On recent travels to Canberra in July for a weekend, I only had the opportunity to do the touristy thing at one attraction so after much debate and looking at a city map for about an hour, I decided the only option was the War Memorial – to pay my respects to those who gave me the freedom to live in Australia.
Despite my European background with no family members ever having served in the Australian armed forces, it was still an incredibly moving and emotional afternoon trolling through the thousands of names engraved on the walls where poppies could be placed in honour of those who gave their lives.
As I joined a free tour group with a most dedicated and friendly guide named Clem, it felt incredibly surreal to learn that one name on the wall was that of a 14 year old boy who lied about his age to serve his country.
Private James Charles (‘Jim’) Martin died in Gallipoli on October 25 after being evacuated to a hospital ship when he caught typhoid fever from the trenches. He passed away that night and was buried at sea. Can you imagine sending off your child at such a young age to war? There’s more to the story about how he got into his battalion but it made me shudder to see his name and I solemnly cried for his mother’s pain.
The poppies scattered all over the wall were a sight to behold and at the end of my tour some two hours later, I purchased one and pinned it in a random spot, closing my eyes, walking down one side then stopping where I thought felt right.
As I reflected and learned about the Hall of Memory then moved through the museum with some 15 other visitors, all the while Clem relating fascinating facts and figures about WWI and WWII, I was overwhelmed with the information, in particularly the collection of items the War Memorial Museum had.
I only truly saw and understood perhaps .5 of a per cent of the items on display. For those who have an interest in Australia’s history, war efforts and comradeship, this is certainly the place to be and you can really spend an entire day there. Australia has one of the largest collections of war memorabilia in the world; official historians from the early 1900s asked every soldier to bring items home or to collection points stationed around the world with them. Without these processes, we wouldn’t know so much about what happened and when.
My afternoon at the War Memorial was a solemn one but it really made me appreciate more the achievements of Australians; and despite our short history when compared to older countries like England or Japan, visiting and paying homage to the men and women who sacrificed themselves is truly one of the most humbling moments of my life.