ANZAC Day Reflection: love and war don’t appear a natural fit at first
Bob’s Blog from Around Hermitage
Back in the present, there are some 60,000 young Australians who have been engaged in war and peacekeeping deployments in the last 10 years and still, we see the impact on them and their families which is as acute and traumatic as it was 100 years ago.
On April 24 I attended an ANZAC service at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway next to Concord Repatriation General Hospital in my capacity as Chair of the new National Centre for Veterans Healthcare Working Party. The Directors of the Track considered the fact that the Centenary of ANZAC and the First world war commemorations having come to an end and the memories of the second world war fading as that generation leave us it might be time to shift our focus onto more contemporary military engagements.
Gary Wilson was invited to address the service, a survivor of a Black Hawk crash in Afghanistan. A member of the Australian Defence Force for 18 years, an Electronic warfare signals operator with the 2nd Commando Regiment Gary was shot down just 10days before the end of his tour of duty.
Having sustained multiple injuries and being admitted in a coma to the field hospital he described waking up, confused and thinking he was a prisoner of war. His first reaction was to try and escape but could not move his arms or legs when he realized he was surrounded by Australian speakers it was with great relief. He was subsequently evacuated to the American Military Hospital in
Now at this stage in his address, he made the comment that “Love and War don’t appear a natural fit at first” but with the support of his wife and family he managed to pull through and then had to relearn everything from walking to talking and gain his independence. He stressed how important love was in helping him overcome the pain of his rehabilitation and not give up. Having his wife alongside during this process he felt was key to having a good outcome.
One comment he made was the difficulty serving men and women have in facing the reality of death among their comrades. Just two weeks before being shot down he attended a “Ramp service” for two Australians killed and whose bodies were being flown back home. He said he could not imagine the pain their families would go through on their arrival back home and had to block out any thoughts about it. Understanding the mental impact on these toughened and experienced soldiers is not something we have in front of mind. Nor is the anguish they endure in thinking they may be next and the impact on their loved ones.
I have written before of how I see mateship as an important survival mechanism but there is also an unwritten and unspoken element of love and caring for comrades that cement their friendship. Loss of a comrade has all the elements of loss that a family experience under more normal circumstances but are magnified by the surroundings and uncertainties of war.
This contemporary account was very illuminating for those of us listening as it had all the elements of bygone wars and loss of life but was much closer to home than what occurred some 100 years ago. War never goes away and a need to understand its impact and build resilience is part of attending ANZAC services.
There are many levels of love and war, Love of country, love of family, love of friends and colleagues. Even the songs that come to us during WW2 such as those sung by Dame Vera Lynn reflect the broad nature of this. “Wish me Luck as you Wave me Goodbye”’, “We’ll Meet Again”, “I’ll be Seeing You” are familiar songs about love, separation, and expectancy- all elements surrounding war service.
My Aunt Dr Gwen Lusby was posted to the 113 Australian General Hospital at Concord and describes vividly meeting each new group of prisoners returning in shameful conditions and hoping to find her brother among them. Sadly this never happened.
So many families go through the experience of losing someone to war, and even today the numbers may be low but the love loss is just as great.
The “Dash of Danger” as my wife Mary put it, associated with my deployment to Rwanda and East Timor certainly was on my mind and that of my fellow soldiers. Indeed one of my Orthopaedic colleagues asked me to reassure his wife before he was deployed. What do you say? Another colleagues wife could not bear the anxiety and took her own life while he was away.
I am pleased to say the National Centre for Veterans Healthcare initiative is aiming to bring support to our service personnel and their families and is a response to an improved and better understanding of that complex interaction of war and love.
ANZAC day is many things to people and is gaining in attendance which may reflect our continuing search for meaning in this life…Lest we Forget.
Author: Robert Lusby AM Colonel Royal Australian Army Medical Corp (Retired)
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