On Anzac Day, 2018, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opened the Sir John Monash Centre, which is set on the grounds of the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery and adjacent to the Australian National Memorial, and supposedly tells the story of the Australian experience on the Western Front “in the words of those who served”1.
Sometimes I think there is something wrong with me, because I have a great deal of trouble holding back tears on Anzac Day. I think it is partly because I think of my father, uncles and parents’ friends, many of whom served in the armed forces during the Second World War, some in Europe, some in North Africa and some in the Pacific. They, of course, all survived the war, but now they are all gone, having died over the last 40 years or so. They were the survivors, but there were some who didn’t, and who I never met.
One I never met was Flight Sergeant Colin Stewart Cameron, who was a cousin of my mother’s, and she used to write to him while he was in the UK during World War 2. He was in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), in No. 10 Squadron2, flying Sunderland flying boats over the Bay of Biscay hunting German submarines with the aim of sinking them before they could sink ships in Atlantic convoys bringing men and materiel to Britain. They were apparently attacked and shot down by long range German fighter aircraft (Ju88s), with the loss of all aircrew. One of the saddest items my mother kept was a bundle of letters she wrote to Colin, but were returned to her after he was lost. He was 23.
One I did know was Robbie Poate, who was with the 3rd Battallion, Royal Australian Regiment Task Group in Afghanistan3. He was a victim of a ‘green-on-blue’ attack, being killed by a member of the Afghan Army with whom the Australian Army were cooperating4. This was in August, 2012. He was 23.
They were robbed of most of their lives by the stupidity of humans, and that fills me with an overwhelming sadness and anger at that wilful stupidity. They will grow not old, as we that are left grow old.