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Think Piece: Anzac Day – A personal perspective

Thursday 17 August, 2017

When I attend an Anzac Day dawn service I can usually hold it together until the Last Post plays, then I feel the moisture rolling down my cheeks. My reflections at the dawn service are deeply personal to me, and Anzac Day probably means something different to most Australians depending on their background and individual experiences. For me, aside from remembering all Australians who have fallen in battle, I think of two people in particular; my ‘Pop’ Captain Ivor Paech, OAM, and my friend Lieutenant Michael Fussell.

Pop was my hero as a child, and as I have grown older he has become the symbol of what I would like to be as a man. Selfless, humble and brave. Unfortunately, I probably still fall well short. In 1940, he was content and happy working as a teacher with a lovely young wife living a comfortable existence in the suburbs of Adelaide. World War Two changed all of that.

Upon hearing that France had fallen to Germany in June 1940, he, along with thousands of others, volunteered for the second AIF. He had no previous desire to be a soldier, but simply thought that he had a duty and responsibility to his country. Any notion that he was undertaking a great adventure was dispelled knowing the length of the Australian casualty lists from the First World War – perhaps making those volunteering for this second war all the braver (or bloody silly as he would have joked).

Pop was assigned to the 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, and eventually saw much combat in north Africa at Tobruk, Tel el Eisa and El Alamein, at the end of which the rifle companies of his battalion were reduced to only 41 men. He was appalled at the futility of war and the loss of so many young lives who were not much older than the kids he was teaching in school. Pop was lucky enough to make it home in one piece, but spent the rest of his life doing what he could for the veterans of his unit until he passed in 1995. He never spoke about the war but on Anzac Day I think of the sacrifices that he and his mates made – nearly all of whom were killed or wounded.

Michael Fussell was my classmate and friend at RMC Duntroon throughout 2005. At the time I still smoked, and we would often share a ‘durrie’ during the short breaks we had between the countless lectures we sat through. He was a small bloke, but fit as a fiddle like most of the Staff Cadets who had been through ADFA. He had ginger hair and a twinkle to his eye that I remember well. He would do anything for his mates, was highly intelligent, a keen sportsman and became an extremely competent officer in the Corps of the Royal Australian Artillery. He sat at the table with my family and I for a while at our graduation dinner in December 2005, where we parted ways into different branches of the Army.

I would see him one more time at RAAF Base Townsville in 2008. I was on my aircrew combat survival course and he was doing a pre-deployment course for his upcoming tour of Afghanistan with 4RAR Commando. We bumped into each other in the Officers’ Mess and immediately picked up where we had left off at Duntroon. We went to the gym together the next morning where, as usual, he put me to shame. We then went our separate ways again, both content with our jobs and looking forward to long careers in the Army. A few weeks later I heard that he had been killed in action whilst on patrol in Afghanistan. My own military commitments at the time meant that I could not attend his funeral or memorial service, so I guess this is why I think of him every Anzac Day. What a waste. What a top bloke he was.

I served in the Australian Army for most of my early adult life, but I was spared seeing combat and witnessing death up close. I am proud to have served in an organisation that promotes ideals such as courage, mateship, respect, initiative and teamwork. For me, Anzac Day is a solemn day of remembrance. Lest we forget the sacrifices made by those who have served, and continue to serve our nation.

Darren Paech was born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia. He served in the Australian Army’s infantry and aviation corps between 1996 and 2010. After serving in the Australian Army in a variety of roles, he relocated to Hong Kong with his wife, Emily. Now employed as an airline pilot, one of his favourite hobbies and interests is reading military history. He has now completed his first book, ‘Adelaide to Alamein,’ a book based on his grandfather during World War Two. 

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