One man's emotional Anzac Day journey to say thank you

Ahead of Anzac Day 2018, Joe Flick has travelled more than 15,000km from Australia to pay his respects.

In a cemetery in northern France, away from the crowds and tourists that descend on the Somme every Anzac Day, Joe Flick is performing a very personal ceremony.

He hits together a pair of clapsticks – a traditional Aboriginal instrument – once for every year of a young soldier’s life.

He hits them 34 times, then moves on to the next headstone.

Each strike echoes around the quiet fields nearby.

Joe Flick at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, France.
Source: SBS News

Mr Flick is in the town of Villers-Bretonneux to pay his respects to the Indigenous diggers who served in World War One (1914-1918). About 1,000 are thought to have enlisted.

“It’s quite an emotional journey, a lot of the families will never get over here to see their mob,” Mr Flick tells SBS News.

“They fought for our country. It’s very special when someone takes the opportunity, on behalf of the family, to say thanks.”

Mr Flick’s grandfather Mick was one of those who served here. He survived and returned to Australia. But while he was treated as an equal on the battlefield, he faced a familiar fight when he got back home.

“When Mick got home, like a lot of other Aboriginal soldiers, they weren’t allowed to go into ballots for land grants, they were discriminated against, they had to drink in separate parts of the bar,” he says.

Mr Flick’s journey here is one made by many Australians hoping to re-trace the steps of relatives who fought on the Western Front.

Victorian couple Ian and Margaret Anderson also had grandfathers who served.

Mr Anderson’s grandfather James Percy Anderson was a shearer from Longreach in Queensland who had to falsify his age to enlist. He was 39 years old when he was sent abroad.

“You wonder how ordinary people could come to this place and do what they did,” he says.

Ms Anderson’s grandfather Charles Stuart Davidson was injured in battle. It was during his hospital stay that he met his future wife.

The couple spoke with SBS News as they toured the new Sir John Monash Centre, a $100 million museum complex funded by the Australian government and built behind the Australian War Memorial in Villiers-Bretonneaux.

“It’s not about glorifying war,” Ms Anderson says. “It’s about telling it how it was. I get choked up even thinking about it and being in this beautiful part of the world, it’s hard to imagine what it was like. This centre is bringing it very much to life.”

A crowd of more than 8,500 people is expected for this year’s Anzac Day dawn service on 25 April, a record in modern times.

“It’s a huge event, but it’s also important that it’s a sombre event, and reflects the spirit of the occasion,” Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester said.

“The centenary of Anzac is something very dear to Australian people, we recognise the service and sacrifice of those who fought here during World War One, but also our current serving personnel and our younger veterans who walk amongst us today.”

Published 24 April 2018 at 11:42am, updated 24 April 2018 at 2:56pm
By Ben Lewis