The past week has been a whirlwind of epic proportions. My daughter and I went on the RSL Rural Commemorative Youth Choir camp, which was extraordinary, in and of itself. The choir was kindly hosted by Concord RSL, a friendly little club with a community emphasis. We pitched tents out the back and were supplied with a food van, BBQ, showers and the auditorium for practices. We were made to feel welcome from the moment we stepped over a pond housing gold and orange koi fish, and into the entrance.
The kids played barefoot bowls in between rehearsals and services. Speaking of services, last Friday the choir sang at the Anzac Field of Remembrance Service at St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. Gwen Cherne spoke about her experience as a contemporary war widow, and there wasn’t a dry eye afterward. Real and lasting change is being brought about as a result of brave soldiers and widows/widowers speaking out. You can read her speech here.
The choir was also honoured to sing at an Anzac dawn service at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Concord, organized by Concord Repatriation Hospital. 3000 crochet poppies were lovingly pinned on a giant cut-out of the word ANZAC. A grand lady of 94 and her daughters had knitted 900 poppies alone. I had the honour of meeting Albert, a 102 year old veteran with twinkling blue eyes. As we chatted, he talked of his teenage years in the employ of Farmers Department store in Sydney, and of the mischief he would get up to. He spoke of dances and hope. He made me promise to never lose my smile, as he believed that a part of humanity perishes with each down-turned mouth. If he can still smile radiantly at 102, I think I can manage to keep grinning!
I talked to another veteran about what ANZAC day meant to him. He replied that to him, it wasn’t about particular battles, but rather the spirit, which must be preserved. It is a holy essence containing mateship, dedication, freedom and the hope of peace for all humanity. Every veteran I have ever met has expressed the fervent wish that the past shall never be repeated. War is hell, of that they can assure you. My Canadian Grandfather was in the Army during WW2, and I have been surrounded by those in the armed forces. I have had the pleasure of loving friend’s children who serve as medics, peacekeepers and whom are there to help out in natural disasters. I was in that clinic at fourteen with veterans suffering what is now known to be PTSD. The conversations we had were among some of the most meaningful of my life.
This Anzac day, I am grateful to be a part of the RSL Commemorative Youth Choir. The kids are able to learn from and interview older people, which is a real privilege. They also step up to be leaders, gifted with many opportunities to speak up and speak out for causes they believe in. They are taught about fairness, discipline and mateship. The future of the Anzac spirit is in good hands, with unprecedented numbers of young people attending dawn services across Australia. The hard work of honouring the sacrifices of past generations has only just begun. At its core is a plea for peace, the spark of which is in all of us. We can start where we are, in our communities. ‘Lest we Forget.’