My Dad Never Marched on Anzac Day.
My Dad Never Marched on ANZAC Day.
Both of my parents served in the military – in wartime and in peace. My mother marched on Anzac Day but my father never did.
My mother was an Air Force radar operator – a “hush hush” girl by virtue of the secrecy surrounding the technology. My father’s service was far more diverse. Originally training as an Air Force navigator in World War Two, he transferred to the Army when it became apparent that he wouldn’t see active service in the air. He ultimately fought as an Army commando in New Guinea before shipping out of the jungle to Japan at war’s end. Based out of Hiroshima he would be part of the first element of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF).
It was 1947 before he returned to Australian shores and after a period cutting sugar cane, he re-enlisted in the Air Force for a second time, on this occasion, as a mechanic. From here he was remustered to train as a pilot and in turn, a fighter pilot, destined to fly 201 combat missions during the Korean War. Decorated and Mentioned-in-Dispatches, his medals could be found unmounted in small boxes in his drawer. One box was still tied up with string and bore the Registered Post label from the 1940s. As a boy I could secretly access those boxes and marvelled at the shining medals and colourful ribbons, having no idea what they represented.
As I grew older, I was aware of dad’s service but I would be well into my teenage years before I had any grasp or appreciation of its significance. It was around this time that my mother had my father’s medals mounted – or at least those that she could find. At her insistence, she forced him to wear them to an Anzac Day service where I stood guard with my school’s Air Force cadet unit. I had never seen him look so uncomfortable.
Dad was an extremely shy individual and heads turned to see the short gentleman in a navy blue suit and a chest adorned with medals. As soon as I marched from the cenotaph, the medals came off and he was in the car, ready to go home. Later, a teacher enquired as to where my dad had served, to which I replied, “…with the Army in New Guinea in World War Two and as a fighter pilot in the Korean War”. The teacher’s reply was astounding, “I think you mean the Vietnam War – there was no Korean War”.
Even with medals mounted, dad never marched on Anzac Day.
We would attend the local Anzac Day Dawn Service religiously. Dad would wear a hat and coat and tie and mum would rug up with a hat, coat and gloves. Mum’s two wartime service medals would make a clinking sound as she walked while dad’s sole indication of service was a dark brown metallic diamond-shaped crest on his lapel. It was his “Returned from Active Service” badge.
Later that day we would watch the march on television and some years we would venture into Sydney where mum would join her Air Force friends from times of war and peace. She would try to get dad to participate but he would mumble some excuse about having too many units to choose from and slip me a sly grin. As mum headed off, Dad and I would find a quiet vantage point from which to watch the march. I loved sitting there with him as he pointed out different squadrons and divisions and paraphrased their histories for me.
As I reflect on those days, his resistance to marching was in line with his quiet and humble nature. He never forgot those who served and those that fell but the Dawn Service was where he could reflect in silence at the rear of the gathered crowd. There is no doubting that he was proud of his service – he just wasn’t one to advertise the fact. His citation for being Mentioned-in-Dispatches was not framed or displayed but glued within the pages of his Pilot’s Log Book – treasured but tucked away.
When he passed away, very few people knew the extent of his service and it was only in writing his biography, “Without Precedent”, that I learned fully of his journey from those with whom he had served. No, dad never marched on Anzac Day and it was in keeping with who he was. He didn’t dwell on matters but rolled up his sleeves and quietly got on with the job ahead. In retrospect, I believe it may well have been this quality that allowed him to twice return from war and readjust to life back at home.
Mum and dad were both proud of having served, they just expressed their pride differently. Mum reunited with friends and dad would sit quietly on the sidelines. No, my dad never marched on Anzac Day – nor did he ever forget those that never came home to march.