The Importance of Anzac Day
Anzac Day is the most solemn day on our nation’s calendar, and will be commemorated on Saturday April 25, although in a scaled-back way this year due to the coronavirus. While it officially marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War, it has come to be a day of remembrance and reflection recognising all veterans in all conflicts.
Federal Member for Herbert Phillip Thompson served with the Army in East Timor and Afghanistan and reflects on what Anzac Day means to him.
“The sacrifice these brave men and women have made is the ultimate sacrifice, and we owe our freedom to their service.”
How did you come to join the Army?
I enlisted in the Army at the age of 17. At the time I was working as a concreter which I’d done since I dropped out of school. I’d known for a while I wanted to join, but I had to wait until I was old enough. But it was what I wanted – to serve the nation in that way. So I put myself through night school and was accepted into the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.
Where were you deployed?
My first deployment was to East Timor on a peacekeeping mission in 2007. It was pretty special to be part of helping a country which was going through a rough patch and in a period of rebuild. Then in 2009 I got the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the Army’s efforts to train local forces to fight the Taliban.
What happened in Afghanistan?
It’s safe to say the deployment changed my life forever. In July, a mate of mine lost his life when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated. Another lost his leg in the same blast. After that it all started to feel very real, but there was no choice but to pick ourselves up and get on with the job we had been sent to do. Just a few months later in October I was on a dismounted patrol when an IED exploded within one metre of me. As a result, I lost hearing in one ear and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
How did you cope with those challenges?
In the months after the explosion I went to a pretty dark place as I tried to comprehend my injuries, and the loss of my mates. I suffered PTSD and depression. But my now wife Jenna helped me to find meaningful engagement, and ultimately employment and got me on the road to recovery.
Why is Anzac Day so important to you now?
My story is just one story, and it pains me to say there are so many more stories like it. Other Aussies, who over the decades, have left on deployments and never returned. Families who never got to see the return of their loved one. Veterans who’ve died by suicide. These are the stories that we take time out to remember on the 25th of April. The people whose lives we honour, so that their memories don’t fade. The sacrifice these brave men and women have made is the ultimate sacrifice, and we owe our freedom to their service.