Anzac Day will die without a new generation of marchers
Growing up in Sydney with a father who served in the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF), Anzac Day was a special day.
We would rise early, catch the bus into the city and wait for my father to march past with his mates.
It was important to him that we understood the significance of Anzac Day so that we could carry on the tradition of remembering those who gave us the freedom we enjoy today.
Over recent years, the sight of a grandfather holding the hand of his grand son marching down George Street in Sydney or along Anzac Parade in Canberra has become an enduring image of the ongoing legacy of Anzac Day to this nation.
The involvement of the next generation of Australians in these events is critical to the ongoing significance of Anzac Day in the hearts and minds of all Australians.
All veterans of all wars and conflicts, ex-service men and women, peacekeepers, current serving personnel and cadets, are recognised on Anzac Day in marches across Australia.
Marching behind banners with medals proudly on display, and uniforms freshly pressed, we remember those people who made and make a unique contribution to Australian life. It is about ensuring that the price so many young men and women paid is never, ever forgotten.
The resurgence of interest and participation in Anzac Day in recent years has been remarkable. More and more people, including families, are rising early on Anzac Day to attend dawn services in local communities.
Many of these people then return later in the morning to proudly wave our flag as the march goes past and share in the solemn, commemorative events at memorials and cenotaphs across the country.
These ceremonies take place in just about every town and city across Australia.
The marches in our capital cities attract greater interest and attention, with many more veterans marching. Months of preparation by local ex-service organisations takes place to ensure the dignity of the march and the support of the wider community.
2010 marks the 95th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, and the 94th Anzac Day remembrance. Sadly, our World War 1 veterans are no longer with us. There are dwindling numbers of veterans from World War 2, the BCOF and the Korean War.
By far the largest group marching in the future will be National Servicemen, Vietnam Veterans and peacekeepers from operations right around the globe and those recently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Anzac Day is the veterans’ day. Our veterans deserve to take pride of place in the march. The tradition of the Ode, the Last Post, the Reveille and the minutes’ silence only reinforces the central role that the veteran plays in the Anzac Day ceremony. It is important that we teach this to the current and next generation who will become the custodians of the Anzac legend.
March organisers may want to maintain a dress code for those family members marching with a veteran; torn jeans and thongs is hardly a way to show respect for the service and sacrifice of others. We see our veterans’ and ex-service men and women marching in suit-coat and, at the very least, with a collared shirt (often with a tie). Many wear unit blazers and berets. It would be entirely appropriate for march organisers to have a minimum dress code for families of veterans which upholds the dignity of the veterans who are also marching.
The future of Anzac Day lies squarely on the shoulders of the current and next generation of veterans and their families. Unless we embrace the current and next generation, the importance of Anzac Day to the broader community may be lost.
As we approach the centenary of the Gallipoli landing and the defining moments of battles on the Western Front during the Great War, let us not lose sight of the values which took our servicemen and women off to defend this nation.
The Anzac spirit certainly lives on in the next generation. Let’s do all that we can to nurture it.
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