“As Those That Are Left Grow Old”

25 April 2008

Today is ANZAC Day here – when we commemorate the lives of all Australian and New Zealand forces who died in our service.  And the words that are used here, as in England, always send a shiver down my spine. 

“They shall not grow old, as those that are left grow old”.

My father was one of those who was able to grow old and I know he appreciated how lucky he was (because it was luck) that he was able to have a family – children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren – when so many of his friends died as very young men.

My father was born in 1921 and joined the Army in I think 1937 (and added two years to his age to help him get in!).  He ended up with thousands of others being bombed on a beach in Dunkirk , waiting for the boats to take them all back to England.  

Then he volunteered for the first group of Commandos to be trained on an island off Scotland, and was then sent to Syria (where he was taken prisoner for a while with a lot of Australians – but that’s another story).

Then again he volunteered to go to Hong Kong, to swim at night (he was a champion swimmer) over to mainland China (I think to recruit mercenaries).

And then off he went to India, where he joined the Chin Hill Battalion, Burma Regiment, got his commission, and spent the rest of the war in Burma and India. 

At the end of the war, he was 24 years old.  And they say young people nowadays have to grow up so quickly.  He stayed in the Army for another 6 or 7 years. 

ANZAC Day moves me more than similar ceremonies in England because so much of the English ones concentrate on the war against Germany.  Those men (and of course, women: my mother was an RAF Sergeant in Sri Lanka) who were in the Far East fighting the war against Japan called themselves The Forgotten Army.  But so many ANZACS were fighting in those areas that it’s probably the main focus of attention of the survivors in Australia.

Last year, I was looking at the Burma Star Association’s website, where children and grandchildren of Burma Star holders were looking for information about their relatives.  And I think they ALL said the same thing – “He never talked about it”.  Well, my father never talked about it either, except to tell us any funny stories (I suppose you have to get your humour where you can find it in those situations!).  He carried all the dreadful parts to his grave, 7 years ago.   My mother wore his dress medals and we put the Union flag on his coffin.

Would it be really schmaltzy of me to finish by saying:  “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we shall remember him”?

This is, after all, the wonderful man I’ve told you about before who kept for all those years the scarf I knitted for him when I was 5, all wrapped up in tissue paper in his sock drawer. 



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  1. That’s a lot of experience in a few short years, isn’t it? My dad is 80 this year; he was 17 when the war ended so was too young to enlist. My paternal grandfather was an electrician so was needed here as an ‘essential service’; my maternal grandfather served as a fireman in The Blitz. He never talked about it either, except to tell the funny stories.

    I agree, “at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”.

  2. ‘we will remember them’

    ANZAC day always causes me to blink back a few tears. And not just because the Last Post was played at my Grandmothers funeral. Thanks for sharing.

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