Think Piece: Spare a thought

Source: Director of Veterans SA, Rob Manton, published on Thursday 22nd December, 2016.

DSCF0017.JPG copyWe really do live in a bizarre age of mass media and political correctness.

When I sat down to write this piece I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of the Christmas Truce on the Western Front in December 1914. So I thought I would consult that authoritative research engine ‘google’ and typed in ‘christmas at war’. The usual culprits popped up: Wikipedia, history.com and the obligatory museum sites but as I scrolled down I saw an entry titled The Inanity of the Starbucks Christmas Cup ‘Controversy’”.

My first reaction was to try another search profile – yes, I know, ‘Christmas Truce’ would probably generate a more refined list. But then I thought, this is actually why our servicemen and women are deployed, often over Christmas and other holiday or festive seasons, to provide freedom loving people the opportunity to discuss, debate or argue (you can choose your own verb) what to many may seem like insignificant issues. Or is it?

Have we become so desensitised to war and conflict that we have forgotten about those who are deployed? Is the redraw of state electoral boundaries so important that our media has no tabloid space or air time to report the recent return of 7 RAR from concurrent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Malaysia? (Quite a feat for a battalion headquarters). Is the ‘crisis’ facing the Channel 7 CEO really more worthy of a front page headline than the impending departure of another contingent of 7 RAR soldiers for force protection duties in Afghanistan?

I guess the answer to my ‘or is it’ question is yes. Because as much as many of the issues highlighted by the media are not life threatening and are unlikely to change the way the majority of us live our lives, if it weren’t for those servicemen and women deployed to safeguard our way of life we wouldn’t even have the option of choosing what is important and what’s not.

Since 1914 Australian troops have spent Christmases away from their families, friends and loved ones. From the deserts of Egypt to the mud of the Western Front, from New Guinea to Vietnam and Timor Leste, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, Australian service personnel have given up the traditional holiday season so that those of us at home can enjoy the company of those we hold dear.

But, we should also remember that this Christmas, like all others, those deployed will spend time with their Service family. And, while they will doubtless be a little homesick, I will almost guarantee that every one of them would not want to be anywhere else.

Australian soldier Leslie George Rub fought and died in the First World War. Before he died he wrote a poem titled Christmas Day on the Somme. It was full of irreverence and the charm that typified our original Anzacs. The poem’s last verse follows, and conveys a simple but appropriate message.

“Now ere you go I wish you all
This season of good cheer,
A very happy Christmas and
A prosperous New Year.”

From the Veterans SA team we wish all our readers our sincere best wishes and ask that you spare a thought this Christmas for those who are standing guard wherever they may be deployed.


Rob Manton is a former Army Officer with 30 years of command and leadership experience. His military career involved command appointments at every rank level from Lieutenant to Colonel including as Commanding Officer 8th/12th Medium Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, and culminating in a formation level appointment as Commandant of the Army’s Combat Arms Training Centre in 2005. Rob has served in exchange positions with the Defence Forces of both the United States and the United Kingdom. His operational experience includes service with the United Nations in the Middle East in 1990, and with the Multi-National Force – Iraq in 2006 as the Deputy Chief of Staff with responsibility for strategic campaign planning. Rob’s final appointment in uniform was as the Military Adviser to Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations during Australia’s successful candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. Rob was appointed Director, Veterans SA in October 2014.