The way Australia celebrates Anzac Day today will have special meaning for the nation’s serving military and their loved ones. Brisbane army chaplain DEACON GARY STONE reflects on that significance
FOR the 10th year in succession, on Anzac Day this year, thousands of Australian soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, as well as about 500 Australian Federal Police officers, will be celebrating the day in many farflung places of the globe.
Significantly for us, at this time almost 2000 of those deployed, are home based in south Queensland, and their families are living in many of our parishes.
For the service people themselves, and sometimes even more so for their parents, partners, children and other loved ones, Anzac Day can be a very sobering day with mixed emotions, as they contemplate the sacrifices that have been made, are being made, and may have to be made, before they are reunited.
The attitude and response of the wider community can play a significant part in the service community’s morale at this time.
Recent literary treatment such as Henry Reynolds’ and Marilyn Lakes’ critical book What’s wrong with Anzac, and the ongoing sniping of so-called “peace activists” miss the mark of what the Anzac spirit is about, and the great contribution it has made to wider Australian society.
Our service people on operations face many dangers and challenges that other Australians can perhaps not imagine.
They are exposed to extreme environmental conditions, from sweltering in deserts or dripping wet in jungle.
They face the dangers of mines, improvised explosive devices, gunfire, or angry mobs. They witness the tragedy of poverty, communal strife, deaths and maiming.
They live and work in remote lonely outposts, with broken sleep from taking their daily turn on security posts where the hours pass slowly and they think of their loved ones at home.
I well remember many reflective times myself in Iran-Iraq, Bougainville, the Solomons, Timor and after the Asian tsunami, thinking how surreal and “out of this world” were the experiences we were facing.
Several things sustain our service people during these difficult times. Firstly, they share a strong sense of purpose and confidence in that they are contributing as Peacemakers. (“Blessed are the peacemakers – they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9)
They are making a positive difference to the lives of the local people in their immediate vicinity through restoring security, distributing humanitarian aid, and developing the capacity of local institutions.
Secondly, service people have a strongly formed sense of what we in the Church describe as Communion.
They are people for whom intimate relationships and a shared identity are foundational aspects of daily life.
They are committed to their families and their “mates”.
They have been imbued with the spirit of sacrifice for their mates on the battlefield. No one will ever be left behind. They will risk their own lives to protect the lives of their mates. (“Greater love hath no man that he be prepared to lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13)
Thirdly, they have a strong sense of compassion and charity. Every platoon of the 8th/9th Battalion deployed in Timor Leste at the moment, has taken on a local orphanage, school or clinic to support and nurture.
(“The second greatest commandment, love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:39) The really standout quality of the Australian serviceman is their compassion – they treat everyone they come in contact with, friend, foe or civilian – with dignity, politeness and care.
Finally, they have a strong sense of service to the people of our nation.
They go on operations with a miniature Australian flag on their sleeves and are very conscious that they are ambassadors of you, the Australian people. They have made covenant to serve you, and it’s nice when that the covenant is reciprocated.
Whilst humble in performance of their duties, nevertheless they get a boost out of knowing that they will be recognised and remembered on this particular day each year. They don’t seek affirmation but the demonstrated gratefulness of our community is very much apart of the Anzac spirit and legend as well.
Of course all of the above attitudes and behaviours don’t get issued at the quartermaster store.
Foundational values have been developed variously through family, school, Church and parish.
The services build on and develop these through a continuum of character training delivered by chaplains, memorial services and spiritual inputs in most service activities.
They learn St Augustine’s “just war theory”, reflect upon previous successes and mistakes, and formally contemplate the matters of life and death.
Faith, spirituality, chapel and “bush” services are a normal and accepted part of service life. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes and I have never met any in more than 40 years of soldiering. The more common retort I hear as a chaplain is: “Please say a prayer for me”.
Anzac Day honours the service and sacrifice of these men and women, and gives the veterans some much-needed affirmation as they continue to struggle with re-adjustment to life after involvement in conflict.
Most people these days know someone who has been or is in the services. I invite you this Anzac Day to contact them and say thank-you for their service of God and humanity. It is a great way of showing that “we will remember them”.
Deacon Gary Stone has served in the Australian Army for more than 40 years as both an infantry officer and chaplain. His two sons Michael and Paul are both infantry officers. Michael is in Timor and Paul is preparing for an operational deployment.
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