I have become increasingly aware over time that the history of western culture is the story of white men. The explorers, the artists, the pioneers, the inventors, the conquerors, the settlers, the crusaders, the invaders – these are all the men of our history that we have chosen to define our place in the world over the course of recorded time. I know that this reflects our thinking in those eras but it doesn’t mean that other stories and contributions that were valid and important were not being made by others around the world. The remembering and celebration of only these stories is often done to the exclusion of all other histories.
I have been reflecting on these thoughts as we approach ANZAC Day. This year Ashleigh is less than one hours drive from Villers Brettoneux. There is an enormous Australian focus on the region this year. The Department of Veterans Affairs is holding commemoration ceremonies at the enormous memorial built to Australian soldiers. Thousands of Australian soldiers still rest in the area, many in unmarked graves. Many Australians are heading to the area to be there for the ceremonies on Friday. Ashleigh is one of them.
The stories of the soldiers are well known by Australians. We pause to remember them. We observe solemn rituals in their honour. These again are the stories of the men involved: our written history, the stories that we allow to define us. I believe that there is so much more to consider. Imagine the sacrifices made by those mothers who farewelled their young sons as they travelled the world to places unknown to them. Imagine the wives who stayed behind without the support of their husbands to carry on raising their children. Sometimes these women waited for a soldier who never returned. Sometimes they returned as broken men – with bodies that could heal, but with scars that could not be seen. Either way war creates dysfunction.
I do not say these things to denigrate the memory of those soldiers who fought. I say these things to broaden our definition of history. To remember the stories of sacrifice that were made by those who were often excluded from the decision making process, those who were frequently denied a public voice, yet who bore the tangible results of conflict. This year I will remember the soldiers, but I will also stop to think about those who stayed behind without information or contact, in fear and exclusion. They deserve to be remembered and thanked too.
My Grandad, in his last ever ANZAC march 25th April 1992.
Lest we forget.