A good example of the fellow feeling across the Tasman for ANZAC day and all that it means is the speech by the New Zealand Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, at the 2004 ANZAC Day Dawn Service:
“The presence of so many children and young men and women at ANZAC ceremonies is a stark reminder of the youth of those who fought for us. Look at them and wonder at the fears of their families, at their terror as they faced fierce fighting and watched their friends die. Listen to these words written to mark the evacuation in 1915, by a 23 year old Australian soldier-poet Leon Gellert, a combatant at Gallipoli.
[The Last to Leave, written by 23-year-old Australian soldier-poet Leon Gellert, a combatant at Gallipoli, to mark the evacuation of the peninsula in 1915.] The guns were silent, and the silent hills
had bowed their grasses to a gentle breeze
I gazed upon the vales and on the rills
And whispered, “What of these?” and “What of these?”
These long forgotten dead with sunken graves,
Some crossless, with unwritten memories
Their only mourners are the moaning waves,
Their only minstrels are the singing trees
And thus I mused and sorrowed wistfully.
Lest we forget.
No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.”
It provides a way to browse 375,971 records of service in the Australian Army during World War I according to the person’s place of birth or enlistment.
Using this site I was able to find out about one of the missing uncles from my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. It was strange that in her family stories there was this uncle who was just a name. Nobody talked about him apart from the occasional mention of his name.
He was one of the many uncles around the world who fought and died during World War One. I suspect that the pain of their loss had not diminished, even after all that time.
Rupert Alexander was 31 years old when he was killed in action on 26 September 1917. The records note merely that Rupert fell “in France or Belgium”.
He had never married and had no children. He’d worked as a plate layer in a sawmill prior to enlisting. My grandmother once mentioned that Rupert had the family look about him, standing about 5′ 9″ tall with blue eyes and brown hair.
His widowed mother received two pictures of his grave near Ypres in Belgium and a ‘victory medal’ from the authorities. Apparently she rarely spoke of him afterwards.
When I travel to Europe later this year I will visit Ypres and tour about the area where Rupert fought and fell. I might even try to track down his grave using the information located via Mapping our ANZACS. [Update: I did find his grave, it is pictured below.]
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. Binyon: For the Fallen
I commend this video by Nick Hodge to you this ANZAC Day. Nick talks about the people side of war and how he has tracked down some of his family history about WWI and WWII using online resources. This is a different perspective to a lot of what we hear regarding ANZAC Day – a really personal perspective.
Just to put the lost uncles in perspective, Australia’s population in 1914 was 4,948,990; Australian war deaths in WWI were 61,511; and total enlistments were 416,809.
It is interesting to consider that these deaths did not just impact the individual who died. Many women were deprived of husbands and potential husbands and this had a flow on effect on society. Families were deprived of brothers and uncles. In addition, the returned servicemen suffered from post traumatic stress, which was unrecognised at the time, but it impacted family life and society for many years.