This could be Mark Carroll’s last year to march on Anzac Day. By his own admission the 93 year old veteran of the New Guinea campaign doesn’t have a lot of years left in him.
Like the ever dwindling numbers from the 1940’s and the now vanished survivors from the First World War this represents a great loss of those who first-hand can relate the experiences and horrors of war.
The laconic veteran gives an unadorned but understandable reason for joining up; “they all got called up and I was left and I thought, ‘I want to be with them.’
It is a motive echoing through every war, typical of so many young men answering the ‘clarion call of battle’, lured by the glittering illusion of adventure and heroics only to have it turned into the chimera of slaughter and often unbearable hardship.
And Mark Carroll is equally succinct in summing up this too; “overall it was a pretty terrible thing. Not much to laugh about.”
The wisdom of that first-hand experience in all its unadorned truth will be sorely missed when the last veteran marches no more. Such insights into the horrors of war do not diminish their sacrifice but rather enhance them, knowing more fully what was paid by the dead and those who survive.
Something is lost from our collective knowledge, our insight into what the Anzac spirit is, when these people who can relate these lessons first hand are no more. The silence leaves a gap in our understanding that perhaps can only be truly grasped as a lived experience, and one no one would want to live; “I mean the truth untold, The pity of war, the pity war distilled.”
Their absence and that silence opens the door to second hand interpretation, to myth making and manipulation at a time when their lessons, the importance of recollection, are more important than ever.
It is fitting then for the future that Anzac Day is seeing a new spirit of inclusiveness exemplified by a nationwide move to have female veterans and current servicewomen lead traditional Anzac Day marches
Despite acrimony in the past about what constituted a ‘real war’, this spirit now aims to give equal status to the veterans of all wars including Korea, Vietnam and the many conflicts since.
It is about all returned service men and women, and those still serving, being given respect and consideration. The conditions and places may differ but the trauma and sacrifice are the same. Each have their stories to tell and lessons to remember.