21 Apr ANZAC DAY 2020 – The Silence and Solidarity of Isolation
This ANZAC Day will be different
Much like life in-and-of-itself (now!) everything is different and in times like these we will often find ourselves subconsciously looking back; reminiscent of the past, lost in old photos, memories, dusty boxes, dreams and thoughts of happier times or forgotten times and I am no different.
As I was pondering such things over the Easter weekend, reminiscent and grateful for the sacrifice of a risen Christ, my mind traditionally follows this lead into ANZAC Day.
For my family—generations-long we usually are found participating in both Easter and ANZAC Day. The meaning of Easter and ANZAC Day are linked to a deep gratefulness and acknowledgment of those who sacrificed themselves and died for us.
In thinking how this year’s ANZAC Day might be different, isolated, silent? it dawned on me that reflection and remembering is exactly what ANZAC day is all about; looking back, honouring and remembering—Lest we forget.
However, this ANZAC Day will be different as we observe social distancing, restricted public movement, assembly and isolation from each other. So, in the silence and solidarity of isolation let me take you back to a few of my ANZAC Day memories.
Not so Bright and Early
As a boy, ANZAC Day for our family started in the chilly early morning in darkness as we were members of the Salvation Army Band. My grandfather Eric, father Max, brother Bevan and myself would load the car the day before, set out our uniforms and with great privilege take turns to wear our granddad’s spare set of war medals each year. He preferred wearing the miniature set.
For me ANZAC Day was primarily about my granddad, fondly known by all as ‘Happy-Harry’, neither of which was his real name. Happy fought against the Japanese in New Guinea. The first few years I participated in the ANZAC Day march, Happy would march up ahead of me with the other service personnel, only ever for the first parade of the day. Sometimes while marching, I’d catch him looking over his shoulder back at his family—with a loving smile and much enjoyment in the moment—as we played our instruments, and they marched along to the band. As the years passed on and age prevailed Happy would stand in the crowd—way up ahead of the march near the finish—often telling me later “I could hear you coming from miles away, I could tell it was you on that drum”. Funny, it was always me on that drum, as I was the only snare drummer, but I loved that he wanted me to know that he could tell it was me playing the drum.
My grandfather (Eric), played the Big Bass drum for the first few marches till he could no longer carry it. I loved playing side by side with my Grandfather, him on the bass drum and me playing the snare drum, though I can’t exactly recall if this was ever in a march, but certainly was the case in many concerts and band practices and band tours that we were all a part of. There is really something bonding in playing music together with people you love. My father (Max) also played the tuber (a big brass belled bass instrument) and my brother (Bevan) played the trombone (which is like a large trumpet with some long lengths of plumbing pipe). I played the snare drum, a very, very heavy 14” x 12” Dandy marching parade drum in red-sparkle; which was incidentally bought buy my grandfather—as the bandmaster of the band at the time—some time well before I was even born; the red drum was at least as old as the photos of it I’d seen from the 1960’s in front of the Nundah Salvation Army Band.
Banyo War Memorial – ANZAC Day parade and ceremony
Starting as the sun peeked over the trees in a distant park we would march a few hundred meters down the main road to the Banyo War Memorial up and over the train line. It was my job to not play too slow or too fast as to get caught by the train boom gates coming down on the parade with half the parade on one side of the track and half on the other, as happened on one occasion before I was strong enough to carry the drum for the 30-minute journey. I loved belting that red drum as loud as I could so that the first and last participant in the parade could hear me and keep in time with the beat.
Once we arrived at the war memorial, which used to feature a big gun on wheels, we would listen to the Salvation Army officer (pastor) give a message about honour, sacrifice and forgiveness.
I remember many things of those early morning services, largely a heavy tiredness that I waded through before being energized by the parade. But oddly, what stands out is first, the jovial tongue-lashing I received at 14 years of age by a retired soldier of many years for wearing Granddad’s medals on the wrong side. He said (sarcastically) “you look too young to have fought in a war? You might want to ask someone how to wear those medals properly son so-to not embarrass yourself”. He was right, I had no clue on which side medals went, but my drum’s thick harness crossing my chest meant that I couldn’t fix them on the official side anyways. Regardless, for me I just loved the look my granddad would give me as I marched passed him with his medals on when he couldn’t march in the parade anymore. With “Pride”—the true meaning of pride—he looked-on transferring something that felt like the words ‘you’re the reason I fought and sacrificed’ then he would look around at all the people, strangers, and with his same happy smile as if saying it to them each personally, ‘I sacrificed and fought for your too’.
The second, well drums can be hard to manoeuver and noisy. For the 30-minute long service I was sitting between the tubers on my left and the bass drum (on a stand) to my right. As we played more sombre reflective music, I’d also have a cymbal on a stand to my left. My heavy drum didn’t fit a snare stand in a seated position, and so the drum would remain in its leather marching harness balanced between my knees while I half sat on a plastic chair with my sticks resting on the rims. Unfortunately during the minute of silence a wind picked up and in response the tuber players music stand fell towards me—which I caught—but not before crashing the cymbal then hitting my drum sticks, which in turn spun into the air and back to earth, with one hitting the dead centre of the drum on its way down making a thunderous “snap” before flying into the bass drum for a resting “boing”, while the other drumstick played a not so perfect buss roll all by itself right across the drum head as if to enhance the commotion. Well what can I say?
As soon as the Banyo service was finished the band would evacuate into cars and rush to the next service at Nundah War Memorial, then the Brisbane City parades with our day to conclude in the early afternoon at Strathpine RSL for their ANZAC Day ceremony.
Nundah War Memorial – ANZAC Day parade and ceremony
The main differences between the Banyo and Nundah services were that the Nundah parade was much shorter and the service longer featuring four uniformed soldiers—with guns—all stood around the memorial statue (centred) each facing out—heads down—towards north, south, east and west. It was always a feature for me, the four would stand there like statues set up before we arrived and remained absolutely still throughout the service, which was about 45 minutes long. Then suddenly, between the two parts of the last post they would snap to attention. It was quite powerful, dignified and emotional. I always admired their ability to stay so still as I couldn’t make it through 60-seconds without fidgeting with something or being distracted by every movement and falling leaf around me. On several occasions over the years a frozen soldier, and on one occasion two would just faint and crash to the ground during the service. People would quietly notice the adjustment, then just carry on. The soldiers would just come too, then stand back up in place and do their job. What a silent yet powerful example of commitment to self-denial, duty and being in the service of others.
By the time the Nundah service concluded we had time enough to grab some food, a drink, change my often-drenched shirt and get ourselves into Brisbane City for the televised march.
Brisbane City ANZAC Day parade
What an honour it was to be part of the Brisbane City ANZAC Day parades. I loved the sense of community—both from the bands and the people lining the streets—gathering together around our ANZACs and armed-services personnel to honour and thank all that have gone before (the past), those present and even those emerging.
Our Salvation Army Band would form into a larger band for the city marches and we would march sometimes three or four times quickly circling back to cover the growing number of participating groups in the march each year. As a drummer, sometimes I would have to go a few more times as some bands didn’t have a drummer and they would tap me on the shoulder and ask if I’d join them. The answer was always yes! I loved it and this is what it was like.
Silence. The city and streets were silent to traffic, business and commerce. Silent to people crossing back and forth across the streets. Silent to engine noise, traffic noises and other bustling noises – almost as if the city had been abandoned. Instead the city was like a dry river, its banks filled with people, waiting, patient, sombre and respectful. Charging the air with expectation and appreciation. A buzz, yes, a buzz, and charge was in the air.
The air whispered, wisped and flowed through the city streets and buildings without obstruction, expanding and contracting as if the lungs of the city had breathed in and out more steadily and slowly as if getting ready for one last deep exhale. Sometimes the day was sunny, shards of hot sun would navigate through the architecture and pierce hidden clusters of groups and people. Other years the streets were drenched with rain, governed by dark clouds as we were whipped by the winds. Regardless, the crowds grew each year and remained the same, expectant, patient, awaiting the signal to be exuberant.
From where I stood, uniforms were a plenty, regimented groups were neatly quarantined into their designated areas, shaded in tones of dark green, navy, crisp white, civilian perforations of mixed colours and other brands of community affiliation, all somewhat keeping isolated among themselves, yet ready to be assembled together in unity, in solidarity.
Then—as if time paused for a second and a half longer—the city exhaled and on full exhaustion of its last breath—with command and a strong pulsating beat—our city’s heart started to beat:
BURRAR BURRARUMP! RUMP!”
…went the drums on the signal of the pipe band drum major.
As the first band ‘stepped off’ (as we called it) and the crowd roared. As each beat was struck and boomed as it refracted back and forth between the building—up to the heavens and down into the earth—as well as both forward and back all at the same time—down each street and lane as if this rhythm was pumping the blood now flowing through our city’s veins. At the same time, flocks of assorted birds would scatter in a flurry and in-kind—every which way—causing the spaces above our heads and pocket beyond to move like thick clouds darting to the safety of their version of safety and silence. But I’d look around; startled small faces illuminated in the moment, wide-eyed children cross legged, partially slumped over their knees but now amazed would—as if in slow motion—wave their Australia flag back and forth in a stare, broken only by their heads falling into unison as they began to nod and sway with the drummer’s beat of their drums.
Then there was me, I am of no age in particular from age 13 and into my 30’s. They were all the same for me. I remember “stepping off” … laying down a loud singular pulsating drum rhythm. Not quite a traditional marching rhythm, but traditional enough that people knew what it was and didn’t get lost, but personalized—with a little spunk—a little ‘dotted’, for those of you that know what I mean—just as Granddad would say he knew it was me playing from a block away—when I “lit-up” on the drums as some did say I was just playing externally what was in my heart and the hearts of the people watching. Who mostly dissolved into the fabric of concrete and parade.
Playing drums down the middle of cleared Brisbane city streets for the ANZACs walking before and after us, it was as if I was playing not just to them who were present, but for all those that had passed and strangely all those that will sacrifice their lives for us in the future. With authority, with command, with passion, sensitivity and heartfelt service I played that little red drum so hard that it was all I (or anyone else) could hear, one sound, one beat, the parade marching all in time, all in solidarity of that moment that we all shared together as individuals.
At frequent points in the march the band would often take a break from playing to catch their breath and change their tune, but the drums would roll on. I would love this moment, the texture and sound of boots walking “left — left — left, right, left”, each musician slightly breathless yet gladly keeping up. The onlookers gratefully cheered their heroes—taking a moment to live life outside of themselves— “loving their neighbour” for want of another phrase.
Sometimes the white noise of cheering and subtle rhythm of shuffling feet—in almost unison— produced a stillness of sorts. In this stillness, I’d pause from playing the marching rhythm and instead, simply let the drum ring out…
BANG! 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, BANG! 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4;
Like a strong defiant pulse, each hit of the drum would resonate a thousand times in a thousand different directions between the buildings and architectural corridors. The reverberation was epic and resounding as if I was sending a message to the people and somehow the people knew how to respond. Although still clapping and cheering, the people adopted a more reflective, grateful mood that would flow out over the crowd and form a reverence that few could put into words. The participants in the march would straighten their frames as best they could or walk a little taller, some in tears, others remembering torments, triumphs, all the same capturing the hearts of our nation. Pounding that drum? And being part of the ANZAC celebration? Well it was like we— ‘the people’—were the heart, life and life-blood of this city, and we were all there honouring those who had sacrificed their own lives for the sake of our own, and in some strange way we were all together un an unguarded moment, a solidarity of exuberant silence.
Yes! silence is often a sign of respect and honour. Anzac Day ceremonies provide us each an opportunity for a minute silence to respect, reflect and honour those fallen, retired and serving service personnel. However, this year our silence won’t just be for 1-minute, but it will likely be available the whole day.
The greatest of these is Love
As our family plans for this ANZAC Day, I’ll be looking to the sky in faith, hoping that those vintage war planes that we’ve seen every year since moving to the Sunshine Coast will appear in the sky and give signal to us all that ANZAC Day is alive and well across country. For those with spiritual understanding and knowledge, we will also look to the sky; for these “three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
So, Yes! This ANZAC Day will be different, but in the silence and solidarity of isolation, we can unify our hearts together across this country and “light up the dawn” – lest we forget.
For more information of how you can “light up the dawn” this ANZAC Day goto:
Tags for your ANZAC Day social media are:
#ANZACspirit #lightupthedawn #LestWeForget #FaithHopeLove