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Thursday 11 June, 2015
People have always said that I need to open up and tell my stories. For years I have said no, you don’t need to hear them. They’re my memories not yours, like I was hanging on to my most prized possessions. Memories that are no doubt similar to all those who have seen conflict before me. Like all of us I remember hearing people say “he/she would never talk about the war” and then off we’d go about our business, as though this is just the state of things.
Well I have come to believe that some, if not all, of our service memories actually belong to the Australian public. That we, as veterans, actually have an obligation to tell the Australian public what we have been through. We need to step forward and explain in detail what we have seen regardless of how insignificant or significant we think it might be. It’s not really up to us to judge. There is little point waiting until we are elderly – not only because of the details that may fade with time, but also because of the burden we will inevitably carry if we wait. Now is the time to contribute to Australian military and social history and take up the opportunity there is to turn myth and hearsay into fact and legend.
That’s how it was for me when I wrote about Luke Worsley. I told Luke’s story as I recalled it. It had a profound effect on me. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive. I also told Cameron Baird’s story. Cameron’s father called me personally to thank me for sharing an untold story about his son. It’s not often you get a thank you call from the father of a Victoria Cross recipient!
As a younger veteran of East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan with 22 years of service in the Royal Australian Regiment, do I consider my service to be better than others? No. All veterans are different and have different experiences of war. No one should be judged on the conflict they have or have not served in. More often than not, personnel who have not been deployed overseas tend to be forgotten and in some cases their story is completely overlooked. But they’re all valid stories. They’re all stories that speak of an ‘interruption to normal life’ – service that has to be accommodated in one way or another by them, their families and their communities.
My family and I have just returned from Gallipoli. Prior to departure we decided to ‘Adopt a Digger’. We weren’t sure what this involved at the outset but it proved to be an extraordinarily enriching experience. It meant we would visit the peninsula with even more purpose; to reflect and stand at the grave of the Australian we had adopted whose life had been sacrificed for us.
Our adopted Digger is Private Hugh Coburn. Hugh was killed in action at the Battle of Lone Pine. He certainly has a story to tell. One that had almost been lost like so many others. One that lay dormant for 100 years. His possessions were never claimed. In fact no next of kin could be found. To this day this remains the case but we’re committed to connecting with Hugh’s relatives if we can.
Imagine if this happened now? What would the public do for an orphan soldier? It dawned on me when I found his plaque at Gallipoli that I may well have been the first Australian to specifically visit Hugh’s grave in 100 years. When we explained to my small daughter that Private Coburn was an ‘orphan’ she immediately sat down and said a prayer for Hugh. If that simple act doesn’t touch the hearts of my fellow Australians nothing will.
Even though most of us tend to focus on Gallipoli, we must remember that during WW1 72% (45,000) of Australian casualties occurred on the Western Front. I urge anyone who is interested to seek out the story orientated sites like the RSL’s Virtual War Memorial, like Adopt a Digger and like the Anzac Centenary South Australia website and share your story. These sites are all interconnected. They are enriching our lives and our understanding of the impact of war. Veterans are not only our elder men and women from past conflicts, they are you and me. Take hold of this lifetime opportunity to tell your story as part of the Anzac Centenary.