Last week it was reported that the body of an unknown Australian soldier, discovered several years ago in Egypt, had been identified as Private Edward Attfield. Enlisting in the army at 24, Private Attfield was wounded in the Gallipoli landings and evacuated for treatment. He returned to the battlefield, from all accounts fighting with valour until 1916, when his service record categorises him as “illegally absent”.
Confirmation of his identity as an unknown soldier, fallen on the battlefield, has now enabled the correction of Private Attfield’s military record. Living with the belief that he was a deserter for 100 years, one can only imagine the mixed emotions that commemorative days like Anzac Day would have evoked for his family. This coming Wednesday, Private Attfield’s most direct descendants will unveil a headstone in his honour, and collect war medals on his behalf. This year, Anzac Day for the Attfield family has changed immensely.
Anzac Day is often described as something constant, reassuring and reliable in our national calendar. In a world marked by increasing complexity and unpredictability, one thing is certain. On April 25th, Australians come together in large numbers, in shared reflection and remembrance of those who have served, in any capacity – especially the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for the democracy and quality of life Australians enjoy today.
However in my mind, aside from the date, there is nothing ‘constant’ about Anzac Day. Just as this Anzac Day for the Attfield family will be a very different experience from years past, my own experiences of the day, and my connection with it, have evolved significantly as my own life and the world around me changes. The Anzac Days of my earliest recollection were always characterised by watching my father, a career soldier, and grandfather, a WWII veteran, marching in various parades on army bases and through city streets. I can recall that over time, and so gradually it almost defied recognition, the lines of dignified, waving veterans thinned out, increasingly replaced by proud relatives wearing medals on the right side of their chest.
Several years stand out as particularly memorable – the Anzac Days with a loved one deployed, where every phrase uttered in the Ode holds a very special and personal resonance. The Anzac Days spent overseas, feeling (as every Aussie likely does) an obligation to attempt to convey to international friends the magnitude of the sentiment of the day across the cities, towns and tiny rural communities of Australia.
Those Anzac Days of my youth have now given way to a new experience – observing, indeed honouring, the day as part of the close-knit community of Defence spouses. Through my husband I have a renewed personal connection to Anzac Day, and an appreciation of its meaning to the current generation of serving members and young veterans. Our 21st century connectivity means that we are now, for the most part, a nation better informed on the impact of the sacrifice so many have made, and the true extent of their legacy.
Spending the last few years posted to Darwin, a city so directly touched by war that it retains a resilience and ‘frontline’ character to this day, has added another rich chapter to my Anzac Days. Last year, the dawn service and solemn reflection gave way around lunchtime to the wonderful sight of Aussie Diggers embracing the Herculean task of teaching US Marines how to play Two-Up! At lunchtime on Anzac Day this year, as the celebration of unique military mateship takes centre stage, I shall again think of Private Attfield, and know that he and his larrikin mates in the 5th Battalion would approve resoundingly.
Felicity is a Director in KPMG’s Operations Advisory team, specialising in Procurement. Prior to joining KPMG, she worked as a Department of Defence public servant and as a lawyer. Her husband’s army postings have given her the opportunity to work at KPMG offices around the country including Darwin, Sydney and Canberra. Both grandfathers were WW2 veterans, her father is an Iraq and East Timor veteran and her husband is a serving officer who has deployed to East Timor and the Middle East.