Michael Dunn is a young veteran, who from an early age had wanted to serve his country. Michael served in the RAN for 19 years, which included 2 tours on a navy ship in the Persian Gulf in 2002 and 2003. “As part of the International Coalition Against Terrorism (ICAT), we all had different roles to play. The Navy protected the shipping lanes, the Army defended key targets on the ground and the Airforce defended the skies above.” Michael’s memories of service, are that – like any job – it comes with its own routine. “it was the same routine every day, counting down the days. But one incident in 6 months away reminded us how real it was. Our ship was under threat, but common sense prevailed. I had it relatively easy compared to those who were being shot at or had to shoot someone to survive.”

Every year, millions of Australians ponder how best to spend their ANZAC Day. The devoted wake before sunrise, and make their way, bleary eyed and cold, to stand in allegiance at dawn services around the country. Others watch the televised parades and tributes from home, yet many pay no mind to the day’s proceedings and spend it as they would any other public holiday.

As the COVID-19 global pandemic keeps everyone at home on April 25th this year, could it be the true meaning of ANZAC Day comes to the forefront? The parade grounds will fall silent, the shrines will stand empty and flags will wave to no salutes. Without ceremony and ritual, we have to find other outlets for thoughts and feelings. Now more than ever we can reflect on what ANZAC day truly means, in the hearts and minds of Australians, and servicemen and women, past and present.

ANZAC Day’s origins lie in the tragic events that unfolded during WWI on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in 1915. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs), landed on the beach on April 25th and were immediately overcome with fierce resistance from the Turks. Over the next 8 months 8,000 ANZAC soldiers died, with the sacrifice so deeply felt by both nations, that a day of commemoration was born.

Since the events of Gallipoli, countless lives have been lost to wars across the world. By the end of WWI, more than 60,000 Australians had died and ANZAC Day become a day of remembrance for all lives lost in conflict. WWII became the next conflict, followed by numerous others – Korea, Vietnam War, the Gulf War, East Timor, Afghanistan and so on. Right now, many military personnel are serving the community and their nation in stopping the spread of COVID-19, through service to the community, protection of the vulnerable and securing of supplies.

In the late 1960’s, Simon Bloomer volunteered for National Service with the express reason to go to Vietnam “… for the adventure of my young life at the time”. Trained as a postal clerk, Simon spent most of his time serving in the Nui Dat and Vung Tau army post offices in Vietnam. He served the mandatory two years for National Service participants, before returning home, having had his adventures, to pursue a career in banking. “There were a number of occasions where the adrenalin was aroused - I was part of an operational activity to guard our base in the jungle. I returned home unscathed physically and was able to return to the civilian workforce, but as it has turns out, 24 years after my discharge, I became involved again. With Carry On Victoria, and more recently with the RSL, I’m serving still, to provide support to those ADF members and their families, who’ve fallen on hard times and are finding it difficult to manage in the civilian world after separation.”

The foundations of the military are the people deployed, engaged and affected. Each has their own story to tell and experience to share from tours and conflicts across the globe dating back more than 100 years. Their shared experience is one of sacrifice on behalf of others and their reflections on what ANZAC Day means to them are grounded in the fierce sense of gratitude, pride and loyalty they feel for their mates who served with them and those who went before them.

“Over the years I’ve spoken to a number of older veterans,” says Michael. “For them it was to remember old mates they served with that didn’t come home, or to tell stories to the younger generation. For me it’s a day of remembrance - to those who have served in the past, present and future and of the freedom we’re given today because of their sacrifice.” Michael’s experience highlighted to him that generations of veterans may experience service differently, but the outcomes are the same. “I believe our current veterans would have had a different experience to mine, but the one thing we all have in common, is we all made a significant sacrifice to serve.

Simon has seen a shift in ANZAC Day commemorations in recent years. “I sell ANZAC Day badges each year on street corners in the CBD of Melbourne. There are now very few people out and about who lived through the 2nd World War, so nearly everyone who stops to purchase a badge are of the younger generation. In my little patch I see many people recognising the significance of ANZAC Day.” Regardless of age or connection to service, Simon feels ANZAC Day is a day of recognition as well as remembrance. “ANZAC Day is a time to pay tribute to those who have served in the ADF and lost their lives during that service, or as a result of that service. We owe a great deal to these people who, for the most part, were all volunteers and who performed their duty for their country and for their mates.”

Carry On (Victoria) has been supporting Veterans and their families, by providing help where they need it most: housing, advocacy, education, and financial support. Help us make a difference, and reach more Veterans and their families in need, in times of hardship and make a donation this ANZAC Day.