He would have attended more if my mother had allowed him. She had a fear that somehow he would be led astray by others in these organisations and he would start drinking, as had members of her own family when she was child. If my father came home from a RSL meeting more friendly than he normally was, she would be angry rather than pleased. If he was late home, she would panic and in time resort to near hysteria. It is fair to say that my father was a sober thoughtful man who only had proper reasons for joining these organisations, but my mother was eternally vigilant. She had no sympathy for him having a good time. She did not understand his desire to look after his fellow veterans – although that term did not eventuate until the Vietnam War. But he did have genuine concern for his fellow ex-servicemen.
My father might have attended the Anzac Day march on average every three years. Sometimes he went on his own. Mostly he insisted that the whole family went. This also caused trouble with my mother because she did not like leaving home and definitely did not like staying at someone else's house. My father always arranged for us to stay with ancient relatives who did not have children. He was well thought of by his relatives who more or less seemed to treat him as a war hero and made him welcome at any time.
My father joined up as soon as the UK declared war on Germany. He did his training at Caulfield Race course. He and my mother were married when he was in uniform when they were both 21. Shipped to Singapore early in the war, he enjoyed Singapore and always spoke well of it. He never left it. When the Japanese invaded it was all over in a week. He was a POW for three and a half years. He never left Changhi. He survived, came home and, because he had enforced savings, he had enough money for the deposit on a farm.
I don't know what prompted him to join up. Was it patriotism? Or more mundane reasons. He had never had a permanent job. He gave his occupation on his joining up papers as driver because he had once had a job driving a truck for the Council. This was the only real job he had ever had and this didn't last long. Mostly he was a rural farm worker working on seasonal labouring jobs. His father had died when he was 14 years old and in the scheme of things in those days he was farmed out to live with relatives. He never again lived with his mother until he was an adult with his own house.
But perhaps he did have some sense of patriotism. He had had relatives who had served in the First World War and he seemed very close to those who had survived.
On the day of the march my father would park my mother and us children near the end of the march – within sight of the Shrine. He would then go off to the assembly point which was near the CUB building at the end of Swanston Street. This was the highlight of his day. He would meet people he served with and they would march together. We would stand and watch the whole march. My father was always near the end. What happened during the March was sometimes interesting. Sometimes boring because there were a lot of people marching and they were not always interesting. Sometimes they wanted you to cheer and said so. I witnessed my first brawl in the crowd when one old person suddenly attacked a young person claiming they were insulting veterans. I saw an obviously drunk man going around telling people they should be clapping him – insisting on it. When my father came in sight my mother would get us to clap and my father would invite us children to join the march.
Suddenly we went from standing still to marching in format. We went from standing still to stretching our legs.
Because we were near the end of the March we didn't have far to go, but it was interesting seeing my father interact with other people in a way that he normally did not. There seemed to be a lot of banter and in jokes – none of which I understood. Some of the other men would take what seemed a great interest in me. They would pat me on the back and ask about my well being. Some would put their arm on my shoulder. They were all dressed in their best clothes. I remember one joke that caused a lot of laughter. Two of them were carrying a flag or banner of some size and when we arrived at the Shrine where the marchers did a U turn to disperse someone yelled out – "Don't lower the flag until you see the whites of their eyes".
For some reason this caused mirth. Maybe they were Air Force, but I don't think so.
My father's friends did not linger at the breakup point. They all shook hands with each other and wished each other well. There was no hugging. There were no speeches. Just goodbyes.
Suddenly we were back with my mother and on our way to the car. It had been a long day and suddenly everyone was tired.
We had a long drive home. My father did not like to be away from milking for more than one day.