War is a lonely business. ANZAC Day in Kabul

I can pinpoint the moment I understood the significance of ANZAC Day – 6am on the 25 April 2013.

I was sitting squashed on a cold makeshift bench surrounded by soldiers and diplomats in an empty military hangar on the outskirts of Kabul. Until the previous evening it had been filled with Turkish military equipment. Helicopters amongst other things. No one complained about moving everything out or of the ill-timed hail storm that struck shortly after the equipment was out from under cover.

Anzac Day in Kabul 2013

I was as an Australian Diplomat, posted to Kabul, this was my first and only ANZAC Day service in a war zone.

There were two moments during that service that have stuck. Firstly, as the Turkish Ambassador to Afghanistan read Atatürk’s letter to honour the ANZACs, I looked around at the nationalities sitting in the hanger and wondered what an Australian soldier from 1914 would have made of this sight? Alliances can change. Wars will be lost, and sometimes re-lost. Whatever your views are on the fight or the cause, those who serve, deserve our thanks. Ultimately those fighting are there for their country. Our country.

Later in the service as the Ode to the Fallen was read, I realised that war is a lonely business. Not just for Australian troops but for their allies and enemies. Afghanistan, where in the preceding 12 months Australians had fought and died, seemed more than ever a long way from home. When we recognise those who serve we must also recognise their families and thank them for making the sacrifice too.

I was only a witness to the war, not a participant like previous generations in my family. Before spending time in Kabul, my understanding was mostly gleaned from rushed and roughly translated school projects. I knew that (amongst others) my Great Grandfather served in the Artillery in France during WWI, my Great Uncle, a spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain in WWII, and my Uncle, an Engineer in the Vietnam War. I knew of my Grandmother who, on the night the Japanese shelled Rose Bay, missed her one and only chance as a WWII Air Raid Warden. No woman was better suited to the task but her mother refused to let her leave the house with a slight head cold. And my Uncle, who is still teased because his head was so large it required his Army hats be made by special order.

I am now grateful that I too was able to contribute and add to my family’s story.

ANZAC Day 2020 will be unlike any other in history. I will not be heading to the War Memorial at dawn, nor participating in events. No one will. I will, however, wear a sprig of rosemary and remember those who have died for our country and those who have served. For all of the ADF members past and present and their families – thank you.

Lest we forget.

Jill Brightling was First Secretary (Political) at the Australian Embassy in Kabul 2012-2013.

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