General Health - ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day brings with it a mix of emotions – a sense of achievement, a sense of pride, but also a sense of sadness. Nevertheless, for everyone it’s a time for reflection – a time to reflect on what is and what might have been.

By the mid 1930s all the rituals we now associate with ANZAC Day were well established – dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions and even two-up games. Another of these traditions is the bugle call of the Last Post. Originally part of a more elaborate routine that began in the 17th century known in the British Army as “tattoo”, the Last Post signals the day’s end.

The ceremonial presence of the lone piper is also likely to have become a feature of Australian memorial services from the early 20th century. The traditional Scottish song of mourning and remembrance, Flower of the Forest, is the tune usually played on these occasions.

Flowers and plants in their own right have come to play a part in this process of reflection and remembrance. It’s now commonplace to wear a sprig of rosemary on ANZAC Day. Centuries ago this aromatic herb was believed to have properties to improve memory; and possibly because of these supposed properties rosemary became an emblem of both fidelity and remembrance in ancient literature and folklore.

The Flanders Poppy is another flower increasingly being used as part of ANZAC Day observances. During the First World War, red poppies were seen to be among the first living plants that sprouted from the devastation of the battlefields of northern France and Belgium.

The narcotic pain relievers were developed from another kind of poppy – the opium poppy – and remain one of the most valuable groups of medicines available. It’s a grim irony that the Taliban, fighting our forces in Afghanistan, are being supported by funds derived from the heroin trade – heroin manufactured from those same poppy plants.

Unfortunately the pain experienced by our troops in war zones is often such that it can’t be managed by pain relievers alone. Post traumatic stress can be severe and long lasting.

Official recognition was given to the condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1980 following the Vietnam War. While the majority of causes of PTSD are war related – war veterans, peace keeping forces and refugees are all at high risk – people who are victims of national disasters may also suffer PTSD.

According to Vietnam veteran and NSW RSL state vice president, Dr Roderick Bain, Afghanistan and Iraq ex-servicemen may also suffer “mild traumatic brain injury”; that is concussion caused by home-made devices exploding within 100 metres. Ongoing headaches, memory loss and loss of organisational skills can all occur despite no obvious physical damage.

ANZAC Day - Remembering and Reflecting.

World War 1; it was known as the Great War; the war to end all wars. Of the ten million soldiers who died in just four years, 60,000 were Australians – out of a total population then of less than five million. Denis Winter subtitles his book, 25 April 1925, “the inevitable tragedy”. More recently this day has become arguably Australia’s most significant national occasion.

ANZAC Day now goes beyond commemorating the landing on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in 1915. It is the day we remember all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peace keeping operations.