Anzac Centenary Reflections Competition winner James Fitzroy recounts his visit to the Australian War Memorial
“On Some Hill top, Still, Beautiful, Gleaming White”
These were Charles Bean’s words describing his vision for what the Australian War Memorial should appear as.
His vision stands out facing down ANZAC Parade in Canberra, silently holding Australia’s Wartime History and tributes to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, to those who served Australia through all the conflicts from the war to end all wars to Afghanistan.
Do words really accurately describe the buildings? I think that they cannot really capture the emotion that is intertwined with the bricks and mortar of the Memorial. It is a place that is to be experienced in person and reflected upon individually to the significance of those who served the nation.
I was fortunate to witness the Last Post ceremony held every evening in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier. The day was the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral.
The veterans of this Battle had gathered in Canberra for the day that saw their involvement recognised by all in a battle that is often overshadowed by other events from the Vietnam War.
As the large crowd gathered that evening for the Last Post ceremony, there was an eerie silence as the Federation Guard took its place and all the Corps’ Banners and Guidons of the units involved were paraded.
The passionate speech from the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson AO, described the opening moments of the attack by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces.
He recounted how Robert Hickey from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, was amongst the first to fall and how it was a battle that could have easily resulted in a massive defeat. He spoke of the courage of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who held their positions in the face of overwhelming numbers of the enemy and how the aerial fire support and armoured units gave the infantry time to retake lost ground and prepare for nearly a month of solid combat with the enemy.
The veteran of the battle who was behind me on the stairs was overcome by the speech and gave way for his emotions, but supported by family members and two old comrades he stood tall. Looking around the area of the ceremony this was repeated by many from the battle and general public as well.
To me as a former soldier this is what the Australian War Memorial captures so well. While the physical display and monuments are a sight to see in person, to experience the emotion that is present at the time of the Last Post is one memory of the trip there that cannot be forgotten.
James Fitzroy is a former member of the Australian Defence Force who has embarked on a career as a professional photographer. James’s entry to South Australia’s Anzac Centenary Reflections Competition, titled ‘The Horseman’, was judged the winning entry and earned him a trip to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. James’s website can be found at: http://www.jamesfitzroyphotography.com.au/services/photoart/