The still before the storm

April 20, 2015 at 1:11 pm

This week is a special, if bittersweet week for me, as I reflect on an event that took place 100 years ago.

My great uncle, Joseph Charles Howes, was killed in action during World War I. In fact, he holds the dubious honour of losing his life on a day revered here in Australia – the first ever ANZAC Day.

ANZAC Day is celebrated throughout Australia and New Zealand on the 25th April every year, in memory of the day the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey for their first battle in World War I. Many soldiers were lost in this disastrous campaign and many young Australian and New Zealander (and Turkish) men are buried there. My great uncle is one of them. There is no grave to mark his resting place; even this was lost in the chaos of that first day of fighting.

Recently, I ‘liked’ a Facebook page put up by the AIF’s 9th battalion, in which my great uncle served. Over the last few months they have been featuring the diary entries of a young soldier on the corresponding date they occurred 100 years ago. It’s interesting to watch the build-up as the boys prepare to go into battle. For example, today’s entry was: ‘20.4.15 Wet day, exercising horses morning and afternoon. Sailors off battleship came aboard to attend to small boats of “Malda”.’ On the 17th he wrote: ‘17.4.15 A nice warm day, training with the company all day. Went on board a battleship at night practicing disembarkation at night. Had to report to Maj Brand for duty at 6 o’clock. Counted 2000 pounds cash which had to be checked. Cold much better. Had a swim in the afternoon.’

It all sounds so calm, like the still before the storm, as they trained and waited for the day when they were go into battle. How many of them had any real inkling of what they were about to face, I wonder? Did my great uncle have any idea that he only had days to live?

It’s sad to think that so many fine young men were about to perish in a war that seems so futile, leaving so many families bereft.

Lest we forget.