Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Anzac Myth

Photo courtesy the Saturday Paper

I came across this well written piece in The Saturday Paper.

It is especially relevant at this time, on the eve of ANZAC day, given the extensive and overblown mythology that has developed around what was always intended as a day of commemoration.

It also resonates with some research I did recently through the Australian War Memorial into a great uncle who served in France.

My great uncle's military records indicate that he jumped ship in Durban on the way to Plymouth, and was consequently separated from his unit. On arrival in the UK, he went straight into hospital with VD, no doubt picked up during the ten days he was AWOL in Durban.

His service records show that he embarked for France a few months later after a long stint in hospital, but the fact that he ended up with a different posting in a different unit from his original probably saved his life. More than half of his original unit were casualties, dead or maimed, in the nightmare that was the Western Front..

He survived and ended up marrying a French girl who had nursed him in hospital, strangely in the UK. I never did discover what she was doing in England.

They lived in France for a while after the war, but eventually found their way back to Australia in the twenties to settle in Clermont,central Queensland.

He died fairly young, possibly as a consequence of his service, but my French great aunt lived to a ripe old age. Stories of her eccentricities are part of our family history.

The article linked above discusses these issues at some length. It recounts the reality, not the myth.

Somehow the myth continues to grow, like a parasite on the truth, and it dishonours the memory of those who did not return.

On a personal note, I have been accused on a military blog of lying because I had the temerity to point out that the story going around that all Nashos who served in Vietnam were volunteers was rubbish. Somehow, the fact that National Servicemen were obliged to serve in Vietnam whether they wanted to or not, does not fit the narrative that we were enthusiastic about driving the Commies out of South Vietnam.

The National Service Act made it very clear that national servicemen on full-time duty were liable for ‘special overseas service’ including combat duties in Vietnam. This fact is conveniently ignored. The "all were volunteers" myth has been thoroughly debunked in mark Dapin's book - The Nasho's War, and before its release, research I'd done at the AWM was leading me to the same conclusion. There is no record of alleged "opt-out parades" anywhere in unit records or AWM documentation.

There may have been isolated incidents of unit commanders taking matters into their own hands and finding ways of weeding out unwilling conscripts, but I certainly was never given the opportunity. To enlarge this alleged practice to cover ALL Nashos is pure fiction.  

Dapin interviewed hundreds of Nashos and came to the same conclusion.  

The myth persists, and until a short time ago was included in material available to schools on the ANZAC day website. I emailed them with my evidence, but was ignored. My email remains unacknowledged.

Those who served were on the whole, ordinary men caught up in the absurdity of war. They wanted to live - they saw no glory in dying in war. They loved and were loved. They who were killed left family and lovers behind who will mourn them forever. 

Perhaps telling the truth about the ugly absurdity of modern warfare is too much for our delicate twenty-first century sensibilities, but is it OK to invent a false narrative to avoid such unpleasantness?

Update - As of 6th August 2018, and in response to further emails and a phone call, the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee has amended their website and removed the reference to all Nashos being volunteers.

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