Where are contemporary veterans in the Anzac Centenary’s ‘Century of Service’?

One of the most striking aspects of Australia’s Anzac Centenary in comparison with other countries’ First World War centenaries is the number of anniversaries that will be commemorated.

In the United Kingdom, the First World War Centenary is shaped around six key dates; in Canada, 100 Years: First World War 1914-1918 will mark 12 centennials [1]; and in New Zealand, WW100 consists of 12 national commemorations.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Anzac Centenary will mark no fewer than 36 significant commemorative dates, so that a commemoration will occur, on average, once every 43 days.

Only ten of these ‘significant commemorative dates’ relate to the First World War. The others are drawn from the Second World War, Korea, the Malayan Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and Somalia. This is in keeping with the Anzac Centenary theme ‘Century of Service’, which “has been developed to give Australians the opportunity to commemorate their fellow countrymen and women who have fought and served, and continue to fight and serve, in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.” The ‘Century of Service’ recognises “the more than 100 years of other [non-First World War] service since the Boer War to the present day and how this continues the Anzac tradition” (my emphasis). [2]

If we accept the premise that all servicemen and -women since Federation have served in “the Anzac tradition” and must be recognised during the Anzac Centenary, it becomes difficult to explain why the last ‘significant commemorative dates’ chosen are the 25th anniversary of the end of the First Gulf War in February 2016 and the 25th anniversary of the arrival of 1RAR task group in Somalia in January 2018.  Australian military commitments of the last two decades, including to Rwanda, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Solomon Islands, are excluded from the dates. Why not a 15th anniversary of the beginning of the Afghanistan War in 2016; a 15th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War and of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2018; and, extending the period of the centenary to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, a 25th anniversary of the commitment to Rwanda and a 20th anniversary of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) in 2019? Where are contemporary veterans in the Anzac Centenary’s ‘Century of Service’?

Contemporary veteran's medal group: Australian Active Service Medal with International Coalition Against Terrorism (ICAT) clasp, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Australian Operational Service Medal (Border Protection), and Australian Defence Medal. The medals are my husband's; I wrote about his service here.

Contemporary veteran’s medal group: Australian Active Service Medal with International Coalition Against Terrorism (ICAT) clasp, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Australian Operational Service Medal (Border Protection), and Australian Defence Medal. The medals are my husband’s; I wrote about his service here.

In his 2014 book Anzac’s Long Shadow, former Australian Army officer James Brown provides two images of contemporary veterans on Anzac Day. The first is of veterans still serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF): “They’re up early, fanning out across the country to support dawn services with catafalque parties and honour guards. Providing Anzac ceremony speakers and setting up ubiquitous green tents. Shepherding older veterans to marches and services.” The second is of veterans who have retired from the ADF. Brown and some friends attend a Sydney Anzac Day in civvies (re-enactors wear uniforms as costumes), stand in the back during the dawn service, and march alongside cadets, Scouts, Guides, war widows and Legacy clubs; “it is becoming increasingly difficult [on Anzac Day] to tell who has actually been to war, and who has not.” [3] The impression is of contemporary veterans in the background of the commemoration of older veterans.

The current Anzac Centenary programme is (over-)crowded and may well lead to ‘commemoration fatigue’ before Remembrance Day 2018. Yet for all the dates and talk of a ‘Century of Service’, it is difficult to identify when contemporary veterans will be allowed into the foreground.

Notes

[1] Canada will simultaneously observe Canada 150, the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and 75 Years: Second World War 1939-1945.

[2] Anzac Centenary Advisory Board, Report to Government, 1 March 2013, http://www.anzaccentenary.gov.au/documents/acab_report.pdf, pp. xxiii, 16.

[3] James Brown, Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obsession, Redback, Collingwood, 2014, Chapter 8 (ebook edition).

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5 thoughts on “Where are contemporary veterans in the Anzac Centenary’s ‘Century of Service’?

  1. That’s a good point Ashleigh. I didn’t realise that significant moments in Australian Defence Force history after WWI were also going to be commemorated. I totally agree about the importance of recognising and giving attention to those who served in more recent conflicts. We lived in Far North Queensland at the time of the violence in East Timor. Nearly everyone had a relation involved in the Australian response to that crisis as we were close to the large Townsville army base. Everyone was very concerned about the East Timorese and recognised the very difficult situation the Australian armed forces faced there. That is just one of the recent conflicts that you rightly say should be recognised.

    Why don’t we just go ahead and recognise these contributions ourselves? Perhaps you could post a list of commemorations and include the extra commemorations you are suggesting. You could suggest ways that people online and offline could recognise these contributions. I realise you don’t have a lot of time but if you could write a post with this calendar of commemorations and suggestions and then tweet or some other way contact relevant organisations and people and see if they run with the idea?

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