Yesterday was the Centenary of Anzac.
The weather for the Dawn Service at the Shrine of Remembrance could not have been more appropriate. Dark, drizzly, and cold….just like that experienced by the soldiers at Gallipoli.
Tens of thousands turned out to witness the Dawn Service. They crushed together so far from the Shine that they could neither see it nor hear the transmitted service. They all came to be a part of the record breaking gathering. The only crowd that could even possibly rival it was what has now become an ANZAC tradition…the Footy!
But that was yesterday.
Today, Sunday the 26th of April, was to be the VAJEX Commemorative Service of the Centenary of ANZAC held in the beautiful Glen Eira Town Hall Auditorium.
As I walked from the car park to the Auditorium, the grey skies sieved the promised showers and I didn’t have an umbrella. As I hurried on, my brain kicked into gear…wake up to yourself Karpin. Remember what you are here for. You have come from the comfort of a car, walked the smooth asphalt aiming for the shelter of a welcoming building. Do you for a moment think that the boys at Gallipoli even dreamed of such comfort as they sat huddled together in their mud-sodden trench with perhaps only a groundsheet to imitate a roof? The path that led them from that hell was the rough terrain to another hell...the enemy trenches, that is, if they could reach them.”
The auditorium in which the service would be held was silent and bare, except for the line of tables in front of the stage covered with a garden of bright red poppies and candles that would play a significant part of the ceremony. The poppies lay in the silence like graves filled with memories…each cuddling their own memory of battles fought and lives stolen.
My thoughts that the rain would keep many from attending proved false. Lines of seats began to fill and the silence was broken by the excited chatter or the greetings given between friends.
Julie Leder, our MC for the morning, called the gathering to order by advising that Rabbi Hillel Nagel would sound the Great Shofar in recognition of the freedom we enjoyed. The blast was loud and clear with the sound resonating around the joyful and startled throng.
Our President, Dr Judy Landau, welcomed the attending VIPs whose names read like a page in a Who’s Who. Lady Cohen, The Hon Tim Fischer AC, MAJGEN Jeffrey Rosenfeld AM OBE KStJ, Mr Jack Smorgan AO, Rabbis, Members of Council, Community leaders, students and of course, the rest of us.
Next, in my opinion, came a very important part of the ceremony … the chance for all whose family had suffered the loss of dear ones in the battles of WWI to remember their fallen by coming forward to light a candle. Julie then invited anyone who chose to light a candle for their fallen in following wars.
Gary Ciddor, our Welfare Officer, recited Psalm 23, followed by Rabbi Dovid Gutnick’s sincere prayer for peace and his blessing for all who served overseas.
Dr Marlene Ryzman recited the ANZAC Memorial, by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. To me, the most significant and comforting promise of the poem reads as follows:
"You, the mothers, who sent your sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."
The place of honour was given to our guest, The Hon Tim Fischer AC (commonly known as Tim). I thought his address would be a pitch to sell his latest book Maestro John Monash. Not so. It was constructed almost evenly between GEN Monash’s humorous military extracts and his own exploits. He began with the words of Sir John which described his thoughts of war:
‘The horror; the ghastly inefficiency, the unspeakable cruelty and misery (of war) have always appalled me.’
However, his address was more like a discussion between mates as he directed his talk to each individual who hung expectantly on each and every memory. As a matter of fact, the talk was not on Monash alone but it was spread over a wide range of ‘warries’ (stories of war, sometimes quite exaggerated and preceded by the jibe, ‘Get your helmets out!’)
On Monash, Mr Fischer gave an account of his brilliance. From the little Jewish boy born to German parents and raised at Jerilderie. (It is said he met Ned Kelly there.) His intelligence set him apart from his peers who sent him on his way. Dux at Scotch College. On to Melbourne University where he Mastered in Arts, Law and Engineering. The latter saw his methods of solving major problems put to the test in his military career. It should be noted that he joined the Army as a Private and rose to the point where he was knighted in the field by King George V…a feat not recorded for over 200 years.
Monash saw the futility of the way that the British Generals commanded the war. He said of them, ‘It was a pride of lions led by donkeys.’ He considered the flaws in their way of using the infantry as nothing more than fodder to the enemy guns. They did this by ordering suicide raids from the trench toward the established enemy. He devised the now used tactic of balancing infantry with tanks which immediately saved many lives. Unlike British commanders, Sir John valued the lives of his soldiers and insisted on maintaining his command close to them.
Monash commanded the battle of Amiens which was seen as a major Allied victory that was described as ‘A black day for the German army.’
Mr Fischer quipped on this, thus: Some captured German soldier were asked by their British captors, “Do you think you can still win the war?” “Yes, we have God on our side!” “That doesn’t count. We have the Aussies on ours!”
Mr Fischer ended his talk by drawing attention to the fact that Sir John’s military career was stunted by jealousy and anti-Semitism. Tim is leading a push to have Sir John in his death promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.
What followed was the most serious part of the proceedings…the wreath and book laying ceremony followed by GEN Rosenfeld naming the fallen from Victorian at Gallipoli.
Dr Judy Landau recited the Ode which opened the way for the young Australian soldier, Bugler CPL David Robinson of the Australian Army Band Melbourne, to sound The Last Post and Rouse.
Cantor David Brykman’s voice ‘sang’ Kel Maleh Rachamim with the melodic misery that only a Hebrew prayer can evoke.
The main part of the ceremony ended with Mr Israel Mos and Ms Julie Leder saying Kaddish, the Mourner’s Prayer. Mr Mos in Hebrew and Ms Leder in English.
Mr David Zimmerman hosted the final part of the ceremony which was the presentation of the Pte Gregory Sher Memorial Shields by Mr Felix and Mrs Yvonne Sher to Jewish schoolchildren for outstanding achievements. Their line-up of young eager and happy faces gave meaning to our hope for the future.
Whilst preparing my version of our Commemoration of the Centenary of ANZAC, I came across the following by an unknown author:
At the going down of the sun...
I crouched in a shallow trench on that hell of exposed beaches... steeply rising foothills bare of cover... a landscape pockmarked with war’s inevitable litter... piles of stores... equipment... ammunition... and the weird contortions of death sculptured in Australian flesh... I saw the going down of the sun on that first ANZAC Day... the chaotic maelstrom of Australia’s blooding.
I fought in the frozen mud of the Somme... in a blazing destroyer exploding on the North Sea... I fought on the perimeter at Tobruk... crashed in the flaming wreckage of a fighter in New Guinea... lived with the damned in the place cursed with the name Changi.
I was your mate... the kid across the street... the med. student at graduation... the mechanic in the corner garage... the baker who brought you bread... the gardener who cut your lawn... the clerk who sent your phone bill.
I was an Army private... a Naval commander... an Air Force bombardier. No man knows me, no name marks my tomb, for I am every Australian serviceman. I am the Unknown Soldier.
I died for a cause I held just in the service of my land... that you and yours may say in freedom... I am proud to be an Australian.
By SQD/LDR Harold J Karpin RAAF (Ret'd)