Honouring Anzac heroes: What Anzac Day means to veterans

Remembrance: Vietnam veteran and Goolwa RSL Secretary, Arthur Bell beside the Goolwa War Memorial.
Remembrance: Vietnam veteran and Goolwa RSL Secretary, Arthur Bell beside the Goolwa War Memorial.

Arthur Bell, born 1946, is Secretary of the Goolwa RSL, Registrar of the Currency Creek RSL Cemetery, and a Vietnam War veteran.

He has lived in Goolwa with his wife for 11 years, and before that resided in Sydney. At age 20, Arthur was conscripted to the National Service for two years, and spent one year serving in Nuidat, Vietnam.

"Service in Vietnam was 99 percent boredom and one percent sheer terror," Arthur said. "The only problem was you didn't know when it was going to happen, you were living on adrenaline all the time. Then to come straight back, and switch off... it's taken a long time".

With Anzac Day just one week away, veterans, along with family and friends, are able to take a moment to reflect on what it all means to them.

"Anzac Day is a time where like-minded veterans get together to talk about the past, but also to plan for the future," Arthur said.

"It's an opportunity to commemorate the ones who served and didn't come back and those ones who came back but were damaged in some way.

"That's probably the real focus, the welfare and caring for veterans and of course their families."

Arthur said that local support for Anzac Day has gained significant momentum in recent years.

"I've seen the Anzac Day here go from an attendance of about 200 to over 2000 over the last 10 years, it just continues to grow."

Arthur believes this show of support is largely due to younger generations learning about Anzac Day sooner in schools.

"They're teaching it a lot earlier. A lot of the RSLs - us included - go to the various schools and talk about not only our experiences, but the history of the Australian Military and where it fits into the overall scheme of things.

"We try to highlight the fact that we've still got Australian troops serving all over the world, 18,19, 20-year-old girls and boys. They're quite often forgotten because they don't get the same attention in the news."

The Goolwa RSL gets local schools involved in both Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services, and the children are "always excited" to be a part of the day.

"The main message we try to get across is probably to respect the sacrifice that past and current generations have given to this country," said Arthur.

"What they're enjoying about the country today, was paid for by the sacrifices of such people. You know, we are so fortunate that we live in Australia.

"That sacrifice might be that they died, or they came back with a disability, or they came back without a disability... but they still had to make that sacrifice."

For veterans, Anzac Day comes with a myriad of emotions and can almost be bittersweet. Although the day carries much sadness, there is a special "camaraderie and bond" among veterans which Arthur said is "extremely difficult to explain."

"I certainly feel pride on Anzac Day, the dawn service is a very moving time because during the service, there's the one-minute silence in which we reflect on those that haven't come back or have passed on since."

After the dawn service, Arthur will conduct an RSL Anzac service at his retirement village for those who were unable to attend. Arthur said the RSL is based on the pillars of friendship, welfare, and a sense of community.

"We're all looking after each other, whether or not you served in Vietnam or the Second World War or the Korean War, or Malaya or whatever it is. If you've served in the Australian Defence Force, we feel we have an obligation to look after each other."

The Goolwa Anzac Day service will be at the Garden of Remembrance at 6 am.