Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day as it used to be known. It commemorates the anniversary of the armistice that terminated WWI, the Great War. There was never meant to be another one like it, but unfortunately the brutality of war did not end with that cease-fire in 1918.

A couple of newspaper items caught my attention this week. The first was a column in the British newspaper The Guardian. In it, the 90 year-old writer announces that this will be the last time he will wear the poppy because he feels the act of remembrance has changed over time. He says:
"I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy." 

To a certain extent I see his point, and that point may be even more relevant in Australia. Britain faced the prospect of invasion in both world wars, and he asserts that remembrance should be about those who paid the ultimate price in actual defence of their country. 

What about Australia? It could be argued that Australia might have been invaded by the Japanese in WWII but for heroic action in Papua-New Guinea and the Coral Sea. Certainly no conflict since then has actually threatened our shores. The major places of engagement were as far afield as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

My viewpoint is different though. The decisions to become involved in these conflicts were made by politicians, not by soldiers. The service personnel were doing what their jobs required them to do, and we should recognise and remember the sacrifices they and their families made at the request of their country, even if not actually in defence of their country.

Which brings me to the second article. I read that there had been a movement to alter the inscription at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Canberra. That memorial dates from 1993, when the remains of an unknown WWI soldier that had been recovered from the Western Front were interred at the Australian War Memorial. A few years later the inscription "known unto God" was added to the tomb. That inscription is one adopted by the Imperial War Graves Commission on the advice of Rudyard Kipling.

During a speech to the National Press Club Brendan Nelson, the director of the Australian War Memorial announced that the Kipling-inspired words were to be removed and replaced by the words "we do not know this Australian's name, we never will", part of the famous eulogy to the Unknown Soldier given by Paul Keating at the interment twenty years ago.

Controversy followed and now Brendan Nelson has reversed his decision and the original words will remain. I think that is the right decision.

Here are some photographs of Remembrance (or Armistice) Day being observed in Brisbane.

Firstly a family group celebrating in 1918. Note that the flags that they are adorned with are the Union Jack, not the Australian flag. 
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #250868)

Next, the 1918 Armistice parade outside the GPO.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #201302)

An acknowledgement of Armistice Day at Brisbane's City Hall in 1940, during another horrific conflict.
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #7708-0001-0107)

And a more recent memorial service at Brisbane's Shrine of Remembrance in Anzac Square.


1 comment:

  1. I have been thinking about the First World War recently and timed the last post (no pun intended) for Armistice Day. I agree that the decisions to become involved in these conflicts were made by politicians, not by soldiers. So the obligation to look after the young men, if and when they come back, is also the politicians. In WW1, this didn't seem to be guaranteed :(

    Thanks for the link


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