Today, as it does annually, Australia marks ANZAC Day – the anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli during World War I in 1915. It goes beyond this, though. It seems every public space in this country is set up to remember them- the millions of her war dead. Wherever you go, you will sooner come across an ANZAC memorial, not far from you. I see this as Australians commitment to the promise, “We will remember them”.
We will remember them, is a popular line from the Ode, traditionally recited as part of commemoration services in Australia since 1921. The Ode used is the fourth stanza of the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon. It was written in the early days of World War One and its words are touching an thought provoking:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Australia remembers. She remembers that the freedoms of today and its liberties were won with the blood of so many who sacrificed their lives in different theatres of war. We will remember them and so did Victory Life Centre.
Victory Life Centre, a church pastored by the Australian tennis sensation of all time and a woman of God, Margaret court used Sunday 22nd April to honour the memory of these men and women. With pomp and pageantry, as the whole church stood up, the veterans of war were acknowledged as they marched to the pulpit area. Many have become frail with age but they still marched forward. There were two main speakers, Arthur Legged born in Sydney in 1918 and who took part in the Second World War and Peter Jackson 71yrs old and who was called to serve in 1968 in the Vietnam War.
Arthur, now 100 years old, took us through his call to the war and how he suffered as a prisoner of war fighting in Europe. As we listened to him recounting his experience of war, we were all full of adulation for the sacrifice that people like him made for Australia, for the free world. At his age, he still has a great sense of humour and was quick to point out that if not for the war, he wouldn’t have met his wife, one that he has remained married to for 63 years now. The high point of his presentation was his reciting of the poem “Mates“. This happened to be a beautiful poem written in 1974 after the war by Corporal Duncan Butler. The poem highlights the significance of mateship amongst prisoners-of-war. Just like Arthur, Butler was an ex-prisoner of war. He was captured by the Japanese at Tjamplong in Timor in February 1942, moved to Java in September 1942, then to Singapore in January 1943 and Changi, before being sent to Thailand to work on the railway. He was repatriated and returned to Australia in October 1945.
The poem, available in full here, is worth a reading and memorizing by many. It begins:
I’ve travelled down some lonely roads,
Both crooked tracks and straight.
An’ I’ve learned life’s noblest creed,
Summed up in one word … “Mate”.
What was touching was that Arthur recited the whole of this poem, without missing any of the lines, being a 100 years old. His clarity of though was exceptional. It was therefore not unexpected that Peter would have an uphill task of matching the performance of Arthur. Peter, in his speech, painted a vivid picture of himself receiving a letter drafting him to serve in the war at 20 years old. He was ferried out of Australia on the HMS Sydney, straight to the Vietnam’s Tropical jungle to chase after Vietcong. As expected, after years at the warfront, he fell into depression on his return to Australia and recovery was painful and slow but he did recover.
Siting in the auditorium, I watched with admiration and was very moved, at points almost to tears. My brain soon started thinking of my fatherland, Nigeria and how
They’ve asked us to lay our lives for Nigeria.
They said, we should ask not what the nation can do for us
but what we can do for the nation.
We ask, when we do this, will the nation remember?
All we heard was a deafening silence
The national anthem says
The labours of our heroes past
Must not be in vain.
So we think of the labours of
Dele Giwa and Ken Saro-Wiwa
In sport, the world was marvelled
By the gangling Rahidi Yekini
Samuel Okwaraji died on the nation’s call
Dele Udoh was slaughtered
But does the nation remember them?
Oh yes, the heroes of our democracy.
Abiola and Simbiat laid down their lives
So did Alfred Rewane and Abraham Adesanya,
Gani Fawehinmi. Tai Solarin and the Ransome Kutis.
Tafawa Balewa, Okotie Eboh and Samuel Akintola
They are gone and how have they been remembered?
We remember the civil war and
The millions that died in that war
Brother fighting against brother
Victor Banjo, Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Isaac Boro
How has the nation remembered them?
On the streets of Port Harcourt, Abakaliki and Onitsha
Where the Ogbunigwe sounded loud and killed many.
The soldiers dying, fighing Boko Haram
How have they been remembered?
I thought of how we destroy even those pieces of monuments, that had given us some rays of hope that the nation remembers. There was the statue of the unknown soldier in Idumota and another at Dugbe in Ibadan. Where are they now? Right at the government house in Ibadan was a statue erected to the memory of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. This is long gone and stands no more.
A nation that forgets its past has no future” Winston Churchill