Naval Gazing

26 Apr

Yesterday I was shown Australia can do pomp and ceremony just as well as the English. ANZAC Day commemorates the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops in Gallipoli in 1915 – part of the Allied expedition in the First World War. Over 8,000 of their forces died and April 25 became the day to remember the sacrifice they made. Today it goes beyond just the anniversary; it is the day Australians and New Zealanders remember the contribution and sacrifice of all their servicemen and women in military operations and they do so with a great deal of pride and patriotism. The day is very similar to Remembrance Day but seems to bear much more relevance to young Australians, continuing to have meaning for their sense of national identity. It was plain to see as crowds of thousands braved the morning chill to wave flags and applaud current and former members of the armed forces and emergency services while bands from local communities, scout groups, schools and universities all joined in the parade. It was a real family event, with young and old turning out to honour the veterans and marching side by side.

James is away in Auckland, so at least is in a country where Anzac Day is recognised and got to experience the national celebration, including the traditional dawn service at 4.30 am. This is usually followed by the parade and breakfast washed down with plenty of beers to soften the blow. I was not up for the dawn service but did decide to head into the city for the Sydney Anzac parade to show my commitment as a Navy wife! I ended up going alone as nobody was too keen to get up before 8am on a national holiday, especially considering it suddenly turned cold for a day (top of 19 degrees – Autumn is definitely here and I am clearly acclimatising.) However, it stayed dry, sunny and crisp so, wearing a coat for the first time since we arrived, I found a place at the start of the marching route to watch the parade. After the most frail of the veterans were driven by in a convoy of taxis, men and women from ships, regiments and squadrons marched by to much clapping and flag-waving. It was quite a moving scene, particularly seeing young Australians marching with photographs of their grandparents and relatives who have died in action.

The other tradition, which has become as much a part of Anzac celebrations as the parade itself, is a game of Two-up in the pub. I met up with a group of friends for some drinks and we went over the road to their local pub to watch Two-up in action. None of us were feeling too flush to gamble away much money. When I left, Matt was $5 down, Nicky $5 up and I sadly left $5 down but decided to cut my losses before I gambled away all our money! Two-up (or should that be five-down) is a very simple game of heads and tails, played by as many people as want to participate. You place a bet by waving your money in the air and yelling whether you want heads or tails and hope someone will match you to bet the opposite.

Then the coin tossing begins. A lot of pressure on the spinner, as they’re known.

Everyone watches for how the coins land and once both land with the same side down, the winning better keeps the money so you end up double or nothing. There are always some happy punters with people sometimes winning hundreds of dollars.

This is definitely the rowdier side of Anzac Day for people getting steadily more drunk and willing to gamble increasing amounts of money. The other thing to note is that technically it is the only day of the year you can legally play the game . Glad I made the most of that one opportunity for the year.

On the subject of Anzac and therefore all things military, I thought, for those of you haven’t heard from James recently, a little update might be appreciated. Currently, they are alongside in Auckland and he is enjoying a slightly more relaxed pace after a very hectic few weeks in the run up to Easter. He was conscious of having to make a good impression and prove himself during this first job at sea and he has certainly worked hard to do that, particularly as he was largely responsible for a big anti-submarine warfare exercise off Western Australia. After weeks of planning, meetings and presentations, the exercise was a huge success and James in particular was singled out for playing a significant role in what was achieved. He said it was a big learning curve for him but a very rewarding experience. It seems he has impressed the bigwigs and managed to establish himself not ‘just another Pom joining the RAN for some sun.’

The other issues, for both of us, have been not knowing what comes next. For a few months now we’ve not known whether James was going to have to do another course after this trip, be sent back to sea and if so, to which ship or whether he’d be staying put or given a shore job. In between these options were several others as well, with other jobs and ships presenting themselves as possibilities. It can be stressful for both of us as you’re never sure whether you’ll be spending time together or whether you have to prepare yourself for months apart again. There was a lot of email to-ing and fro-ing, discussing what was going to be best career-wise, best from a home point of view and for us as a couple. There was also the other (but no less significant) issue of James’ broken knee cap and when that would get fixed! There was the concern that trying to get time off for a knee operation and be unseaworthy so soon after joining the RAN, would not go down well and maybe hinder him and his ambitions to be selected for command of a ship. But it seems James has impressed enough on this last job not to need to do a successive job at sea and finally, we know he has been given a shore posting at Watson, just up the road, which is fantastic news. It gives us both some stability and knowledge that he won’t be disappearing for six months to the Gulf.

Finally, on the subject of the sea, Sydney endured nearly 72 hours of continuous rain last week. When it rains here, it doesn’t do it by halves. Torrential downpours for nearly three days and nights and when it stops, the sun comes out as if nothing ever happened and it’s 25 degrees again. The storm meant the sea was pretty big over the weekend and walking along the coast, south from Bondi, there were some huge waves crashing on to the rocks.

They may be good for surfing – but not so much for Naval officers bobbing about on the ocean in pretty stormy conditions. Fortunately James doesn’t get sea sick but I think he was grateful for some time on dry land in New Zealand. Anzac celebrations were a certainly a good welcome ashore.

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