ANZAC Day is a time where we reflect on the many different meanings of war. We asked return serviceman, Graham Cornes, for his insight, which you can read below. We are so thankful for his recollections and acknowledge that remembering them must be difficult. The team from Cornes and Sloane would like to take this opportunity to recognise all past and present servicemen and women. We give thanks to all those men and women who have put their lives at risk and in many cases paid the ultimate price. We also acknowledge the losses and sacrifices of their families. We recognise that because of you, we have freedom, and for that we appreciate the simple word ‘thank you’ will never be enough. Lest we forget.
“How do wars start Pop?” A reasonable question from a nine year old, but how do you answer it? Ultimately war is about power; but not always. Sometimes war is inevitable and justified. Often it is not – just a futile abuse of power and ego. In the movie Troy, ironically about a war started by the jealous rage of a lover jilted by the infidelity of the beautiful but treacherous Helen, there is one simple line that best describes war: ”War: where old men talk and young men die”.
It’s been over one hundred years since World War I started and still it’s impossible to explain how the assassination of an Austrian prince by Serbian terrorists led to the conflagration that was the “war to end all wars.” Of course it wasn’t. Word War II is a little easier to explain. A megalomaniac (Adolf Hitler) channels the patriotic fervor of a nation still recovering from the humiliation of WW I defeat, deludes them with the myth of Aryan supremacy and drives them to ultimate destruction. 60 million people died in the process. They were the big wars but there are always little ones raging somewhere on the planet. A “little war”, however always causes somebody’s devastation, displacement and death. How does a nine year old or his seven year old brother comprehend this? They want only to know what you did in the war and “did you kill anyone?”
Eddy’s, Raph’s and Sonny’s great, great grandfather, Alfred Cornes, was wounded at Gallipoli. We proudly now remember him as an original ANZAC. He was buried when a Turkish artillery shell exploded beside him, and received shrapnel wounds to his face, neck and upper torso. He carried pieces of shrapnel to his grave 51 years later. He was a stern, severe man (my father never forgave him for the brutality he suffered at his hands), but we knew little of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in those days. I was 18 when he died but to my eternal regret, I never had the courage or the inclination to ask him about his war, or why he was even in Turkey in 1915.
Two years after my grandfather died, I was drafted into the army and sent to fight another one of Australia’s foreign wars. Perhaps I should have been scared but the over-riding emotion was one of excitement and adventure. The fear would come later. I was in my first full season of league football with Glenelg when my birthday was pulled out of a barrel and the next three-monthly quota of gullible 20 year olds was funneled into the war machine. Try explaining why young Australian men were being sent to fight a war in a place called Vietnam.
Someone once told me that a man is somewhere between 26 and 28 before his brain can connect actions with consequences. I can’t verify the science but it explains why we did such stupid things when were young. The excitement and the adventure evaporate when the reality sets in. For the reality of an infantry soldier’s war is filth, hunger, thirst, physical discomfort, exhaustion, boredom, stupidity, fear, and brief flashes of exhilaration. Then tragedy. The first soldier in our battalion to die in Vietnam succumbed to heat exhaustion on the first night of our first operation. Another was leaning against an armored personnel carrier when it was struck by lightning. Another was killed by “friendly fire”. The majority of Australian mine casualties in Vietnam were inflicted by our own mines that had been dug up by the enemy and planted where we were most likely to step on them. Try explaining that.
But the paradox of war is that it exposes the best and the worst of humanity. You make great mates who will be friends for life, but you meet some whose degenerate behavior disgusts you. We try, however, to only remember the best of times.
We commemorate ANZAC Day on the 25th April every year. It’s not a day of celebration, more a day of remembrance. It should be solemn, even sad, but it should also be a time to remember the good times you had as a soldier. When old soldiers get together they do laugh at old stories and old jokes. But they also take a moment to remember those who are no longer with us.
When the grandsons are ready, I will sit down and try to explain how wars start and what I did in Vietnam. However the one thing I hope I can explain fully is the absolute futility of war.