March of time may thin their ranks on Anzac Day but the march goes on

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The statue of an Australian Digger stands guard at Anzac Bridge. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The statue of an Australian Digger stands guard at Anzac Bridge. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Crowds should not matter when it comes commemorating the dead, but they will be monitored more closely than usual at this weekend’s Anzac ceremonies after very big numbers last year attended events marking the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli.

Heroes of that conflict who forged the legend that was so well remembered in 2015, have died. Survivors from the more recent World War II are also declining and many no longer enjoy good health.

While Anzac Day stirs a national outpouring of grief unmatched by any other event, functions of remembrance for wartime conflicts at other periods during the year appear to be slowly fading away.

In past years the Battle of the Coral Sea was marked by special services which attracted crowds to monuments like the Cenotaph in Sydney when media coverage could be assured as it was then for commemorations of other anniversaries which were linked to various individual sad chapters of those global conflicts.

Times have changed – and many widows of ex-servicemen also have left us, and the sons and daughters of those who fought in those battles are ageing.

Among their ranks there are few who seem willing to attend in numbers which were formerly seen, while even fewer will volunteer for what could be called “the front lines” by taking on the increasingly difficult task of organising such events.

Even the commemoration of Anzac Day itself, at least in the city of Sydney, has been somewhat truncated this year and likely will be affected well into the future because of work on the light rail system in George St.

This means that the march won’t follow its usual route and will be much shorter than it was in the past.

That may prove to be a blessing for the reduced numbers of elderly survivors of the 1939-45 conflict but it has put an end to what was regarded as one of the treasured traditions of the day: marching past the Cenotaph.

Taking a brighter view, at least the march will be going ahead. Organising such events has become increasingly difficult in our major cities due to increasing concerns about matters of security; arranging the necessary police presence; and ensuring that bodies like the roads ministry are informed and have agreed to arrange the required route closures.

Consideration of issues like these has seen people who have organised many commemorations of wartime conflicts other than Anzac Day back away from trying to arrange events that had formerly been much easier to put together.

The 8th Division Association has held an annual ceremony on 15 February for many years to remember the fall of Singapore which occurred on that date in 1942 but it’s proposed that the 75th commemoration next year will be the last of these formal functions.

Individual units within that division have recently failed to arrange some commemorative events that once drew together both the veterans and members of their families in attempts to spread at least something of the feelings of mateship and spirit that were once shared among troops who had faced extremely difficult circumstances. Most importantly, these gatherings provided further opportunities to share thoughts about mates who were no longer alive.

Examples outlined here are not the only events which have recently been either reviewed or shelved and they provide just a few examples of what is occurring.

Inevitably the further passage of time will result in additional changes, but more positive thoughts can be taken from observing the continuing increase in the numbers of people who have attended dawn and other services of remembrance.

These events arguably bring a stronger religious base to post-war commemorations than street parades.

By the offering of prayers and the singing of hymns, reminders can be stirred about the faith that managed to sustain numerous service personnel despite the despair they must have felt through the darkest years of their lives.

Whether or not we attend Anzac events this weekend, our prayers and thoughts should remember the sacrifices of those who endured wars and also our current troops who continue fighting for peace in conflicts that we hope will not become global.