At the ripe old age of 18, my 'Poppy Nic' enlisted in the ADF on 11 November 1943, to serve as part of the 47th Australian Infantry Battalion in Bougainville - WW2. Despite discharging from service in November 1946 and being in his early 90s, we began writing letters to one another when I enlisted in the ADF – addressing him now as 'CPL Nicoll', of course.
My service provided me with a previously inaccessible empathy for a formative chapter of his life that remained essentially caged and unshared for many decades. To this day, though more knowledgeable of his experience, I still lack an understanding of what he endured. It is impossible to appreciate the position of a 19-year-old preparing to wade across crocodile-infested waters in PNG to attack Japanese troops by etching their name into a cross, concerned not with their survival but their remembrance. It is also impossible to appreciate the subsequent relief of hearing a plane fly overhead dropping letters scribed with 'the war is over'. But these stories are my 'Poppy Nic's'. I keep our letters in a hand-crafted wooden box created by my maternal grandfather - a precious keepsake of his inner thoughts. Reflecting on his service stories, it's Poppy Nic, whom I think of most on Remembrance and ANZAC Day, and I hope he looks back down with a smile. I will be forever grateful that my service brought my grandfather and me closer.
When speaking to WO PME, who has served for 30 years, I consider myself, at times, still quite naive when it comes to appreciating the complexity and realities of service. Still, it has become my firm belief that despite our differing experiences, reflection is the keystone for our sense of meaning in service.
Occasions such as Remembrance Day often prompt us to be more considered in appreciating veterans who have served or are serving and everyone who supports them. Gratefully, I was recently given the gift of reflection for yet another time this year.
In February 2021, I shared the story of Flight Sergeant Gordon Maxwell Crouch during the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. Gordon's story is one of more than 102,000 who paid the ultimate sacrifice during service throughout war and operations, for our freedoms and in the hope of a better world. Despite Gordon being someone I have never met, from a town I have never been to, of an era I will never know, I had little idea of how profound an impact the experience would have on me.
A pre-ceremony memorial tour with the WO PME passed stories of our servicemen and women. The time anchored the experience in the humanity of service and gave rise to the occasion's significance. Most striking were the often youthful faces of fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Flight Sergeant Gordon Maxwell Crouch was just that – a beloved brother and son answering his country's call in 1941 at only 18. Just over a month before his 21st birthday, his plane spun vertically into the ground and placed him among those who would never return to their families. It was a true honour to recite Gordon's story and ensure it lives on for others to hear. Still, though I did my best to recount the events of Gordan's service, I've come to learn that the words that create the most significant connections to their lives come from those who served beside them;
"No one knows through the passing years, how oft will fall the silent tears
Longing for a pal; loyal, true and fine, knowing his equal I will never find
But deep in my heart a beautiful memory is kept, of a pal whom I know I will never forget."
Written by one of Gordon's closest friends
The Australian War Memorial is a place for family and friends to mourn loved ones lost in faraway places and for all Australians to appreciate what men and women have endured for our nation.
I am proud to wear the Army uniform and serve a values-based organisation with a clear vision and purpose. I consider myself lucky that the organisation took a chance on me ten years ago when they commissioned me as an Education Officer.
Reciting Flight Sergeant Crouch's memory, followed by the ode, and then staring down the Pool of Reflection while listening to the Last Post echo through our history in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is an intense emotional experience I'll hold onto forever. I encourage all servicemen and women to seek involvement in the Last Post Ceremony at the War Memorial or tune in at 4:45 pm to view the live streamed event. In approaching this year's Remembrance Day, it is now the memory of my grandfather, Poppy Nic, and Flight Sergeant Crouch, whom I shall remember.
It's my greatest hope that I'd have made them and their families most proud when conducting the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.
His country called – He answered.