Remembrance Day. I was out walking – listening to the Book Show on ABC Radio National, as has become my habit – and when the program ended, there was a brief piece about WWI’s Battle of Fromelles, the first major battle for Australian troops on the Western Front. They sustained heavy casualties, thousands died, and because some bodies were never recovered (as many as 1,335 Australians alone), there was long speculation about unidentified additional burial sites, one of which was eventually uncovered on the German side in 2007. The remains of 250 young men – 200 Australians and 50 Brits – were belatedly honoured with full military burials earlier this year, and I believe the last of them has just recently been formally identified. What a relief for their descendants, and their own unquiet souls. “Returned at last to their families,” said the man on the radio, “and returned to us.”
It was 11 am. I stopped on the beachfront and turned to face the water with my hands held behind my back and a lump in my throat. Through the earpiece came the always-heartrending notes of ‘The Last Post,’ the mournful bugle never failing to tighten and twist unnameable, unknowable things inside. A ghostly call to things I’ve never known and yet was raised never to forget.
I stared out to the horizon, past the surfers, beyond the boats, to the beguiling union of sky and sea. After ‘The Last Post’ there followed a minute’s static radio silence, and, as always at this time, wherever I am at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I thought of all those young men, their lost promise, and the life I enjoy that none of them lived long enough to properly know.
Lest We Forget.