In the 100 years since the end of the First World War, despite our best intentions and the wise counsel of the phrase ‘Lest We Forget’, we have forgotten almost everything.
We have forgotten that for many years after the war, Australia struggled to cope with the needs of its crippled, former soldiers. For those who lived during those days they would have remembered a community that was traumatised, profoundly distressed and embittered by guilt and loss.
We have forgotten that in response, the community’s self-prescribed therapy was the establishment of appeals and the building of memorials the intensity of which was so extraordinary that no town, school, or public building escaped the population’s need to erect permanent plaques and statues as acts of penitence.
As perhaps a plea for forgiveness.
We forget that many thousands of returned veterans suffering from mental illness and post-traumatic stress never fully recovered. We have neglected to remember that in the two years between 1919 and 1920, 550 former soldiers committed suicide. And that the 308,000 men of the AIF who served in a theatre of war were admitted to hospital over 750,000 times.
Four out of every five soldiers returned physically and mentally damaged by the war, and it is estimated that over 8,000 of them died prematurely.
In the century since the Armistice, we’ve cheapened their sacrifice. As the years have passed, we have created a series of shallow myths which have been used as political tools and as a way to sell cheap product.
The ANZAC’s deserve better
The mainstream media have been willing conspirators eager to hold up our veterans as shining examples of courage and determination, but they have deliberately glossed over inconvenient, complex and tragic details.
Because the harsh truth is that the landings at Gallipoli, and the subsequent campaigns in Egypt and France, were a catastrophe. None of our communities were untouched by loss of those actions. Australia paid in blood and treasure, a price which was utterly disproportionate to its size and we are still, all these years later, trying to justify.
Since that war, and each that have followed, it has been our national obsession to raise the glorious dead and remind subsequent generations how important it is to worship their sacrifice
But we never ask ourselves how much more Australia may have achieved had these men and women been allowed to live out their lives in peace.
How much they may have contributed.
It is well worth remembering that on this day, ANZAC Day in 1918, Australian soldiers were heavily engaged on the Western Front. The village of Villers-Bretonneux would be recaptured by two Australian infantry brigades after it was wrested away from them a month before during a German offensive.
Of the 3,900 men engaged, 2,400 of them would become casualties.
So never forget.