It’s Remembrance Day in Australia today. A day of Legacy poppies, rosemary sprigs, and a minute’s silence. This day is marked by the playing of the Rouse and the Last Post, by an appropriate sermon, by men and women wearing medals of honour with pride, by flowered wreaths, national anthems and the Ode of Remembrance.
At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, Australia takes a moment, in silence, to think about the sacrifices that others have made for the freedoms we enjoy. It’s a day to acknowledge the work of current service men and women in the armed forces, and to acknowledge their spouses left holding the fort at home. It’s a day to mark heroism, bravery, and the interminable sadness of lost lives.
Australia has an adolescent yearning to stake out its identity as separate to Britain. Like all teenagers, we are loath to admit that we resemble our parents in any meaningful way, even when our bottled up emotions, stiff upper lip, and penchant for tea as a salve for all ills gives us clearly away.
We’re a friendly lot, but not effusive. Epithets of insult in other countries, serve as tokens of affection for us.
Australian emotions are unstoppered at only a few prescribed times a year, usually at memorial services, and only ever for the duration of the service itself. Remembrance Day is one of the rare times when you’ll see men shedding tears publicly, women openly sobbing to the rhythm of the Last Post, and old soldiers having their hands shaken and being thanked.
One of the very first cultural differences that struck us when we arrived in the US, is the propensity of US citizens to approach perfect strangers wearing uniform, pat them on the back, shake their hand, hug them, and thank them for their service. It is both heartening and slightly alarming. The natural enthusiasm of Americans, the unashamed emotional outpourings are something I find charming and uncomfortable in equal measure. There is no tightly laced reserve that halts your hand in the US. Those who feel the urge to embrace a person in uniform, do. As an outsider, I find this practice fascinating and just a little disconcerting. It’s so very unlike anything we’d have experienced at home.
In relatively egalitarian Australia, it is uncommon to acknowledge the service of those in our armed forces as anything other than just another job. So this deluge of love is generally reserved for designated sadness days. On these days, the stories grow bigger, the perils greater, and the heroism more glowing. It is also the time when diggers allow snippets of their lived experience to leak grudgingly from their lips.
It’s a day to go to the pub or the RSL club and have a beer. You can be guaranteed there’ll be at least one old soldier there. If you’re attentive, if you really listen, you may cut through the bluster and gloss of media-perpetuated war-glory-stories.
This year consider thanking a soldier, shaking their hand, and paying attention if they decide talk to you. And donate to an organisation that works to assist and represent them. There’s more in it for you than it would initially appear.