Monday, 25 April 2011

Anzac Day.



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.

xoxo

12 comments:

  1. Oh Rachel, isn't our history just amazing? I'm so proud of you for remembering your great great uncle by writing this novel! I just knowing would be so proud of you for remembering him this way!

    Blessings....
    xoxo Gert

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  2. I don't think it's depressing, it's important to remember those who have lost their lives for our freedoms. Sometimes the memories are painful, but they are part of our fiber and our history. Thank you for sharing this post.

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  3. I think, that if we forget to remember, war will become too easy. Our ancestors gave up so much to enable us to live the free lives that we lead. The book sounds very interesting, let us know how you get along with it, then perhaps more people will be aware of how much we have all been given. Love to you and yours x

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  4. How sad to rediscover a long lost relative via death. I wonder what research you could do to learn more about someone who died so long ago. Most of those who knew him might also be gone by now. Maybe the military will have records and leads. The past is so strange, all the people intimately connected to us whom we never know. Good luck with the novel.

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  5. My father lived and worked in Turkey for a while and on a visit there some years back we went to Gallipoli and saw the war graves and some of the trenches (obviously not looking now anything like they did back then, but it served to focus the mind on what horror must have been witnessed there). One of my relatives died on a ship that was torpedoed, his body was never recovered of course, but we found the name of the ship inscribed on a memorial stone. The Turkish look after the war cemeteries very well and have made them a restful place to stop and think. I got pretty choked up reading the names of those young men, barely men after all, some only 17, 18 years old. Afterwards we sat on a beach in blazing sunshine and swam in crystal clear water. Probably one of those very same beaches that men suffered and died upon. Let us never forget their heroic sacrifice or the utter folly of war.
    Christine

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  6. Oh Rachel....how beautifully written!! What a wonderful legacy and such an honor you will bestow upon his short life. This was so beautifully written....as an English teacher, I often tell my students that it is not so much the words themselves but how they are placed and how they are felt as they are written. It is clear this was a meaningful morning to you.....
    xx
    Joann

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  7. Lovely post, it's such an important thing that we don't forget. xxxx

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  8. We had a quiet Easter, but what a build up! I am almost glad it's over so we can relax a bit (my liver especially!).

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  9. What a beautiful post Rachel! I can totally understand why you woke up at 4 am to attend the ceremony. So wonderful that you have found your great uncle's name and some of his story. So sad how he escaped death in war, and somehow his demons killed him. I feel very connected to that. I had a dear aunt who lived with us, when I was child. She too, sadly, had similar demons, and tragically ended her life at 23 years of age. I will never, ever forget her. I applaud you for giving your great uncle a voice. I will love to your read your novel, when it is finished. Best of luck in your writing, dearest. Somehow, I just know it will be remarkable! xoxo

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  10. Thank you so much for this post Rachel. It's wonderful that you are writing about your g-g-uncle.
    From researching my family's history, I have found that my great uncle died at the Battle of Fromelle. He was only twenty two. I am fortunate to have some photos of him as a little boy and as a teenager. I was able to find out a lot of information from the National War Museum in Canberra. I know so much more about him and his war service now and he will certainly not be forgotten.

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  11. How wonderful that you came across him by "accident" and can now work hard to bring his story back to the fore... it is so sad that so many people fight and die and become faceless, nameless and forgotten. Tim and I visited the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge one Christmas and it was so moving, despite us having no ties there, because any life lost in the battle for freedom, equality, safety etc should be honoured, even if we never knew those people.

    Good Luck with the novel, what a great thing to do!

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  12. I googled your great great uncle's name after seeing flowers laid in his memory at the tube station on my way home from work. I am so glad you have rediscovered his story and that his memory is cherished now. Very best of luck with the book.

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