This morning at 4am, Paul & I heaved ourselves out of bed in our London flat....threw on some clothes and put Alice's lead on. We walked through the deserted and still dark streets...over Oxford Street, through Mayfair to Park Lane and finally Hyde Park Corner....where we stood from 5am with hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders (mainly) and took part in the annual ceremony held at the Australian & New Zealand War Memorials there to commemorate the sacrifice of the ANZACS...the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps in the two World Wars and other conflicts since, including Vietnam and, of course, Afghanistan & Iraq.
Why did we do it? Neither of us is from that part of the world after all. We both have strong links with Australia, as we have close family living there (and in fact Esther is now an Australian citizen too) But I don't think that's it - well, not in my case anyway.
The word Anzac is particularly synonymous with the ill-fated First World War campaign fought in Gallipoli, Turkey. So many, so very many young lives lost. A few years ago I found out that my great-great uncle was part of the hell there...landing at Suvla Bay in August 1915. He survived Turkey (miraculously) and went on to fight on France's Western Front...but the war ultimately killed him, although he didn't die in battle. He took his own life shortly after the Armistice by throwing himself in front of a London train. His existence was unknown even to my Mother, he was never talked about by her family at all (probably as a result of his suicide)... until we discovered him quite by chance in the records of the War Graves Commission and I made it my mission to uncover more about his short and painful life. What demons drove him to that terrible end? What sights did he see, what horrors did he experience that made his life a nightmare and ultimately unbearable for him? I'm now writing a novel, based on him...we don't know enough facts about this brave, forgotten man so it must be classed as fiction.
He wasn't an Anzac. He was an Englishman. But he would have known and befriended and fought alongside many of them. And they all went through it together.
The song above may help to explain a little more (I love June Tabor's voice and the fact that she sings a cappella especially). It sends a shiver up my spine whenever I hear it...
This may seem to be a depressing post...war, and the thought of the suffering and loss caused by it, always is. But, for me, it's important to face it and remember and thank those who gave their lives in conflict.
So the reason I went to Hyde Park Corner, and stood in the dawn light, and bowed my head in silence this morning was to pay my tribute to all of them...and especially to my great-great uncle, Cyril Arthur Took. It's taken a good few years, but we've found him and he won't now be forgotten again.