Understanding the true meaning of Anzac Day

At the Royal Military College Duntroon, Staff Cadet Emma Forward is preparing to mark her second Anzac Day in uniform.

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The 27-year-old remembers what Anzac Day meant to her as a child.

“I always used to go to dawn service and close my eyes and try to imagine what it would be like to go through that hardship and bloodshed. But I think it’s quite hard to identify, or even sense what it would have been like.”

But now, she says, she does have a better idea of what it means to join the Australian Defence Force.

“You’re able to understand that there’s so much more sacrifice and commitment given to be in the military, as opposed to being on the outside. It’s so important to remember that there’ve been many men and women who have sacrificed so much to give Australia the freedom that it does have now.”

Emma Forward left a career in mining engineering to join the army.

Now only a few months away from graduating from the Royal Military College, she says she wants to become a combat engineer.

“Combat engineers, they work very closely with infantry, and they do explosive-handling and route-clearing. So it’s a lot to do with different pieces of equipment that are going to enable infantry on the ground.”

Anzac Day marks the dawn landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps onto the shores of Gallipoli, in Turkey, in 1915.

The eight-month campaign that followed killed more than 8,000 Australian soldiers.

It marked the beginning of the Anzac legend and the annual day of remembrance.

For retired air-force nurse Sharon Bown, it is a day to remember those who have died serving their country.

“I lost patients, I lost friends, and colleagues. So Anzac Day became more of a day of reflection. It became somewhat of a sad day.”

She spent nearly 20 years in the Defence Force.

In 2004, she was in East Timor and on an emergency medical flight to the village of Same.

In bad weather, the helicopter she was on crashed.

“I walked away with a burst wedge compression fracture of L3 — so a serious spinal fracture — and a shattered jaw. My jaw was broken in four places. And chemical burns to my shoulders and my back, where I had been exposed to aviation fuel.”

Sharon Bown spent the next four years recovering before landing in Afghanistan to serve as a critical-care nurse.

“The wounds and trauma caused by improvised explosive devices and gunfire is unlike anything that you see anywhere else in the world. I try not to concentrate on the devastation of that but the difference that we were able to make, the children thatwe were able to provide with care who may not have otherwise received care if we were not there.”

Veterans services are also preparing to mark Anzac Day.

John Bale, chief executive of Soldier On, a support group for physically or psychologically injured veterans, says the day can be uncomfortable for those from more recent conflicts.

“I think modern veterans are still finding their place in the Anzac tradition. We still don’t really understand where we sit. Most of our focus is on the wars of old. We don’t have a good understanding of what a modern veteran is, what they’ve just completed in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and all of our peacekeeping operations, disaster relief, border protection, et cetera.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs cares for about 300,000 clients across the country.

But John Bale says the Australian public is obligated to care for them as well.

“Government has its place. It’s critical, of course. But at the end of the day, you join the community, not the Department of Veterans Affairs. You need to be supported by us, the Australian people, and we need to understand what our men and women have done.”