Monday, April 29, 2013

My Anzac Day March gripe

Further to my post about Anzac Day, I would appreciate some feedback on a gripe that I have. Googling didn’t reveal any discussions on this particular issue. 

Anzac Day traditions:

Before looking at my gripe, some background for the benefit of overseas readers.

As I mentioned last week, Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand is the national day of remembrance for those who have died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. The name is an acronym for the initial letters of Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, the combined force which landed at Gallipoli in Turkey on 25 April 1915. 

It is Australia’s most solemn and sacred secular day and is honoured as such. There are various traditions associated with observance of Anzac Day: 
  • a Dawn Service at the memorials of all capital cities, suburban and regional towns, as well as overseas bases; 
  • commemorative services at various places, including in schools; 
  • the playing of the Last Post; 
  • a minute's silence; 
  • a march by service personnel, past and present, and those who served in the conflicts, accompanied by marching bands and brass bands; 
  • a blind eye by the law to two up games (an Australian gambling tradition, betting on how coins will fall when tossed in the air) at the pubs and hotels. 

Some pics illustrative of the above: 

My gripe: 

I have attended Anzac Day marches from when I was a young cadet in the St John Ambulance Brigade, a Zambuk on the sidelines to render first aid when needed. Over the years thereafter I continued attending to give the diggers, nurses etc a round of applause. It was only about 10 years ago that I ceased attending in person and began watching on TV. 

In the last few years it has become increasingly common for young people to march wearing a relative’s medals and honours. Admittedly most wear the medals on the right side of their chest, as is the custom for those who have not been awarded the medals. The actual recipients wear theirs on the left side (the origin has been attributed both to the left side being over the heart and to keeping the right side free for a sash supporting a sword). 

Young people – adolescents, teenagers and young adults - marching in the official marches has become so common that there is hardly any group that doesn’t have ring ins alongside the adults. Kids as young as 7 and 8 can be seen marching, carrying photographs, some waving to the crowd. Oftentimes they are teenagers, some walking in a dignified manner and some slovenly. Some have taken the trouble to dress respectably, some look as though they got dressed in the dark. 

Call me a grumpy old bastard if you want to but, to me, these ring ins have no place in the march. 

The applause for the marchers as they pass by is for those who earned the medals, for those who have served and those who are presently serving. 

They are probably all very nice people and they are all probably genuine in wishing to honour their forebears by wearing their medals. I have no problem with that. But not to march. 

Some pics that illustrate what I am referring to:

The caption for the last pic above said that the child was marching for his great grandfather, whose picture he carried. He has probably never met the man. 

What particularly annoyed me last week was that during the TV broadcast of the march, the camera focused on a young boy aged about 12 or 13, with a Mohawk style haircut, black jeans and black shirt, sunglasses and a disinterested expression, waving at the crowd as he passed. He was also chewing gum.  His body language and expression suggested that he accepted that the applause he was acknowledging was for him, rather than for the people around him who had actually earned the medals. 

My wife stated that he was probably marching to honour one of his relatives. In my view, that makes no difference.

It pissed me off enough that I didn’t watch any more.  I doubt that I will watch it again.

Your views?


  1. Hi Otto.
    On ANZAC Day I enjoyed lunch with the surviving members of my father's WW2 brigade and their relatives. 22 attended and I guess there were 5 real veterans at the table. I was there representing my father (who is still alive but not able to get into town).
    Now to respond to your "gripe" ... personally I could not march on behalf of Dad. He was the one who endure the war and is entitled to wear the medals. I am happy to go to the Brigade lunch and pass on the news and stories to Dad but will stop when my father or the last vet has passed away.
    Other people in that lunch group DO march and proudly wear their relative's medals. They believe they are ensuring the "Lest We Forget" message will continue through their participation and it is important to highlight that most are direct descendents of a WW2 vet.
    Perhaps we should draw the line at participants with a direct single generation link to a veteran (or perhaps a minimum age), so that the ANZAC Day march does not eventually become just a parade.

  2. I think this question would best be answered by the veterans really is their day.

    I agree that if you're going to represent a relative who served you should do it in a respectful way.

    I'd also suggest that relatives marching in this way should be in their own section in much the same way as we have cadets and other non veterans marching in their own sections.

    I think the spirit of the day is there in children marching for relatives who've died...they're definitely remembering the sacrifice of those who served.

    Also traditions do change and it's often a good thing.

    The Dawn Service for example was originally for veterans only but allowing the public to attend adds to the service in my opinion.

    In most memorial services in other countries they're sombre affairs. We have that in Australia but we also have the lighter irreverent side afterwards (2-up drinking like it's a wake etc).

    I think that's also a huge part of ANZAC day. Living and enjoying our lives in a free country is another way we honour those who served and what they served for.

    A positive spin on the kid with the mohawk chewing gum is that although you may not approve of is a free country and a kid is free to have a mohawk and chew gum.

    That is one of the strongest definitions of freedom...something people gave their lives for.

    It beats the hell out of a march of kids in brown shirts and nazi armbands all conforming to a set dress code and set of rules.


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