At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918, the guns fell silent. And the First World War; the Great War; the reputed War to End All Wars was finally over.
Looking back as I am now from the threshold of the next century, I can’t begin to imagine the joy, the relief and the overwhelming gratitude the world must have felt at that moment; yet mingled with indescribable and inconsolable loss.
Why the Great War started and how it ended is for all of us to debate. What we learned from it and how we put that knowledge into practice to ensure a peaceful future is up to each of us to decide.
So as we stand and observe a minute’s silence on Remembrance Day, we remember those who served and who are still serving in all wars and conflicts.
And the list is long.
I have vivid memories of Remembrance Day when I was a schoolkid in the 60s. We knew it was a special day because we were all given a sprig of rosemary to wear in our button holes with reverence and pride. It was a special day because the teachers informed us we were required to stand still with bowed heads at 11 o’clock precisely and think about all the soldiers who had gone to war for us. Not so special was having several teachers punctuate the seriousness of this request with dark looks and threats of picking up papers at lunchtime should we waver in our reverence and pride by fidgeting, chatting to our neighbour or eating playlunch early.
Suffice to say, most of the boys in my class ended up picking up papers at lunchtime!
And that’s where it all ended. Ironically, for the kids at my school, Remembrance Day often lasted about as long as the wilting rosemary in our buttonholes. Then it was promptly forgotten.
Still, we had little to draw from. Many of our fathers and grandfathers had served in the World Wars, and yet I know that in my house the subject was never broached. War was considered a closed book – especially for children.
And it’s a tricky topic – how much should children be exposed to? Being naturally curious they will ask questions – as I did as a child – and hopefully Anzac Ted will encourage engagement and discussion. And not just about war, but about its repercussions such as the returned soldier, the unsung hero, tolerance, acceptance and peace.
While researching the illustrations for Anzac Ted, I spent a day at the Australian War Memorial where I wandered, unhurried, and lost myself in the halls of a defining piece of our history. It was eye-opening. And the more I saw, read and heard, the more I felt a deep sense of gratitude, respect and awe for these men and women who had gone before and given so much.
I felt I owed it to them to learn a little about who they were and what they had done, and by remembering them, they would live on.