LEST WE FORGET: Wyong RSL sub-branch president Alan Stanford at the club's memorial on a previous Anzac Day.
LEST WE FORGET: Wyong RSL sub-branch president Alan Stanford at the club's memorial on a previous Anzac Day. Picasa

Embrace, remember and reflect this Anzac Day

ANZAC Day is "part of Australia's heritage and tradition which we should all embrace", stopping to remember and reflect, even if only for a few minutes, what has been sacrificed for us.

It's an emotional day for Wyong RSL sub-branch president Alan Stanford, and one he believes should unite the country not in celebration but in commemoration.

He has been buoyed by the strong turnout of up to 600 at each of the sub-branch's dawn and morning services over the past four years, marking the centenary of the First World War.

He hopes that with the anniversary over, those crowds and that recognition will not diminish.

"Having done infantry service, I know how tough it was for us, but it was a hell of a lot tougher during the First World War," the Vietnam veteran and long-serving soldier said.

More than 60,000 Australians alone died during what was meant to be "the war to end all wars".

Alan said it was "a daunting loss of life" but also marked "where Australia first really stood up as a country".

Sadly, ongoing conflict means Anzac Day now commemorates not just that first military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces in Gallipoli and throughout the World War I, but all Australians who have fought and died in wars or peacekeeping operations since.

Alan joined the army in 1961 and served in Vietnam from 1967-68, including coming under heavy fire during the ferocious Tet Offensive in Saigon, generally accepted as a turning point in the war.

"People who've never experienced service don't understand just what it can be like," Alan said, referring both to combat and training.

And that's quite separate from the added day-to-day pressures of regular deployment changes for you and possibly your family, with Alan experiencing 14 moves over 21 years of service.

He acknowledged that, like many, he didn't like to talk about his combat experiences.

"What we've seen for a lot of us has been horrific; particularly in the army, what you saw on the ground ...," he said.

"Some sights stay with you forever."

Alan joined the RSL at Clovelly, in Sydney's east, in 1963 and said that over the years, including his move to the Coast in 1999, it had given him comradeship, and a real sense of purpose.

That includes mateship, caring for fellow ex-servicemen and women from all branches of the defence force, as well as helping those still serving, including sending care packages overseas.

"I know when we were in Vietnam we were always getting letters and parcels that we would divvy up among us, and it makes you feel you are there for a reason, less alienated for want of a better word," he said.

With Wyong sub-branch members now aged in their late 60s-70s on average, about six people passing away each year and others increasingly unable to make meetings due to health and medical issues, Alan said the sub-branch would welcome membership of new service people.

However, he said, there seemed to be a reluctance among those who served in contemporary conflicts such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan to join the traditional RSL movement, preferring to create separate chapters.

It's something the 80-year-old hopes will change, having seen the benefits of sharing stories and experiences first-hand, and understanding that there is an indelible connection between those who have served, regardless of age or conflict.

Wyong RSL sub-branch will assemble for the dawn service at 5.30am on Thursday, April 25 at the Club Wyong memorial, before the morning service at 9am at the cenotaph in Wyong Town Park, followed by the march.

To find out more go to wyongrslsubbranch.com.au.

Central Coast Council is supporting events across the region, including Davistown RSL, Doyalson RSL.

Empire Bay Cenotaph, Gosford Memorial Park and Cenotaph, Ourimbah Public School, Terrigal Beach and War Memorial, The Entrance Memorial Park and Cenotaph, Toukley RSL, Woy Woy Memorial Park and Wyong.

For details go to centralcoast.nsw.gov.au and search Anzac Day services and road closures.

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