Richmond veterans ready for Anzac Day

IM
Updated April 22 2022 - 8:34am, first published April 19 2022 - 5:00am
Richmond RSL president Gareth Ward and Lt Col Paul Middleton at the war memorial in Barkly Gardens. PHOTO Morgan Hancock
Richmond RSL president Gareth Ward and Lt Col Paul Middleton at the war memorial in Barkly Gardens. PHOTO Morgan Hancock

For Richmond RSL members Gareth Ward and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Middleton, Anzac Day this year has a special significance.

It marks the first full Anzac Day commemoration in two years in Victoria because of Covid restrictions, but falls at a time when peace in Europe is under threat and national security concerns have been heightened by China's efforts to gain strategic control and influence in the region.

On a day when the fallen are remembered, these concerns remain front of consciousness as they gave their lives to forge an enduing peace.

Lt Col Middleton says most Australian realise the day is not about the glorification of war, but the commemoration of service.

"In the Melbourne march, you have representation from all sorts of countries including those that fought as part of the Axis Powers in World War II, such as Japan. "It is wonderful to see that we can set aside who fought for what at that time and recognise that Anzac Day is actually about service and that we have moved on from the conflict," he said.

If we ignore the hyperbole, the conditions in Europe are somewhat similar to just before World War I, with a complex set of treaties and multiple nations obliged to support one another.

- Gareth Ward

Lt Col Middleton is a former commando with a Bachelor of Economics he attained at Melbourne University while also completing his military skills qualification courses.

Ward is president of Richmond RSL and held a number of operational command positions, with deployments in Malaysia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomons.

When talking to Ward and Middleton you are reminded that there are many other contributions made by defence personnel outside of active service.

Middleton was part of the COVID-Assist program last year while Ward was the army search commander assigned to assist in the disastrous Victorian bushfires of 2009, in which 173 people lost their lives.

"It was a very confronting operation," Ward said. "The experience made a significant impression on me and I still have a concern for the young soldiers who made up the search teams because of the psychological impact.

"I can still picture the carnage as if it was yesterday. it reminded me of the effects of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Ward says many sacrificed for us to have the lifestyle we do today. "I think what is happening in Europe at the moment is a wake-up call and a reminder that peace is a very fragile exercise." he says.

"If we ignore the hyperbole, the conditions in Europe are somewhat similar to just before World War I, with a complex set of treaties and multiple nations obliged to support one another.

"Everyone understands history and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand but the conditions for conflict were set well before that with the international relationships, treaties and tensions that were growing."

There are a different set of treaties today, but no less fraught with the differing positions around NATO that have heightened tensions with Russia. "It is a timely reminder that we should not let that happen again in the current context," he said.

Australians have been involved in conflicts and peace-keeping missions over the last 20 years, ranging from the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific islands. As a result, there are now more veterans in Australian society than at the end of the Vietnam war.

"With that greater understanding, friends and family want to recognise their service and a day such as Anzac Day provides that opportunity and is a focal point," Middleton says.

IM

Ian Moore

Editor

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