Several years ago I attended the smallest and most moving ANZAC ceremony I’d ever been to, all because my ancient lawnmower wouldn’t start.
While the rest of the population was at the ANZAC Day parade, I was at home screaming threats at my dilapidated Victa. Spying my old neighbour, John, sitting under a shady tree in his front yard I wandered over to see if I could borrow his mower.
Instead, he poured me a calming cup of tea, and as I sat down I noticed three small white boxes lying on his garden table. John guessed my question, “My war medals,” he said. I was impressed. During my extremely short stint in the Army Reserve the only commendation I’d ever received was for being the last man standing the night our Corporal opened a bottle of OP rum.
Helping myself to his bikkies, I asked him why he wasn’t marching. Gazing down at the little boxes he said quietly, “I’m happier here with my mates.”
Then told me about the time he and his three boyhood friends joined the Army during WW2. Their first taste of battle occurred in Rockhampton, when two train loads of servicemen met; Australians heading north and Americans heading south. Everything was quite friendly until an American called out, “Don’t worry Aussies, we’ll look after your women while you’re away!” Then all hell broke loose.
They survived that brutal encounter, and clawed their way along the Kokoda Track through some of the worst fighting in the Pacific theatre. At wars’ end John returned home, alone. “I got three medals,” he murmured, “one for each mate I lost.” Then, with tears filling his eyes, he touched the lid of each box and called out their names. It was the most moving tribute I’d ever seen.
We sat in silence for a long time before John stood up and clapped me on the back, “Come on,” he said brightly, “stop blubbering, you’ve got work to do.” He got my old mower going and did a couple of laps around my weed infested yard before handing it back, “There you go,” he laughed, “I did my march!” It was to be his last.
Now on ANZAC Day, around mid-morning, I sip a cup of tea and reflect on the mateship and sacrifice that this day represents, and I remember old John sitting alone in his garden with his three little boxes. Afterwards, I fire up my ancient lawnmower and parade up and down my lawn in his memory. I reckon he’d like that.