Wednesday, April 26, 2006
old soldiers make me cry. everytime.
we weren't planning to go yesterday, to the anzac march. when i was a kid, me and my friends used to mock the old soldiers, pretending to be them, limping along with spastic hands to the beat of a drum. we thought we were really funny.
somehow, princess and i found ourselves there, right up the front, watching the old soldiers, and the young, marching past. there were oldies in classic jags and rollers, even one in a khaki nissan pintara. i think the tears come from the misguided belief that these old men fought for a people, a country. when in fact they were young and strong, and as much a hot-headed bastard as any.
the best moment for me was when the wrans passed [army nurses], elderly and soft-looking plump ladies with white gloves and faded hair. as they marched by, there were several wolf-whistles from the crowd, which made everyone smile.
on monday, princess said to me:
we learnt about gallipoli at school today. we won! we won! aha! aha! [and she made the movement, you know the 'we rock' type movement that kids do, with the arms in circles in front of their body, like a victory dance]
it took me a second to realise she was talking about the turks, and that she was one of them.
then yesterday she said, we were fighting on the british side. and i realised she was talking about we as australians.
what an interesting perspective for her.
of course, i met her father in 1990 when i travelled to turkey to go to the 75th anniversary commemoration at gallipoli. i met her dad on the very day we travelled down to the peninsula, the 24th of april. i arrived at the site with my friends at around 4am and found good spots right at the front of the fenced off entrance, where the diggers would walk to their seats for the service. as they started coming, just before dawn, each one accompanied by a young australian or new zealand soldier, the crowd clapped and cheered. old men were brandishing their walking sticks, and grinning at the crowd. i couldn't do anything other than clap, and cry. and take lots of photos. i had tears flowing down my face. i shook bob hawke's hand, and hazel's. i was surprised by his soft grip. we listened to the last post bugle, we listened to the speeches, which i couldn't hear very well. the sound system was crap. but it didn't matter. i'd seen the old boys, and then later as we trundled around various cemeteries and monuments we saw a bus of the old soldiers leaving the area. there they were, small and still excited, waving out of the bus windows at us as they passed.
gallipoli is close to my heart for various reasons*. but i'll never forget the first time i read the words of ataturk, on one of the memorials. it still tugs at the heart-strings:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us, where they lie, side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.
* not least the fact i got touched up by a turk in one of the trenches.