To many Anzac Day is a day of national pride, a public holiday, and a chance to have a few friends round for a BBQ. To those who have fought for Australia or New Zealand, and those who are closed to people who have fought, Anzac Day is a day of remembrance.
My grandfather, Douglas Colman, fought in the World War II as Lance Corporal in the 2nd/18th Battalion and was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the fall of Singapore. He spent some time at Changi and was then moved to work on building the Burma Railway and remained there until the end of the war. He was one of the fortunate ones, after years of starvation and torture, he returned with malnutrition, malaria and a tropical ulcer. He was in very poor physical shape, but his spirit was not broken.
Many of his friends did not return, and many died early after the war from health related issues, but I was fortunate to spend time with him until he died at 74. I was 15. He would tell me many stories about the war, but never the horrifics, just the funny things that happened from time to time, including how he cheated in his eye sight test to get into the army in the first place.
Anzac Day is a very special day for me, because I used to go and help my grandfather set up for the dawn service at Merewether (Newcastle), and each year as he got older and his health deteriorated, he relied more and more on me.
In 2000 I went to Thailand and visited Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai, where he had been a prisoner of war, which put a lot of those stories that he used to tell into context. With over 100,000 asian laborers and 16,000 prisoners of war dieing on the Burma Railway, it was truly a moving experience and one I'll never forget.
My grandfather was a big influence on the person I've become and the lessons that I gained from my grandfather are
- Attitude is one of the most import things in life. My grandfather always had a bright and sunny attitude. The cup was always half full and he always noticed the beautiful things in life. He never gave up, even when he had a tropical ulcer, wasn't being fed and at risk of using his leg.
- Go out of your way to help others. My grandfather was the most generous person I've ever met. He would give you the shirt off his back and would do anything to help others. The only people who survived the Burma Railways were the groups of people who stuck together and helped each other. You only got fed when you worked, so the sick starved. The workers shared their food with each other.
This was only one of thousands of stories of courage and perseverance in the history of Australia at War, and Anzac Day is a day to reflect on them.