Melancholy and the infinite gratefulness
ANZAC Day, today, the 25th of April, encourages Australians and New Zealanders to remember those who sacrificed their lives for their country. The date is significant because we commemorate the landing of soldiers on the shores of Gallipoli, Turkey, and indeed in a few hours time, there will be a joint service held in Gallipoli to honour those that fought and died.
This, along with Remembrance Sunday that commemorates the ending of the First World War on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, always makes provokes a genuine sorrow and yet hopefulness. I have never fought in a war, and can barely say that even including childhood I've ever been in a fight, and profess that I doubt I'd be much good at it. Millions before me have probably said the same and one imagines that until you're put into the situation, until you've actually been dropped into living hell with bullets and screams and blood and death, you don't know whether you're the type that will flourish or founder.
North Africa and El Alamein
This year commemorates the battle of El Alamein which took place 75 years ago in Egypt where my grandfather fought. The famed site itself was only a railway stop on the coast heading east towards Alexandria, Cairo and most importantly, the supply route of the Suez Canal. In North Africa the Germans Panzerarmee Afrika were led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, “The Desert Fox”, whilst the Allies British Army were led by General Claude Auchinleck, composed of British, Australian, New Zealand, South African, and Indian troops. With the loss of Suez and Cairo a real possibility, the Allied regrouped, managed to stave off ceaseless assaults and launched several counter attacks. With more reinforcements and Rommel's army suffering from their supply lines being cut by the Allied Navy, the British brought in the infamous General Bernard Montgomery. Battling endless sand flies, yellow jaundice, blistering desert heat and Stuka dive bombers, my granddad helped turn the war, firing his 25 pounder (11kg shell) with his unit, at one stage for two hours in succession causing the paint to burn off the barrel. My granddad, Tom File, was rewarded with then being sent to Italy and then Arnhem, and amazingly survived those encounters as well. As a veteran of 22 at the end of the war, he'd served for five years after having joined at 17 (and yes, lied about his age so that he could appear 18).
Next year will make the 100th year since the ending of the First World War, a needless war of blood, guts and very little glory on any side. Whilst politicians wage wars and send others to find fight them, I have always thought that Europe has had enough of war - I can't see them at odds ever again despite the occasional rise of a right-wing bastard. Let's hope the North Korean turmoil can find resolution without resorting to international warfare.
Writing and writing...