Anne – Anzac Day 2011, an unknown great uncle, World War One and the fragility of peace

John Archibald Duncan McColl
Born in 1896
Declared missing in action in 1916
Declared dead in 1917.

Elder brother to James Lewis McColl (Born 1903).

P06499.001

Anzac day reminds me to be thankful for peace….. to be very, very thankful of the peace that surrounds me here in Australia.

Albeit this week not all in Australia are fortunate enough to share in the peacefulness that most of us in this country enjoy – for example, the detainees at the Villawood detention centre in Sydney where buildings have been set ablaze this week – see http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/villawood-detention-centre-ablaze/story-fn3dxity-1226042523132.

The only thing I can think of when I hear of things like that is that the detainees must be feeling very desperate indeed and I wonder if we’re truly balancing the need to be compassionate to those fleeing unimaginable horror with the needs of those presently here in this country.

I wonder what those men (& women) who fought in World War One and World War Two and indeed a great many other wars, thought they were fighting for.

Did they go to fight in the hope that they would keep “us”, their families and descendants, safe and free …. and able to live in peace?

In the case of World War One did they go to help the British fight in the belief that if it was ever needed the British would come and help us?

Did they go to fight in the hope that if Australia was invaded then those that they helped to keep free would open their borders to their families?  In World War Two did our soldiers imagine or expect that if Australia was taken over and annexed to Japan, that the British would open up their borders, their country and let us in, give us new homes?

I wonder what they would think of the world as it is now?

The picture above (see http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/P06499.001) is of my grandfather’s older brother, John, who fought and died in World War 1.

He was 19 in 1915 when he sailed for France and he left behind his parents and his younger brother (my grandfather) James Lewis McColl, who was only 11/12 years old at the time.

Personally I can’t imagine the depth of courage it takes to do that – to volunteer to leave your life and your home to go and bear arms in a War that, for John McColl, must have seemed so far removed from his life in a country town in Victoria.

In 1915 I don’t imagine that there were very many people in Tatura who had “gone backpacking” to see the world.  There was no google like there is now – so that you could find a huge amount of detail on the place that you were going to.

I expect it would have been horribly hard for his family to see him leave – his parents perhaps knowing that their chance of ever seeing their son again was slight and his younger brother, I imagine at 11/12, not really comprehending that he might never see his brother again.

Did he really know and comprehend what he was signing up for?  And how did he cope when he arrived and witnessed first hand the fighting, when he had to take part in the fighting?  Did he realise that he would never go home – that he would never see his parents, brother, friends and homeland again?

In some ways every person who travels takes that step into the unknown – when you buy your first airplane ticket to go and see the world you don’t know what you’ll find when you get off the plane at the other end.

But you do know that you won’t be confronted by the sounds of war, gunfire, bombs ….. death and despair.

I can’t imagine the sadness and grief his parents felt when he was declared Missing in Action and when he never returned home, when they couldn’t hold a funeral for him because his remains were never returned to them, when his life was cut so short.

I wonder how much my grandfather missed him – not just then but for the rest of his life?

There are so many families who have similar stories to this – who have lost a family member in a War that was a long time ago or perhaps ongoing like Afghanistan where Australian troops currently serve.

I think we owe them our thanks and gratitude and love for having such courage, for making the life we have now possible.

I hope that, in respect of those who lose their lives fighting in Wars,  Presidents, Prime Ministers and people everywhere echo the thoughts of Mustafa below ….

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. 

There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. 

You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

– A tribute to the ANZAC’s who died in Gallipoli from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (First president of the Republic of Turkey) 


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