The Diggers’ light shines in the darkness

“The dive bombers and the zeros came so low, you could see the pilots’ faces as they dropped their bombs.” Reporter: “You can remember seeing their faces?” “Yes, I can still see it, yes. I didn’t recognise any of them. It was the same mob that did over Pearl Harbor, the same Japanese fleet.”

That was Brian Winspear, one of the veterans on a special ANZAC tribute journey on The Ghan train this week, reminiscing about the bombing of Darwin 70 years ago. He was talking to reporter Steven Turner on ABC Radio National Breakfast on ANZAC Day. (Listen here: )

It’s why we love our Diggers – that laconic humour of “I didn’t recognise any of them” as Brian was recounting how he had to jump into a trench, put a cork in his mouth and a tin hat on his head to prevent concussion, but still wound up with a bomb splinter in his hand and one in his eye.

And that’s why we gather in thousands around war memorials around the country for dawn services and marches to remember our fallen heroes.   In Sydney, they cheered as the Old Diggers, decreasing in number, marched, or were carried down George Street during the parade.

One father, Aaron Torline, who had a grandchild on his shoulders, watched the parade and told the SMH both his grandfathers flew bombers in Darwin during World War II. They might have jumped in the same trench with Brian Winspear. (Full report here: )

Forty years ago, when I experienced my first ANZAC Day, I thought it was all about two-up and drinking beer and having a day off, remembering a tragic loss in Gallipoli. Now I know it’s like Armistice Day, but even better. We celebrate the bravery of the Diggers who climbed out of their trenches to face almost certain death against equally gallant Turkish forces.

Gallipoli has become a pilgrimage for Australians of all ages, and even Prime Minister Gillard, embroiled in political troubles back home, had no hesitation in making her first trip to the site, joining thousands of her fellow countrymen and women in paying homage to the Diggers. Gallipoli was “a place hallowed by sacrifice and loss,” she said, but also “a place shining with honour, and honour of the most vivid kind,” and “a place where foes met in equality and respect and attained a certain nobility through their character and conduct.” (Full report here: )

When I first heard the Ode of Remembrance in an RSL club in Sydney 4 decades ago, and the lights were dimmed and all eyes turned toward the Illuminated Cross (it could have been a Memorial Flame), I wondered what was going on. The Ode was impressive, even then:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

And when everybody around me repeated: “We will remember them,” and then “Lest we forget,” I knew it was a solemn ritual I’d hear again and again. I did, and it never fails to move me or others who repeat those words. I heard them this morning outside the Roseville Memorial Club on Sydney’s North Shore, surrounded by around 350 people, again of all ages, paying tribute to veterans who fought and died for Australia in all our wars.  Near the end of the service, the club president recited lines from the poem, For the Fallen, from which The Ode is taken, before the sounding of the Last Post:

There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

It was a Dawn Service in the dark, but the light of our brave Diggers shone in the darkness. Lest we forget.


On a somewhat lighter note overseas, Mitt Romney, aka the Cookie Monster,  who last week pooh-poohed the cookies from a respected local bakery in Pennsylvania (, still managed to win the primary in the Keystone State and four other Northeastern states, laying claim to the Republican presidential nomination. Romney still needs 300 delegates, but now that Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race, his nearest rival is Newt Gingrich, with only 137 delegates to Romney’s 844. Gingrich pledged to withdraw from the primaries if he couldn’t win the State of Delaware – he lost by 30 points. Goodbye, Newt.

The nomination won’t become official until the Republican National Convention in August, but for all intents and purposes, Mitt Romney is now the party’s candidate for president. To emphasise this, Romney challenged Barack Obama directly, with a promise that he could lead a better America: “To all of the thousands of good and decent Americans I’ve met who want nothing more than a better chance, a fighting chance, to all of you I have a simple message. Hold on a little longer. A better America begins tonight.”

So let the race begin tonight. And let’s hope that the real campaign does result in a better America, for the sake of a world in need of a leader who can steer it through economic uncertainty and fears of terrorism and nuclear confrontation between hostile nations.

That’s not a lighter note, so how about this: would you vote for a Mitt or a Barack? Doesn’t anybody have an ordinary name in US politics any more?  Joe the Plumber doesn’t count!

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