Honour all service on Anzac Day

17 Apr 2014

This article by Ross Eastgate was published in the Townsville Bulletin on 17 April 2014.

“ACCORDING to the Australian War Memorial’s Professor Peter Edwards, Australia had but “three major wars (in) the 20th Century, each 25 years apart”.

This was something of a revelation to one’s old mate Maurie, who banged his copy of the offending article threateningly on the table as he offered a gratuitous, unflattering, general character reference of military historians, particularly those who stray into opinionated journalism.

One is not immune to such tirades from Maurie, but on this occasion soothing words and a wan defence of historians and journalists in general was not enough to prevent him from replacing his rolled up newspaper with the walking stick which, as a Korean War veteran he is increasingly required to use.

Roughly sanitised and translated his view was, “what bovine excreta!”

Korean veterans suffered on their return from attitudes to what was generally described as either “a police action” or “the forgotten war”.

With 340 casualties, Korea sits just behind other 20th Century conflicts of 589 in South Africa, 61,513 in World War I, 39, 649 in World War II and 521 in Vietnam.

However Korean veterans, many of whom served in World War II and subsequent conflicts including Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam all insist nothing they experienced before or afterwards compared with the privations of a Korean winter.

Nor do they accept the determined foe they faced was somehow an inferior fighter to those in other campaigns.

In world terms, as the first significant engagement by allied forces under the UN banner, Korea is a major 20th Century conflict despite Professor Edwards’ dismissive view.

Australians from all three services played a major role in that war.

Korea may have been a shorter campaign through three separate phases than other conflicts, but it was a harsh reality for those who served there, some of whom are only just receiving the official recognition they always believed their service deserved.

Fast forward 40 years and Australians were deployed to Somalia, a relatively brief campaign which somehow falls underneath the radar.

Soon to be retired CDF David Hurley commanded 1RAR in Somalia with then Colonel Bill Mellor as Australian contingent commander.

Despite the mutual, innate modesty which prevents them from embellishing their achievements, Somalia was a significant ADF deployment.

It remains a measure of the leadership of both men and the training and skill of those deployed that just a single life was lost, and that to a regrettable accident.

Professor Edwards opines Australians focus on wars only on major anniversaries.

Perhaps, but as we approach the centenary of one of Edwards’ three “major wars” it behoves us to examine how service in every deployment last century still influences the way the ADF prepares for and conducts itself in contemporary engagements.

Nor should we on the cusp of Anzac Day demean the service of any who have served.

Maurie wouldn’t have a bar of it.”