Remembrance Day 2010

By , November 14, 2010 5:31 pm

I woke with such a lightness I needed the weight of Remembrance Day to ground me. Spring in Brisbane, with the sobbing clouds of night rain and a refreshed morning, fills my driveway with heavy Jacaranda blossoms. My car has been to a wedding overnight without me. I don’t bother to wipe the flowers away; there are too many of them and anyway, I love the effect of driving down Latrobe Terrace with traces of purple flying off my car like warp speed particles. It adds to the character of the suburb.

In today’s paper I can see there are a few Services I can go to. I am spoilt for choice, yet strangely I am compelled to visit Ashgrove. The last time I was there was for Carols by Candlelight 22 years ago, even though I drive past the central island park each day. A renewed Ashgrove Traders group and a spanking new Memorial within the park have motivated the locals to hold a Service, and so I drive there to be early for the 10.45am start.

The garden beds are full of blue lobelia and the colour is electric against the green of the grass. A woman walks towards me holding poppies for sale, she has one each side bent with wire around her glasses. She looks quite eccentric. I withhold my mirth and gratefully accept 2 flowers in exchange for a fiver.

And then the Service commences. Blimey! I am never late but it looks like I skidded here and only just caught the beginning. We gallop through the agenda, the MC is a local teacher from the Catholic Girls School nearby. He is reading a piece written by an ex-digger who is too unwell to be here in person, and he holds the paper up close to his eyes, squinting in the morning sun. We politely listen and mentally smooth his ragged speech into a sense of cohesion.

I take photos on my Blackberry, and send them to my mother’s email address. There’s an old man sitting, leaning on his cane, listening with effort to the thin voice of the announcer. To his right, stands the solid cenotaph, built stone by stone. I quietly take his photo. He stands shakily when the Ode is being read, and we all mouth Lest We Forget. Men replace their hats. Young girls dab their eyes.

We are then told that the minutes silence is to be held ‘as close as possible to eleven o’clock’ so we have a small interval. We’ve peaked very early. There is 20 minutes to fill. The small crowd filters over to read the new display of New Guinea information and photographs. It seems the 61st Battalion were very active after the war ‘cleaning up the Japs’ and black and white images of sweating bare-chested men and bogged army trucks stare back at me.

A motorcycle policeman gently purrs past us, glancing in on the crowd. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Photographs of men in kilts (a Macdonald never yields!) are grouped together as part of an Ashgrove chapter of army men. A large group of small kids run barefooted beside them as they march through the main street, bagpipes blaring. You can imagine the noise and excitement! Some of the children look as young as four, only one wears a hat, and he looks a proper dandy. It’s not a kid’s hat, it’s a prissy one. I wonder who he grew up to be?

Soon it’s time to rejoin the Remembrance Service, before we forget why we are there. Whilst we look at our watches waiting for the next 3 minutes to pass, I take the newly arrived Westpac Bank managers photograph, with his young teller. We recognized each other when she tried to register my new credit card a few weeks ago. We exchange chitchat and soon the Poppy Lady is making a bee line to him.

I gently tease, saying it was so good to see the big banks putting their hand in their pocket, but he isn’t amused, and I regret my tackless jibe. He hands her a $20 note and assures her to keep the change. Her job is done! I offer to take their photograph on his mobile phone, and they both beam with poppies and civic duty smiles.

At 11am we re-commence the Service with the Last Post, except the sound doesn’t work from the IPod to the speaker. I am delighted at the use of new technology, it would be even better if it worked, but for now we have the Last Post and the one minutes silence all in one. Reveille.

Whilst we were looking and remembering and dreaming in the photographic display, an old soldier named Bob shuffled in and sat on the park bench, resplendent in army greens, tropical style. He even has a khaki pith helmet on, although I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone wearing a camouflaged pith helmet in WWII, but that’s just me.

At the end of the Service I place one of my poppies onto the cenotaph, leaving the other tucked firmly behind my right ear.


More photographs. A twenty-five pounder gun sits on the corner of the park, jutting it’s historic strength to the passing traffic. Look at me! I am powerful! It is the gun my father used in the war, and I have a large soft spot for it.

I shake a couple of the old men’s fat hands, and say a grateful Thank You.

I wait patiently to speak to Old Bill, but he is holding court with a young woman, pointing to each medal on his chest. “This is my fathers, this one is for General Service in World War II”, and he proceeds through each unpolished, chinking medallion.

As I drive past later, I can see he hasn’t moved from his bench.

There are still a core group of six people listening to him and giving him the attention he came for, lovely. That will make his day, the dress up was worth it. I touch the red poppy behind my ear, and press my foot to the accelerator.

Time to live the rest of the day.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy