Why did you go Dad? National Service – it’s just what you did, you served your country if your number was called. And it was.
How long did you stay there Dad? 12 months and 10 days came the reply – quickly remembered, off the top of your head, as if it were your own birth date.
I recall slideshows of your army days that you put on for us when we were little kids. In the dark we sat, safe and snug in our pyjamas, those grainy pictures made huge and bright on the lounge room wall. I giggled to see you as a skinny, young man in a uniform. I didn’t understand what it all meant then.
Schools didn’t teach that war in history lessons and not much else was said about it – which I guess tells a story in itself.
But I do remember returning from a school trip to Japan that you sent me on in 1987. I passed through Sydney at the same time you were there for the Welcome Home March – finally, 17 years after you returned your country acknowledged your service and thanked you.
And now, on this ANZAC Day eve we sit together, you picking through black and white photographs, remembering faces and sometimes names, recounting stories of your time spent there.
Remembering friends, remembering family who served their country – mine returned but many have not.
Remembering the men and women who over time who have protected, and continue to protect, my country, my freedom, my way of life.
I thank you all as I sit, still safe.