ANZAC Day bitterness

I know ANZAC Day is over but reading The Drum I am moved to comment once more on the day. The Punch, being The Punch, has dug up a conscientious objector to denigrate all that is service to the country. I am ambivalent about these people and don’t despise or denigrate them but I do think they should be starved of oxygen and allowed to wither in their bitter memories without being heard. One of the comments left there struck a chord. Have a read of Mr Happy.
I have never marched and as a Vietnam vet ( 3RAR 1971) I say: what a huge relief that Anzac Day has come and gone. That highly stylized ritual massaged by well fed Anglo Celtic politicians, invoking Homeric images of the bronzed Anzac warrior, delivered with the sincerity and well rehearsed solemnity of undertakers presiding over a long dead corpse. The alleged ‘sacredness’ of the commemoration never fails to obscure the alternative narrative: In 1788 British settlers became the original ‘Fringe Dwellers’ with guns. Fanning out , they destroyed an advanced and diverse indigenous society. Later , they morphed into ‘Australians’ , and volunteered – sometimes with embarrassing alacrity – in a variety of imperial ventures or were complicit in the destruction of other people’s societies. Eg The Sudan, Boer War, Chinese Boxer Rebellion, invasion of Ottoman Turkey and, towards the end of WW1, even managed to squeeze in an invasion of the fledgling Soviet Republics. Then of course Korea, Vietnam, and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan . When this narrative supplants the state sponsored ‘dead corpse’ of Anzac Day, then, and only then will contemporary Australia achieve a measure of cultural sophistication, and embrace a more historically authentic story to commemorate service and sacrifice.
I replied; Wow! I bet you’re a lot of fun at a party – maybe it’s a good thing you don’t join us on ANZAC Day. While we commemorate lost comrades and celebrate living ones you would be harping on the side about us invoking Homeric images of the bronzed Anzac warrior. I bet you were a hoot in your platoon. I don’t even know who your NCO was but I do feel sorry for him. Well written, bitter words that say more about you than those of us who served and choose to remember. Those who choose not to march and those who prefer not to remember at all, are used by the anti-military mob to suggest ANZAC Day is pointless or losing it’s significance. As in “My uncle never ever marched” It does nothing of the sort – it simply reflects that some are bitter, some are indifferent and some are still troubled by things they’ve seen and done. The majority, however choose to participate and I don’t think you should denigrate us for doing so. We served, we are proud that we did and if later in life you became bitter about it or earlier in life chose to avoid service for ideological or whatever reasons, then fine. If you despise ANZAC Day and what it represents so much then don’t talk about it. If we offend your sensibilities to such an extent that you think we shouldn’t have tried to stop Imperial Germany, Hitler, The Japs and assorted communists from taking over the world then retreat to your bitter bunker and stay silent while others secure your life style. Even though you have served and are obviously educated you still can’t work out that to achieve your measure of cultural sophistication you need soldiers to first secure the civilization.

ANZAC Day in Albany

I am in Albany WA visiting my 92 year old mother but as ANZAC Day coincides with my visit I am also here to attend Dawn Service at the home of my fathers. My Great Grandfather, born in 1844 to a British soldier and wife serving in what was then Van Dieman’s Land, brought the family here in the 1890s. Three of his sons went to the Boer War with two serving in the Permanent Coastal Artillery Battery in the Forts overlooking the town. One of these, Sydney Frederick Gillett, was my paternal Grandfather. These forts were developed earlier in the 1800s to counter French and Russian threats to the British Empire. French presence in those earlier days of settlement lives on in all the French named geographical points around the South West Coast of WA. Don’t know what happened to the Russians – most probably had a revolution on board and forgot to leave any names on the map. In 1959 I also attended the Forts at Albany. The West Australian Education dept hadn’t caught up with us pure Baby Boomers, those of us born in 1946, so all 1st Year High School kids of that year attended school in pubic buildings around town. Some went to churches, some to halls and some to the Forts. My first year lessons at high school were conducted under the watchful eyes of Grandfather and Great Uncle as they stared down from old military photos hanging in the Military Institute Hall. In 1939 my father enlisted in the RANR and often came through his home port as he went to and fro to Asia and back protecting troop ships and convoys whilst a sailor on board HMAS Sydney and later, on board Mine Sweepers. The first Dawn Service anywhere was conducted in Albany WA.
Where and when did the custom of Dawn Service begin? Reverend White was serving as one of the padres of the earliest ANZAC’s to leave Australia with the First AIF in November 1914. The convoy was assembled in the Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound at Albany WA, my homeport. Before embarkation, at four in the morning, he conducted a service for all the men of the battalion. When White returned to Australia in 1919, he was appointed relieving Rector of the St John’s Church in Albany. It was a strange coincidence that the starting point of the AIF convoys should now become his parish. No doubt it must have been the memory of his first Dawn Service those many years earlier and his experiences overseas, combined with the awesome cost of lives and injuries, which inspired him to honour permanently the valiant men (both living and the dead) who had joined the fight for the allied cause. “Albany”, he is later quoted to have said, “was the last sight of land these ANZAC troops saw when leaving Australian shores and some of them never returned. We should hold a service (here) at the first light of dawn each ANZAC Day to commemorate them.” Thus on ANZAC Day 1923, 87 years ago this morning, he came to hold the first Commemorative Dawn Service. extract from an address I gave at last years ANZAC Day service in Brisbane
Over all my years I have never attended a Dawn Service here at my home port. Tomorrow that will be addressed. I wish all veterans and all those who support us, a meaningful ANZAC Day and if you end up fighting battles again do it better and don’t make the same mistakes twice. I remember all the friends of my fathers and myself whose souls we left on foreign shores – may they all rest in peace and may their widows and family be consoled by the value of their sacrifice.

Roxon sickened

A SENIOR Government frontbencher says she felt sick when she learnt of a sex scandal engulfing Defence. Relations between Defence Minister Stephen Smith and the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) are tense following revelations an 18-year-old woman was filmed by webcams having sex with another student. You need to toughen up Nicola. It’s one thing to back your colleague but quite another to get involved in hyperbowl I can’t actually see how it’s a ADF scandal. The cadets have been at ADFA for all of ten weeks, are juveniles just coming to grips with hormone surges and are doing what every other similar aged kid is doing or trying to do – have sex. What is a scandal is Smith’s refusal to support the Commandant of ADFA as he goes through his procedures. The girl in question was up for disciplinary hearings before she went public involving AWOL and alcohol. Smith suggests because this other matter came to the attention of the public, ADF discipline should be shelved. Doesn’t work that way. Having sex is not the issue either but the male cadet filming and broadcasting the act is. He simply should be dismissed from ADFA. Not so much for breaking the fraternising rule but for being a cad and bounder. Gentlemen do not kiss and tell. Likewise the girl should be removed. She has broken the frat rule, been AWOL and drunk and brought the ADF into disrepute. In my day any one of these transgressions would result in dismissal. Her case, and its a good one, is against the Cad and Bounder, not the ADF. Once she is a civilian she should sue the bastard for all he’s worth.

Newsflash:Diggers use intemperate language

The politically correct movement existed in my day. In South Vietnam we were told to stop referring to our Vietnamese allies and enemy as ‘Noggies’. Being good soldiers we did what we were told and called them ‘Nigels’ when the brass were listening, and Noggies, slopes and anything else that came to mind when they weren’t. In Afghanistan the diggers prove once again that the more things change the more they stay the same but in this case it is Ch7 with their ‘put down on diggers campaign’ that have dug up an obscure Digger or Diggers referring disparagingly to Taliban, Afghanistan locals and ALP politicians. What got up my nose was that the Generals responded and Foreign Affairs minister Smith even apologised to his Afghanistan equivalent for the language used. I received this email this morning from an old mate that lays out the ex service community’s feelings on the subject
The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds and the highest morale and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marines. These words were spoken during World War 2 by the First Lady of America, Eleanor Roosevelt. Can you imagine the boost in morale she gave her troops. What a difference today. We have the Minister of Defence, every politically correct commentator and even members of the General Staff prepared to kick our soldiers, once again, in the guts for being soldiers. The Prime Minister has been prepared to turn a blind eye and let her underlings do the dirty work. Has one of these Generals ever had the opportunity to lead a platoon into battle, casuvac his casualties, write a letter to the next of kin of one of his soldiers? If so, he can then comment on the conduct and political incorrectness of his fighting soldiers. In the public eye this furor will be past history within a week or so. But the lack of support to our fighting men will linger forever. These rough men and women take, occupy and hold ground from the enemy so we, the protected, live on in ignorant bliss. For every neice, nephew and second cousin, who cannot get a seat in the church, at the funeral of the next Australian Digger killed in action, tell one of the Polititians, Generals, Admirals or Field Marshalls there for the photo opportunity to move one pew backward in the Church, “You didn’t support him or his, mates when he was here, so move to the back row.” To our men and women fighting for freedom, remember, you will always have the support from us, the ones like you who have met the dragon and spat in his eye. And another thing, which will never diminish is your honour and sense of Duty First. It will stay with you forever. I. G. Atkinson
Sailors getting drunk on shore leave and trying to score and soldiers talking rough about the enemy (and that includes the ALP)….what is the world coming to?

Expensive shout

DIGGERS serving in Afghanistan will be forced to pay $5 a can if they want to have a beer on Christmas Day. The Defence Department is laying on the cheer by allowing soldiers serving overseas two beers this Christmas – but it’s making them pay, the Northern Territory News reports. One soldier calculates Defence is making a killing. “That works out to be $120 a carton of beer,” the soldier said. Peter Mansell, the Darwin RSL president, said that he personally thought charging for two beers would be “bloody wrong”.
But he also said there was no beer when he was serving about 40 years ago. “We were in the middle of the jungle doing what we had to do,” he said
The Nominal Roll of Vietnam Veterans has Peter Mansell serving with 7RAR in Vietnam in 1970 and whereas it could be true (providing he was a rifleman) that he was often “in the middle of the jungle” it is also true that when he came off patrol he was allowed to consume alcohol….. …at 12 or 15c a can and although there was a legal limit of “2 cans per day perhaps” this generally translated as “enough to get drunk and forget your problems” if you weren’t warned for ambush or patrol duties the next day. I know, I was there Peter. Maybe you should stop suggesting us Vietnam Vets had it tougher than the Afghan boys. Remember how the RSL, some WWII vets and a host of hippies treated us when we came home and don’t fall into the same trap by denigrating their service In their defence, Defence says; … it already does a lot for its soldiers.
It pointed out it provided accommodation, food and welfare services to its deployed troops “at no cost”.
What are they suggesting. That they are nice guys for sending diggers to war and not charging them for accommodation, food and welfare services? Get real!

The Military Law debate continues

Chief of Army gets up me for commenting on the soldiers being charged for actions in Afhganistan. Well not me exactly but those of us commenting publically. In an unclassified email to the military he says;
Many will have views about whether or not charges should have been brought. Many may hope that those who have been charged will be cleared. Some, armed with ill-informed opinions and good intentions, have made public comment in response to the media and public interest. • We must not be party to the pressures being applied by individuals external to our organisation, or by the vocal individuals within our organisation. The Army is simply not above the law.
Full text here General Gillespie mentions the petition I link to over on the right of this page and it may well be that it’s initiation was ill-formed and that it has no legal basis but I’m not a lawyer and in my humble opinion the petition indicates 20,000 plus votes of support for the diggers. It offers moral support and they may deduce from that the people are thinking of them. The General is, of course correct but he is playing with the cards he has been dealt and it could be argued that the Howard government dealt him a disparate hand of cards. Removing military command from the legal chain was always going to initiate debate and I for one have always been uneasy giving power to people who understand the rule of law but have little experience in battle. We do, after all, train our soldiers to deliberately kill others and this is contrary to civilian law. Being a RAAF lawyer, Kathryn Cochrane might not have read General Gillespsies’ email as she argues for the troops to be charged by their commanders and not by a lawyer.
Troops expect to be charged by those in the military who have field experience and campaign medals; those who know first-hand how military operations are conducted. The troops expect to be charged by “command”; they may not like it but they will respect it. Command only works through mutual trust. The troops do not expect to be charged by a lawyer – military or otherwise – who has never executed a military mission in a dangerous place, let alone faced live fire in the circumstances such as those of the three diggers. I agree with the troops.
So do I for what it’s worth. But with lawyers seemingly breeding faster than soldiers I feel sorry for the current diggers as they ply their trade with a legal sword of Damocles hanging over their heads and careers. Officers plan for proportionality; they consider civilians and do their utmost to protect them but it is common knowledge amongst the profession that no plan survives contact with the enemy. After all the planning, after all the training, when the digger is fired on he commences an “immediate-action” drill. If he sees civilian in that part of a second that leads up to returning fire then he can stop but if there is nothing visible to trigger a caution he is trained to return fire. But the debate is now turning to who charges and who hears the case. The General is obviously correct and the Director of Military Prosecution is simply doing her job but that is only pertinent while we accept the current regulations as being the best available to maintain military discipline and the rule of law to the satisfaction of Government, the Military and the people. There are some who suggest that isn’t the case and that can be only a positive in a democracy. Let the debate run it’s course.

No tanks, we don’t need ’em

Ms Gillard took a swipe at the media for not focusing on issues of “real concern”, saying there was a “ridiculous” debate about the need for more tanks. “You may as well send them a submarine,” she said. Good line PM. I bet we’ll hear about it for a while but it is disingenuous and trivializes the debate. I’ve heard it all before. Not the submarine bit but people saying tanks are useless in certain theatres. They were never going to work in South Vietnam due to the jungle. You only need to ask an infantryman whose arse was saved by Centurions, including this one, as to how effective the tanks were. Generals of the arm chair variety are today saying Afghanistan is not tank country and if you look at the mountainous terrain you might tend to agree. However, it isn’t all mountainous as I’ve seen any amount of videos of soldiers patrolling in decidedly flat terrain and if I’ve seen it once then there exists a case for deploying tanks. The Canadians have deployed their Leopards even though they aren’t air-conditioned likes ours. This from a US defense site
“The heavily protected direct fire capability of a main battle tank is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of any military. The intensity of recent conflicts in Central Asia and the Middle East has shown western militaries that tanks provide protection that cannot be matched by more lightly armoured wheeled vehicles…. [Canada’s existing Leopard C2/1A5] tanks have also provided the Canadian Forces (CF) with the capability to travel to locations that would otherwise be inaccessible to wheeled light armoured vehicles, including Taliban defensive positions.”
The Dutch had their Leopards there as did the Danes while the US do have Abrahams deployed so maybe it isn’t that simple. Generals are political creatures as well as soldiers and they will be very well aware that the current government doesn’t want to deploy any more soldiers to Afghanistan. So to say “we would like tanks” could be seen as a bad career move. On the other hand, if the government were to say “we are looking at expanding our Afghanistan force to build it up to a independent group and would you like tanks with that? you might get a different answer. DO we need tanks in Afghanistan or do we want them there? I don’t really know as I don’t know all of the considerations but I do know we are not going to have an open debate about the issue.

More on the Diggers

In case you wonder what us retired soldiers think of the recent decision to court martial three soldiers due to their actions in Afghanistan then here is a letter doing the rounds of the ex-service community with explanatory notes by a Vietnam Veteran. For those of you who don’t know, Roger Tingley won his Miltary Cross as a 2nd Lieutenant in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The email letter below has been written by Roger as a result of the decision (apparently against the wishes of the Chief of the Defence Force) by one (military) lawyer to court martial 3 young soldiers who made a (split second) decision, tragic as the consequences were, to return fire in a combat situation recently in Afganistan, a situation which it is certain that lawyer has never nor never will have to face, and a situation so dreadful that lawyer could never in her worst nightmares begin to imagine or understand. Combat soldiers who served during the Vietnam (and any other) war could almost certainly tell of at least one situation that they either knew of, or themselves experienced, where innocent people became casualties. The politicians who send our young men to war know, or should know, without question, that a tragedy such as this is always likely to occur. That these young men now have to face further tragedy in their own lives, regardless of the outcome of their respective courts martial, is a disgrace beyond belief. If someone is to be punished for the tragic deaths of the innocents in this situation, why not the politician(s) who made the decision to send them in the first place or even the electors who chose that (or those) politician(s) to make that decision. These three young men, privates, the lowest rank in the military hierarchy, are the scapegoats for just another of the tragedies which occur when old men send young men to fight their wars. RJ Wood former Lieutenant Platoon Commander during the Vietnam War. One of the young men sent to fight old men’s wars. The letter:
I am but a small part of growing and grave concern: not just within the ADF Family and the wider Veteran Community; but of the Australian Electorate at large; that we are seeing the first real nails in the coffin of the ANZAC Military Forces as we knew them. That the nails are being manufactured from political, delivered by civilians, held by senior civilians in uniform and hammered in, by direction, by mid level military careerists who recognize their masters. Recruitment is already, although the real facts are obfuscated, becoming a less than cost effective factor and we may be struggling in less than a decade, to find enough service personnel, particularly on the ground and NOT in a barracks base or airfield complex. Those in power at this time, will by then be well supered….but we will remember them. So, speaking of Remembrance Day…and the young men (and their poor families) who are about to be dragged through dirty political mud, be publicly pilloried and, whatever the outcome, have their very lives changed forever, may I, in the spirit of fair play, gently ask our current (RAAF) ADF Chief:
Is the Australian Government now going to publicly discriminate: or are they now going to charge any and every single Australian RAAF Ex Serviceman who ever took part in any deliberate bombing (especially Firebombing) of any city or town, anywhere in the world, in World War 2. I sincerely trust that every addressee will ask the same question of at least one journalist and one elected representative…..well before Remembrance Day.
Very Sincerely, Roger L Tingley MC

Soldiers to be given ‘Shoot to kill” cover

The Gillard government has reintroduced legislation that will allow soldiers to use deadly force in response to terrorist attacks at defence bases. The original bill was introduced in June but lapsed when the election was called.
The aim of the bill was to to strengthen defence’s capacity to deter, detect and respond to any attack on a base, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said.
The Bill is in response to the Terrorists targeting Holsworthy Army Base. In light of the recent charging of soldiers for soldiering I trust they have a Lawyer on duty with the sentries at each base.

Have we gone insane?

A soldier pens an email to a mate criticizing the Army generally and his headquarters specifically and we are having a national debate. So far the Minister for Defence and a Lt Gen have made statements and hundreds of would be arm-chair generals have given us the benefit of the erudite and considered opinions. At the Herald Sun every tenth comment says we shouldn’t be there and then there’s some who shouldn’t be allowed to have an opinion.
Houston, Chief of Army, who ever is in charge of “OUR TROOPS” plus the obvious incompetent Major all should be immediately removed.
Houston is actually Chief of the Defence Force. Gen Gillespie is the Chief of the Army and he sure as hell won’t ‘be removed’ He’s doing a sterling job considering all the problems he has. As for the Major who the soldier accused of not doing his job properly, as if he would know, is accused, court martialed, found guilty and dismissed all on the basis of a disgruntled soldiers words. Every one has an answer. Bring ’em home – they shouldn’t be there, sack the Generals…sack the Majors…send abraham tanks…send Tiger attack choppers and sack the politicians. Here’s a new thought….remind the soldier about the chain of command, then sack him and get on with it. Defence will always be reviewing the situation and asking for more troops and equipment and the politicians will, as always, not give them everything they ask for. say the soldiers email will be investigated and in due course, after a lot of questions the Minister for Defence will announce that all is well. One drop kick says “It’s Vietnam all over again” Well, yes in a sense, it is. It’s a war and you can never get too many tanks or attack choppers or artillery in a war. There will always be a priority and every patrol cant be guaranteed to have full support every time they clash with the enemy. Whereas I’m reluctant to give credence to one email from a Private soldier I do listen to Generals and Jim Moylan, ex General, has a lot to say on this subject. If you are really interested and look to forming a considered opinion you would do well to read anything he says. I have written about Moylan before so maybe you should also check that out so you can see I am really on the side of the soldiers. Just not ones who abuse the chain of command.
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