Anzac Day, 2020: COVID-19's impact on the annual commemorations

This Anzac Day will be like no other due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This Anzac Day will be like no other due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This Anzac Day will be like no other due to the coronavirus pandemic. We spoke to veterans about their service with the Australian Defence Force and RSL NSW has shared its tips for how you can still take part in this iconic day.

THERE may be no large-scale commemorations allowed across Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange this Anzac Day, but the spirit will remain strong.

Each of the region's RSL sub-branches will commemorate the day without breaking public gathering rules imposed due to coronavirus.

Leading the charge will be Bathurst - sub-branch president David Mills said the group had pre-recorded a short dawn service and main service, which would be broadcast at 6am and 10.30am respectively on B-Rock FM and on 2MCE, Charles Sturt University's community radio channel, in Orange.

TURNING TO THE WAVES: Bathurst RSL sub-branch president David Mills says this year's commemorations are as much about health workers.

TURNING TO THE WAVES: Bathurst RSL sub-branch president David Mills says this year's commemorations are as much about health workers.

"We're commemorating the values of our Anzacs, which is most appropriate for our emergency workers at the moment," he said.

"They're in a war as well and they're doing remarkably well - they are the values that are really shining through."

Mr Mills said listeners would hear a number of familiar voices, from members of the sub-branch and B-Rock presenters to member for Bathurst Paul Toole and mayor Bobby Bourke.

"B-Rock got us into the studio one at a time," he said.

Dubbo RSL sub-branch president Tom Gray said the members had received permission from police to lay poppies at their cenotaph on Anzac Day, provided they adhered to social distancing.

"We would normally go to aged care facilities and schools and I was supposed to go to the juvenile justice centre, but we're not allowed," he said.

LAYING OUT THE POPPIES: Dubbo RSL sub-branch president Tom Gray hopes to lay out poppies on Saturday.

LAYING OUT THE POPPIES: Dubbo RSL sub-branch president Tom Gray hopes to lay out poppies on Saturday.

Both he and Orange RSL sub-branch senior vice-president Chris Colvin encouraged people to participate in the Light up the Dawn concept, which will involve people standing at the end of their driveways at 6am, lighting a candle and saying the ode.

"It's a way to acknowledge the fallen," Mr Colvin said.

"We're also asking the community if they have a flag at their house, to fly the flag at half mast until lunchtime."

He encouraged people to visit the cenotaph during the day if they passed by, but only if they could keep their distance from others.

"It was the hardest day of my life cancelling Anzac Day, but at least the Easter Bunny got around," he said.

Mr Colvin said he would visit the cenotaph to raise the flags for the day.

FLYING THE FLAG: Orange RSL sub-branch senior vice-president Chris Colvin has encouraged people to fly their flags at half mast.

FLYING THE FLAG: Orange RSL sub-branch senior vice-president Chris Colvin has encouraged people to fly their flags at half mast.

Mr Mills said it was important for people to check on their neighbours on Anzac Day.

RSL NSW has encouraged people to participate in the day by doing the following:

Record yourself reciting the ode or sharing a message of support for veterans, respond 'Going' to the Anzac Day 2020 Facebook event, then use the hashtag #ANZACSpirit and share how you will be commemorating privately, as well as who you will be remembering this Anzac Day.

Light up the Dawn - at 6am on Anzac Day, go to the end of your driveway or stand on your balcony and listen to a brief commemorative service. You can sign the pledge to light up the dawn at rslanzacspirit.com.au

Tune into live services and virtual commemorative services - the ABC will be broadcasting a 5.30am service from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The national broadcaster will also feature a 10am service from the Anzac Memorial in Sydney, which will also be streamed live.

Reach out to a mate who might be alone, invoking the Anzac value of mateship.

Donate to the Anzac Appeal online at anzacappeal.com.auto support Australian veterans and their families in need.

Vietnam conflict remains fresh

CARING FOR THE WOUNDED: Cheryl O'Brien served as a nurse with the Royal Australian Air Force at Vietnam. Photo: SAM BOLT

CARING FOR THE WOUNDED: Cheryl O'Brien served as a nurse with the Royal Australian Air Force at Vietnam. Photo: SAM BOLT

THE politics of the Vietnam conflict meant many returned soldiers were shunned, but Dubbo's Bert McLellan and Bathurst nurse Cheryl O'Brien do not count themselves among them.

Mr McLellan was called for national service in 1967 as a 19-year-old, when his November 5 birthday was drawn.

"It didn't really worry me, but my father didn't want me to do because he served in World War II - he was a prisoner of war by the Japanese and he worked on the Thai-Burma railway," he said.

For Ms O'Brien, her family background was similar - her father served in the air force during World War II and she had two brothers in the air force and the army.

"We more or less something we grew up with, being aware of service of country," she said.

But unlike Mr McLellan, she volunteered in the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service.

We more or less something we grew up with, being aware of service of country.

Bathurst nurse Cheryl O'Brien

Mr McLellan completed his training in Singleton, which included jungle training before he reached Vietnam in November, 1967, stationed at Nui Dat.

During that time, he was part of the January 1968 Tet Offensive and the Battle of Coral-Balmoral.

"That was a big battle for the Australians - we lost 26 men in three weeks," he said.

"All I wanted to do was do my job and come back home."

Mr McLellan said the thing he remembered most about Vietnam was the rain.

"It used to rain every day, about four o'clock, you could nearly count on it - it teemed down and you were soaking wet," he said.

But he said it was offset by the care packages sent by the women's auxiliary, which contained cakes and socks.

LUCKY TO SURVIVE: Bert McLellan fought in two of the largest battles of the Vietnam War.

LUCKY TO SURVIVE: Bert McLellan fought in two of the largest battles of the Vietnam War.

"The army socks were pure wool, they were really coarse," he said.

Miss O'Brien was stationed at Richmond and also served in Malaysia and Vung Tau in Vietnam where she performed medevac duties, returning soldiers home for medical care.

She said knowing how to care for a patient in the air was key and they never lost a patient.

"They could have lost a leg or an arm, they could be unconscious," she said.

With his father a member of the RSL in Caroona when Mr McLellan returned, he felt well supported and has been part of the RSL ever since, especially working with Legacy to support widows.

"I'll put my jacket on [on Saturday] and my medals and stand out the front and play the Last Post," he said.

Young veterans step up

NEXT GENERATION: Iraq veteran Peter Hardy usually takes an official role in Anzac commemorations.

NEXT GENERATION: Iraq veteran Peter Hardy usually takes an official role in Anzac commemorations.

ONGOING conflicts overseas are a reminder of how lucky Australians are, according to one of Orange's younger veterans.

Peter Hardy served in the Australian Army from 2003 until 2010, including a six-month tour of Iraq as a lance corporal in 2007 at the age of 22.

He trained as a diesel mechanic during his time overseas and participated in patrols in a supporting role, saying the experience of mateship was unlike anything he had encountered in civilian life.

"At the end of the day, we trained as soldiers first and your trade is your secondary role," he said.

Serving in the armed forces was always something Mr Hardy wanted to do but seeing living conditions in Iraq made him appreciate the things most took for granted, like doing the groceries.

"People say the war was to do with oil so you would think you could just go down to the servo, but because of the corruption there was a shortage," he said.

But there were also real dangers on patrol, particularly from improvised explosive devices.

The warnings came that they were coming in and you would bunker down, there were these concrete bunkers and you had to get under.

Peter Hardy, served in the Australian Army

Mr Hardy said he was fortunate not be caught up in an attack, but indirect rocket fire was also a danger at the base.

"The warnings came that they were coming in and you would bunker down, there were these concrete bunkers and you had to get under," he said.

An active participant during Orange's Anzac services, Mr Hardy said he would enjoy the day with his family and visit the cenotaph to lay a wreath.

"I think it's very important [to recognise the day] and the public are very accepting of the younger generations of veterans coming home," he said.

How you can participate this Anzac Day

RSL NSW has encouraged people to participate in the day by doing the following:

  1. Record yourself reciting the ode or sharing a message of support for veterans, respond 'Going' to the Anzac Day 2020 Facebook event, then use the hashtag #ANZACSpirit and share how you will be commemorating privately, as well as who you will be remembering this Anzac Day.
  2. Light up the Dawn - at 6am on Anzac Day, go to the end of your driveway or stand on your balcony and listen to a brief commemorative service. You can sign the pledge to light up the dawn at rslanzacspirit.com.au
  3. Tune into live services and virtual commemorative services - the ABC will be broadcasting a 5.30am service from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The national broadcaster will also feature a 10am service from the Anzac Memorial in Sydney, which will also be streamed live.
  4. Reach out to a mate who might be alone, invoking the Anzac value of mateship.
  5. Donate to the Anzac Appeal online at anzacappeal.com.au to support Australian veterans and their families in need.

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This story Stories of those who served and how you can take part this Anzac Day first appeared on Daily Liberal.