The Mamanator and I woke early and sat sipping hot coffee in front of a smouldering fire before the kids roused. We wondered when the ceremony was and how we were going to get organised, frantically googling on the off chance it had left a digital footprint somewhere.
It had not. We got ourselves dressed, savouring the relative peace of the morning. With bleary-eyes we packed a nappy bag. The Lad woke first, coughing as he has been of late. I changed him and rugged him up as best I could, beanie on his head. The Lass was next, The Mamanator woke her up and got her ready to go, a thick woollen layer over her onesie.
We were ready, so off we went stepping into a frosty morning on ANZAC day. It had been a crisp clear night, central Victorians will understand. The Lad commented that we were going out in the Night Watch. Bloody Giggle and Hoot. I explained this was the end of the Night Watch, it would be day soon.
We walked under the stars for a short while. A very short while, it happened, as we quickly realised we were better off driving. We loaded up. The drive was short, barely 300 metres, and we saw the street in front if the Guildford General Store had turned into a mini-parking lot, the way it does when there is either an event in town, or a fire which the local brigade is out fighting.
We joined the huddle. A mass of beanied shadows shuffling town the path. They had mustered at the fire station, and now fire fighters in reflective gear with signalling lights were walking us up the road to the local shrine.
The Guildford shrine is a modest thing. A single granite obelisk with four sides. Names on one side. Some names have a cross next to them, signalling a serviceman or servicewoman who never made it home. A simple memorial, the sort that stands in every town across this country, ensuring that the names of men and women who serve are preserved for all to see.
We huddled. Chairs were there for the elderly. Parents were there for cold children to cling to, and cling they did. Our breath leaving white trails in the cold morning air before dissipating into the infinite expanse.
The ceremony was simple. Some poetry, some letters and some familiar music. There was no celebration. No ticket tape. No parade. There was silence, the laying of wreaths and the raising of the flag.
My boy saw the silence, and for the most part maintained it. He was cold, it was dark. He didn’t know what his parents had dragged him to, but one day he will.
One day I will try to explain why we remember. Not to celebrate nor to glorify but to acknowledge, to commemorate and to reflect. To remind ourselves of the price men and women have paid to the country we live in. To remind ourselves of the cost of war. To remind ourselves of what we owe our forebears. To remind ourselves of the horror of it all. To remind ourselves of all these things, lest we forget. Lest we forget and it all happens again.
The ceremony done we trudged back to the Guildford music hall for bacon and egg sandwiches. I chatted with folk I knew. They commented on how big the kids had gotten, how chubby our little one was looking. I realised that I stood with people I knew. I have been to the memorial in Melbourne, I have attended the service. Today was the first time I knew the names of those around me at a dawn service. We were a community remembering together.
We returned home. We baked. There were ANZAC biscuits with hot tea on our sunny deck.
And so, I hope, another tradition is created for our family. Standing to remember men and women who were lost. Standing to remember the families who lost them. Standing to remember this nation’s duty to care for those who have returned.
We are generations removed from the landing at Gallipoli; many miles from the conflicts Australian soldiers are still fighting; strangers to war. And yet we will stand in the dark. We will pause. We will remember. Lest we forget.