An enormous body of men would appear from Belmore Rd and turn into our view and traverse bodily down Josephine St. to the Club. For a small boy, one had to tolerate the barking of orders of Mr. Nagle (dad said he still thought he was a still a Warrant Officer) and the Shakespearian rantings of a preacher. The best part, and still is, the melodic, memory inducing sounds of the Last Post. This is always special, and I still see these childhood scenes every 25th April.
The best part for a small boy was the free, yep, I said free, raspberry cordial and as much cake as you liked – the coveted prize of Anzac Day. It was worth the inconvenience of wearing shoes and not playing in the creek till lunch time.
My Dad never marched and only received his medals when I was about 10. In his mind, wearing the Return from Active Service Badge was all you needed. But he was surreptitiously pleased when his eldest sister applied for them on his behalf – a common occurrence as the Commonwealth put newspaper advertisements seeking to distribute unclaimed medals. Only once did I ever go to the Sydney March with dad, and then only from the side lines. Years later he told me the real reason – to watch and listen to the massed pipes and drums that would assembly and play after the march proper.
There was no build-up of family traditions but rather my tradition of playing music in the marches. The origins lay in a drum and bugle band at school as part of the school cadets. We would practise nearly every lunch time (wasn’t allowed to practise at home) and our repertoire expanded. I still have one tune, M.B.F. as “ear – music” but to this day don’t know what the acronym stands for. May be Military Bugle Fanfare? I digress.
We played in the Sydney marches, probably for four years, and always way down towards the end. These thoughts about our musical status and relevance never occupied our schoolboy minds. We were just tickled pink for the honour of participating. In the early 1960’s there were still legions of WW I men and even a few Boer War veterans, usually in jeeps riding up front. I can still hear the rhythmic uniformed clink of their medals, a mezza forte sound when the bands weren’t playing.
I learned to play the Bb Bass, the biggest of the brass instruments. When I joined the Victoria Police Force in 1970 I was accepted into the Police Brass Band, the unofficial band for the State of Victoria. You guessed it, I started playing in ANZAC days once again. There were incredibly long marches, starting from the top end of Swanson St. to the Shrine of Remembrance.
The 1971 march stands out. Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, with conscription and the expanding vocal public opposition, manifested itself with the painting of PEACE on the pillars of the Shrine of Remembrance during the early hours of this ANZAC Day. Seeing the huge white letters, each on the five pillars filled me with an uneasiness that I could not immediately explain. As the 100 or so police marching behind the band came to the official dais, Gough Whitlam, then leader of the opposition, gave a supercilious smirk to an off sider. It unsettled me because “the police” were cast as the enemy to conscription, when I, approaching 20 was against it. It was the first time, and certainly not the last, I realised coppers were cast as villains, far removed from the ideal of dedication to keeping the public safe. I eventually got over this.
Transferring to Wodonga in 1973 I joined Wodonga Citizens band. I remain a member to this day, but have been on the inactive list for the last 5 years. I’ve played in every Wodonga Anzac Day march from 1973 to 2018. This includes doubling up with the Albury march later on, splitting the band and playing at Yackandandah, Tangambalanga, Wodonga or Bright and Wodonga. My tradition is playing in 47 consecutive Anzac marches and tipping over 50 with the school band.