I went to my first ANZAC service on Monday, in London of all places. Where else to begin being patriotic in a country not my own? Up at three in the morning London is a different world. Roads empty, rubbish glowing in the street light, and the few hard-core party goers enjoying their night. We drove in a taxi to Hyde Park corner where the moon was slowly sinking and it was still dark enough that people were silhouettes. Outfitted in night. This is where the Australian and New Zealand War Memorials stand, right in the centre of the roundabout.
I had tickets to all the events of the day, all thanks to my employer who works at the Australian High Commission. I stood with his father and his father’s partner in the section reserved for ‘official’ people and watched as the hill behind me began to fill up for the dawn service. And then didgeridoo music was piped through the speakers and even with the hill jammed full with bodies, hush fell. We listened and we remembered, united. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr John Key and Australian High Commissioner Mr John Dauth, both spoke on sacrifice and mate-ship. One man choked up as he read a letter addressed to the wife of a soldier killed at Gallipoli. And then the two minutes silence came and the traffic was stopped from entering the roundabout. I thought it strange that I could hear the birds calling for morning. The last post sounded. Children recited prayers for the nations. Dawn came and the service ended. People stayed in the grounds drinking fosters beer and wearing flags for capes.
After there was a military breakfast, provided by the Australian High Commission. I sat next to a Chelsea Pensioner named Bill who told me of his family in Australia while he ate baked-beans and mushrooms. Then he gave me his hat to hold while he marched at the Cenotaph, Whitehall. By this time, the sun was up, peeping over Whitehall’s tops. Wreaths were laid and the men in duty looked proud as they marched to and from the Cenotaph. Finally the Westminster Abbey service. My ticket got me to the front. Westminster is grand, gold and at its peak for the royal wedding. The choir had the most angelic voices I’ve ever heard. The service was like that of the dawn one, just as moving.
And after a morning filled with all events ANZAC, I realised it was wrong to scoff at being patriotic. I was moved and proud, minus the slab of VB in my gut. And what I’d once thought was an event for people directly involved with war, or people wanting a chance to run crazy around field with a scarf attached to their back, football in hand, I realised it wasn’t this for all. It is lest we forget what sacrifice gives.