real life

"I have watched many people that I love head off to hell on earth. Today, this is how I remember."

This is how I will remember them.

As a defence spouse, I have watched innumerable people that I love head off to hell on earth.

I am no longer married to the Australian Defence Forces, through divorce, not death. Does this mean Remembrance Day has suddenly lost all meaning for me? No, of course not. How could it? If you have been a part of the Defence community for any length of time, then you have friends, family, or loved ones within the Forces. Today, you will be standing tall, and holding that minute’s silence close to your heart.

On the eleventh of November in 1918, at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, the Armistice was signed. The ’war to end all wars’ was over. In terms of Australian men, from a population of fewer than five million people, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.

As Sir Winston Churchill said (as he served in the War) – it was won in the first 20 days. The rest… four years of mud, blood, tears, sweat, misery, gas, pain and death (my words, not his).

The UK Observes Remembrance SundayWe remember. On the eleventh day at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, the Armistice was signed. Image via Getty Images. 

The war lasted from 1914 to 1918.

Operation Slipper, which is the name for the Australian Defence Force contribution to Afghanistan, has seen the first combat deaths for Australian personnel since Vietnam. 41 Australian soldiers have been killed and 256 wounded (another Australian was killed whilst serving with British forces). Every one of these deaths and injuries has been hard felt – and heartfelt – by the nation, because they have been instantly beamed back to us.

We have been in Afghanistan since late 2001.

I watched my (then) husband go to a place I knew very little about from a contemporary perspective, on the understanding that he would be able to Skype me and say ‘yes, everything’s fine’ – not knowing that sometimes the Skype would be from a bomb shelter. Every day was a lesson in ‘WTF’.

I then sat through my best friend in the world embedding with the Americans in a total – well, the word I will use is ‘cluster’, minus the expletive – and to complete the picture, he worked with the ANA as their liaison officer. This was just in case I wasn’t sufficiently freaked out by the fact that he would suddenly disappear for a couple of days because the base was being bombed (so no contact), and family and friends knew that I would have the inside track on what was happening – so the texts and calls would come in thick and fast, because where he was – well, it was pretty much always in the news.

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I didn’t realise that sometimes the Skype call from my husband would be from a bomb shelter. Image via Getty Images.

Now, in the New Year, I face my beautiful, funny, smart, brilliant, wonderful partner in crime (and fellow admirer of Daniel Craig), she who sips cocktails in Bali with me, heading back for her second tour in country. She is going to a new role, one that has been handpicked for her, and which holds multiple challenges and perils – and as a brave, successful officer in the Australian Army she will excel in it, as she has excelled throughout her career. She would not have been put in this position otherwise.

Like all of the women who have served in the ADF, like all the women who stood tall in World War One as WAACs, as RAN Nurses, as Australian Army Nursing Sisters, who even disguised themselves as men to fight alongside brothers, husbands, fiancés, I know how much she gives to her country.

What she does, what my ex-husband does (because irrespective of the ex, I am still incredibly proud of his service), what my best friend does – all of these are reasons why I stood up and give that minute’s respect today.

There are no real parallels with World War One in what we face now. The past is, to quote Shakespeare, another country, and they do things differently there. Our own Chief of Army, LTGEN David Morrison, has said quite clearly that the ANZAC myth is just that – a myth. He’s right. A bunch of blokes running round Egypt, fighting with each other, shagging hookers and thinking that the height of cool is not saluting British officers?

That isn’t what Remembrance Day is about – or for that matter what ANZAC Day is about. They would in fact be drummed out of the ADF for that now – it’s pretty much ‘Jedi Council’ crap. And it isn’t about the debate on whether war is wrong – of course it is. But unless humans suddenly change into fish overnight, then things aren’t going to shift.

Like all of the women who have served in the ADF, I know how much she gives to her country. Image via ABC.

What Remembrance Day is about is this. It’s recognising that there are good, brave people willing to defend Australia. They may not think our government are the right government. They may not think our legislation is the right legislation. But what they do believe is that they signed up, under oath, to defend our right to remain free. They are willing to die to see that other people have the same right – to be free.

Just as in 1914, 15, 16, 17 and 18 – those boys marched off determined to see the world remain free. And most of them didn’t march back. This is one thing that has, very thankfully, changed. It doesn’t lessen that gut-feeling fear that is present every day when you have someone you care about in an active service zone… but you just have to think ‘they will come home’.

So today, irrespective of how you feel about our leaders, our parliament, our laws, the ongoing saga – please – remember them.

Especially the ones who didn’t come home.

(Also: Daniel Craig – if you are reading – feel free to invite us to your new Bond flick. Many thanks. It’s for a war vet after all. And her sidekick.)

How did you mark Remembrance Day today? 

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