As ANZAC Day has been and gone for another year here is a little wrap up of my last couple of days and a little bit of a rant that I just need to let out.
Some traditions speak of duty and service, and some of mateship and friends.
These items have become part of my ANZAC Day routine. My medals of course, which I wear with incredible pride for the expected reasons but also because this set was given to me by Alex and Kirsty (Lone Pine Medals) without me needing to ask after the fire damaged my first set of duplicates. My Aussie Hero Badge which should require no explanation in this forum. A poppy given to me by Cath, a recipient who became a quilter who became a close and valued friend, and finally a poppy scarf (survived the fire) which was given to me by Sandy, an army mum whose 19 year old received one of our first quilts in 2012. They have eaten at my table and Sandy has become a wonderful friend and a great supporter of Aussie Heroes and we wear matching scarves wherever we are for ANZAC Day each year.
I will preface the rest of this post by saying that I have just arrived home and am very tired and more than a little emotional. I left on Monday afternoon and drove to HMAS Creswell where I stayed with my friend, the base chaplain, to attend the dawn service on Tuesday morning.
Given that it was Monday, the day the request list goes out and the busiest day of the week for me, I arrived at Creswell in time to go out and grab some dinner before settling down to answer several hours of emails. Anyone who is kind enough to offer me hospitality knows that I am a rather anti-social guest as I cannot sit around and chat but must keep Aussie Heroes running and that means answering emails.
It was around 11pm when I got to bed and 4am that I had to be up.
The Dawn Service at HMAS Creswell is beautifully located with a backdrop of the rising sun over the water. Yesterday mornng we were blessed with a beautiful array of colous as the sun rose that wonderfully complimented the service.
Prior to the commencement of the actual service several midshipmen read various appropriate passages and poems that really did set the scene for what was to come beautifully. The service itself was very special and as you would expect had a few nautical touches that you might not see elsewhere.
Following the service the chaplain and I joined others for a bacon and egg roll breakfast.
I had some more time to answer emails and then headed off to Nowra to meet up with a recipient, a very special lady who actually bought me a new sewing machine following the fire that destroyed my home. It was wonderful to meet face to face, to be able to thank her but also to be able to talk at length about her service and her overseas deployment. It is an opportunity that I am rarely afforded and I cherish. We actually talked so long and hard that I am finding it difficult to have long conversations today comfortably… and no doubt my husband is regretting not being home to take advantage of that!
Following our very long lunch I had about an hour at home to catch up on emails again before heading out to have dinner with another recipient family. Mel, the wife, came into contact with me when her husband deployed on HMAS Darwin in 2014 and we met several times before the ship came home. I met her husband on the wharf but I don’t think I have seen either of them since that day, though we have kept in touch via email. In the intervening years Mel and her husband have had an absolutely GORGEOUS cherubic son and last night was a wonderful opportunity to meet him and catch up with his parents.
After dinner I had to make a concerted effort to catch up on the days’ worth of emails but finally made it to bed around 1030.
Up again around 7am this morning, showered, packed closed off the laptop, final chat to my gracious host, the chaplain and then on the road to my last catch up. This time with one of my favourite legends, nearly 40 years service and more stories than the local library if he could be pursuaded to tell them. A past recipient who quietly keeps note of what we do and is always there for support, advice and feedback when I need it. Again a great chance to touch base in person.
The last leg of the trip seemed to take forever especially as I was trying to beat a storm that was threatening. At last I made it to the PO, collected the backlog of parcels and headed home to two very, very glad to see me pups.
It was a wonderful couple of days away. It is always great to get out from my desk and meet recipients face to face, even ones I have met before, and especially ones I am meeting for the first time.
The best thing that happened yesterday though, related to something that someone did who I did not see in person, and it had nothing to do with me, but it absolutely made my day. When scrolling through the myriad of photos on facebook last night, checking out everyone’s ANZAC Day photo, I spotted the photo of a very special friend of mine, someone I have only known for a few months but they are such a special soul that I like to think we have a special connection. This person has PTSD. I have to be careful how much I say as I do not want to identify them. What is important is that they had no intention of going out in public yesterday, let alone donning the uniform and medals and heading out to commemorate ANZAC Day with their mates. So last night, when I spotted that photo on Facebook it moved me to tears as I know how hard it would have been for them to be there at that time and I was so happy and so proud of them.
Okay, so now hopefully you get the picture, tonight I am tired and I am emotional – ANZAC Day will do that to you…. but this is where things are probably not as you expect.
I am emotional because at least one of my friends made it through ANZAC Day much better than they expected. Actually that is more than one but I can’t say anymore about the others… they know who they are… That is happy stuff though.
What also has me emotional, and more than a little angry to be quite honest, is the realization that quite a number of veterans are having ANZAC Day spoiled for them by the actions of others.
For a few days before ANZAC Day there was a small flurry of conversation in the media about the number of times serving members, often females, but also some males, are questioned about the medals they were wearing.
I can understand members of the public showing an interest and asking politely what each medal means. If that happens I think it is the responsibility of the serving member to politely and patiently explain what each medal signifies. We all play a role in educating the public. True, there was a time when it may have been considered impolite to ask what each medal represents but I am sure most people don’t mind being asked politely.
What I find gob-smacking is how often I am being told or I am reading, that females have been queried, that fact that younger males are also having to justify their service, and the manner in which the questioning is done. .
One of my male friends was fresh home from deployment last Remembrance Day and was questioned about the validity of his medals by two Vietnam Veterans. Last ANZAC Day he was also questioned on his way into the march.
I belong to a few closed facebook pages, and I will not betray the trust demonstrated in allowing me to join those groups by quoting people, but reading comments on more than one of those pages today had me in tears. Comment after comment from veterans, indeed mostly but not exclusively women, explaining how their ANZAC Day was ruined by arrogant and ignorant questioning/
What I also find particularly disappointing is the comments from those who feel undervalued because they did not have the opportunity to deploy, or perhaps their deployment was not as “important” or “real” as someone else’s.
I can’t believe how many veterans have stories to relate of being told they are wearing their medals on the wrong side, or they could not possibly have earned them all….. but what saddens me most is that often these comments come from other veterans, or widows of veterans… people who really should know better. I have read stories of people being poked in the chest, or being told to take their medals off. Often not polite inquiries but downright rudeness or arrogance and I am so disappointed. Sometimes it is older veterans who are pointing the finger, sometimes it is younger veterans.
A couple of people I discussed this with felt that maybe the occurrence of fake veterans had made people more vigilant. If that is the case then before you challenge someone, make sure you know what you are talking about.
I understand that some pathetic soul wearing medals that they have not earned is offensive and upsetting but those people are nowhere near as important as those who have served, many of whom do it tough on ANZAC Day as it is.
I personally, would rather see ten “fake” veterans be left in peace to wear their illegitimate medals than see one veteran, who may have struggled to put on his medals that day, or struggled to even leave his home, be questioned to the point where he/she nolonger feels it is worth the effort to wear their medals, or worse, will spend the next ANZAC Day behind closed doors.
One legitimate veteran is worth a hundred pathetic fakes don’t you think?
I hate to think what sort of impact that sort of attitude would have had on my friend, or on any of the many, many veterans who find getting out there on ANZAC Day difficult enough as it is.
So, as the heading of this post goes….
How did you go this year?
Did the media campaign make a difference in your experience? Was this year any better or worse than last year for you. I suspect that the incidence of people being challenged will not have reduced significantly as the media campaign did not really have time to build but I hope I am wrong.
I would love to hear/read your stories so if you are inclined, please leave a comment or send me an email to friendsofAHQ@gmail.com
This issue is not going to go away if we do not talk about it.
I suspect that if you follow this blog or this facebook page then you are not likely to be guilty of such arrogance or ignorance. Most people who follow this page support our defence and our veterans. I guess I am asking you to be aware there is a problem and do what you can to overcome it.
Let’s all take care of each other. Let those who are able do something to support, care for and lift up those who can’t. Let’s hope that 12 months can make a difference and next year’s ANZAC Day will see some necessary changes for the better.
Finally, If you wore the uniform, if you wear it now, then you are part of my defence family and I am grateful for your service and even more so, eternally grateful for the support you have given me. I have more pride in you than I am able to show.
Until next time…. keep spreading the word and happy stitching!