This last Wednesday, I spent much of my day doing Anzac Day activities. No sleeping in for me! I didn’t get to a dawn service, but did go to the Torrens Parade Grounds at 9:30 for the march. This was only my second time at the march and my first time standing next to the dignitaries’ platform. That meant that I got to spend much of the two hours watching them. If you haven’t been situated here, I’ll tell you a bit about it: high-ranking representatives of the Army, Air Force and Navy were standing at attention on the platform as the veterans and their family members walked by. The governor Hieu Van Le and Adelaide lord mayor Martin Haesse stood as well. Marchers are required to face the platform, and I really enjoyed hearing even some elderly veterans bellowing at the top of their lungs, “15th Air Squadron…Eyes…Right!” There are so few World War II veterans left, and even fewer still able to walk the parade route by themselves. But for sure, those who can, do. I imagine these gentlemen, all well into their 90s, waiting each year for the opportunity put on their best suits, pin on their medals, and walk as erectly as possible down North Terrace and King William Street. I was very moved watching them march, but was also moved watching the governor watching them. I saw him wipe away tears numerous times during the morning as these elderly men passed by, but also as several dozen South Vietnamese veterans marched proudly in formation, smiling broadly at our governor. What a privilege to have this experience!
In the afternoon, I headed over to the Dunstan Playhouse for quite a different Anzac Day activity. Country Arts SA was staging a read-through of a new play Mewei 3027 by Glenn Shea. The theatre was pretty well packed out despite very little publicity other than an article in InDaily, which is how I found out about it. The play tells the story of a true but unlikely friendship between Roland Carter, a World War I digger from Ngarrindjeri country, and Leonhard Adam, a young German Jewish ethnologist. Carter was wounded in the shoulder and taken prisoner by the Germans early in 1918. Adam, who had been permitted to meet with soldiers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, began to interview Carter and learned a great deal about his language, his people, and his country on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. Over the months they spent together, they became friends. The play’s name comes from the Ngarrindjeri word for “soul” along with Carter’s prisoner number 3027.
When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, Leonhard Adam was stripped of his registrations and eventually fled to the UK in 1938. Labeled an enemy alien, he was shipped to Australia on the notorious Dunera in 1940. He lived out the remainder of his life in Australia, where he taught anthropology at the University of Melbourne. For his part, Roland Carter returned after the war to his home community of Raukkan, where he opened a movie house and dance hall. His daughter and other family members continue to live there, and the first read-through of the play took place in Raukkan a few days before the reading in Adelaide. Sadly, the two men never met again, although a beautiful letter of friendship from Carter to Adam was preserved and read out at the end of the play.
The day was a sobering reminder of the costs of war. I wondered at the stories locked inside the many thousands of veterans I saw march on Wednesday. How many watched friends die? How many displayed heroism in the face of absolute terror? How many shared their stories with their loved ones? How many have never spoken of what they witnessed? And also, How many formed unlikely friendships with people that they would never have met under other circumstances? But at what cost?
Early Friday afternoon, I spent an hour with 94-year-old Kitty Anderson. She showed me a photo of her first boyfriend John Asher. There they were as seven-year-olds on Kangaroo Island, arm-in-arm. Asher enlisted in the Australian navy and was one of only 21 soldiers killed during the Japanese submarine attack on Sydney Harbor in 1942. That photo of the two of them as children is the only picture Kitty has of him. Seventy-six years later, the loss still stings.
This week as we remember the many wars and conflicts that Australia has been a part of in the last one hundred years, we continue to pray for a time of peace—of shalom. I have often noted that the Hashkivenu prayer which calls on God to protect us with a sukkah of peace is impractical—a sukkah is the last place you’d want to be during an air raid. Shalom is more than simply the absence of war. We imagine a peace so great, so all-encompassing, that war is no longer conceivable. We are far from the vision. Let us continue to work for it. Shabbat shalom!