Back in 1919 the observance of Anzac Day was held in quarantine. Here we are in 2020 and the same conditions prevail. But the Anzac spirit lives on and is remembered.
On the TV we watched the laying of the wreaths in the Canberra War Memorial. I suddenly remembered how, in my childhood, I would be sent out in the morning of the day before Anzac Day to gather bracken, often wet from the morning dew or an overnight shower. My mother would often accompany me, showing me how to get the longest stems. Back at our long table on the enclosed veranda, I would help my mother bind the stiff, leafy bracken into the circle of a wreath. Then large, glossy leaves would be wired and fastened deep into the bracken wreath, layered and overlapped like scales on a dragon. Wreaths today are on polystyrene circles, pristine and white. I miss the organic nature of my mother’s wreaths, which could decay into the soil, somehow appropriate.
We gathered in the pre-dawn, each in our driveways. We had our portable radio. Neighbours over the road turned on the service on their car radio. We waved to one another across the division of the bitumen between us.
The minute’s silence was accompanied by the sounds of birds waking for the day. Kookaburras called to one another. Reveille!
In 1919 it was the Spanish flu. In 2020 it’s Covid-19. How will we be celebrating Anzac Day in 2121?
When you’re living in lockdown, one day merges into another. We only go out for grocery shopping, for work, for medical appointments and for exercise. Even medical appointments are increasingly being done by phone or video link. When we do go out, we combine trips and get as much done as possible. At home we’re renovating, gardening, cleaning, cooking, working from home. Even the burglar is having to kick in his own door as he also works from home…
We share jokes and, despite isolation, we are connecting as never before by phone, via social media and the new hero on the block, Zoom.
With the pandemic shutdowns and the need for us to remain apart from one another, so much has changed. Big events have been shut down. The Royal Easter Show in Sydney was cancelled, which is a huge thing. Various large open air festivals were cancelled. Vivid Sydney is cancelled. Our choir was to perform at Ironfest in Lithgow — yep, cancelled. Our Writers Unleashed writers festival in August — we pulled the plug on that, too. Monthly open air markets — yep, you guessed it. The child is bored and bound by our gates. She has tidied her room and helped with the gardening. What next? Time to get crafting.
With Easter cancelled (and Orthodox Easter the following weekend) it all seems eerily quiet. Even ramadan, beginning today, will be quiet and celebrated apart. We drive (when we must) through empty streets, we wear home-made fabric face masks at the shops.
But Anzac Day — what will we do?
Every year since 1916, there has been a celebration of sorts of Anzac Day. Other countries are also involved every year. At Gallipoli, the peninsula on the Dardanelles in Turkey where the Anzacs first landed on 25 April 1915, our former enemies the Turks are now allies in celebrating not just the Anzac spirit, but the hope that the ‘war to end all wars’ will never be forgotten, never to be repeated. In France they remember the Anzac spirit, often every day in some places. This year we will miss this, around the world people are staying home for their own safety, and that of their communities.
The last time the Anzac Day marches did not go ahead was during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919.
So far, 2020 is shaping up as the year of cancellations. But not Anzac Day.
True, the marches aren’t happening. We will not have the crowds lining the streets to watch the returned servicemen march past. When I first watched this on TV, there were still WWI veterans marching. Now there are so few WWII veterans left that for those remaining, 2020 could be their final year.
But there will still be the televised Dawn Service from the Australian War Memorial. And we are still celebrating in our own way.
Tomorrow morning at sunrise, many Australians will go to the end of their driveway to observe the minutes’ silence. Those in the community who play the bugle or trumpet ‘tolerably well’ have been encouraged, by Australia’s most famous trumpeter James Morrison, to stand at the end of their driveway and play the Last Post.
We got the child making Flanders poppies from egg cartons. It was a family effort. This afternoon we put them on our front fence.
Whether we get out to the end of the driveway for the minutes’ remembrance, or watch the War Memorial coverage on TV, we are sure we will hear our village bugler as the sun rises over our ocean.