Visiting the War Memorial With a War Vet

3 Apr

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March 20, 2012

We were up and moving early on our third day in Canberra as we had plans to meet Uncle Jimmy at his house at 10am so that he could take us to the War Memorial. Having seen firsthand at his birthday party how formal Uncle Jimmy can be we asked Jamie the night before if we should dress up (we are backpacking and therefore have a limited supply of dress clothes, especially warm ones considering it was quite cool in Canberra). Jamie assured us jeans would be fine and so dressed warmly for the day we made our way to Uncle Jimmy’s.

Uncle Jimmy greeted us at the door in khakis, a dress shirt and tie. He proceeded to look us up and down and expressing disappointedly that he had intended on taking us for lunch at his Yacht Club but that we wouldn’t able to go through with that plan given our clothing. Yacht Club: 1, Kait and James: 0.

We got into Uncle Jimmy’s white Mercedes, me in the front and J.J. in the back, and began the short drive to Parliament House to the sounds of classical music. Looking out the front of the House of Parliament we could see a stretch of well-manicured landscaping followed by a roundabout, more well-manicured landscaping and directly across was the War Memorial. It gave very much the feeling of being in the nation’s capital. (Side note: the reason that Canberra, meaning ‘meeting place’, is Australia’s capital city is because of the indecision between Sydney and Melbourne. As such, Canberra is a very modern government city, complete with a man-made lake.)

Next, amidst the throngs of school children visiting on field trips, we walked upstairs to see the Magna Carta document which Uncle Jimmy had been instrumental in having moved from a non-descript locale to a well-travelled hallway within Parliament House. The Magna Carta, for those that don’t know, is a charter written on a large sheet of sheepskin parchment and contains major principles that are the basis for law. This document dates all the way back to 1215 and is worth something like $21M or $22M USD (not that Australia would ever be in the market to sell).

We then made our way out to the terrace where we saw the statue of Queen Elizabeth that had been unveiled in recent years with the Queen herself in attendance. Uncle Jimmy also told us that he’d stood in that exact spot some years earlier with my Papa and that Papa had had his photo taken with the statue. He then proceeded to request that J.J. (whom he full-on refers to as James) take a photo of he and I together standing with the Queen. (Note: all photos you see of Uncle Jimmy and I were taken by J.J. at Uncle Jimmy’s insistence.)

We took the elevator down to the car park and began making our way to the War Memorial, but not before driving through a walking path so that Uncle Jimmy could show us Magna Carta Place, an open-air circular structure found in a park. There was clear signage that read along the lines of “it is illegal for unauthorized vehicles to drive along this footpath”, a sign which Uncle Jimmy discounted saying that he was declaring himself an authorized vehicle and he could do so because he hadn’t yet been arrested for driving along the footpath. So I guess this wasn’t the first time he’d done so.

When we arrived at the War Memorial and were looking for parking, Uncle Jimmy drove right up to the front of the building that was clearly signed as being reserved for authorized personnel only. To give you an idea, he pulled up right next to a black SUV with tinted windows that had a driver waiting for a German diplomat. When we called it to his attention that we should probably turn around and park in the nearby car park there was the faint sound of grumbling mumbling before Uncle Jimmy made a 3-point turn and headed for the public parking lot.

We began our visit of the War Memorial with a walk around the grounds as Uncle Jimmy told us the stories behind each of the statues on our way up to the front steps of the Commemorative Area. From there we could look straight outside from where we’d just come from and see House of Parliament and 180 degrees in the other direction was the Pool of Reflection where lies the Eternal Flame. The outdoor walls on either side of the Eternal Flame is the Roll of Honour which is respectfully draped in poppies and lists the names of over 102,000 Australians that have died in war. Beyond the Pool of Reflection and up a few stairs were the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier who represents all who gave their lives in war. The quiet and beauty of this part of the War Memorial was chillingly beautiful and it choked me up to think that we were there experiencing all of this with a war vet. I’m sure Uncle Jimmy knew a handful of names found on the Roll of Honour.

We began our tour of the inside of the War Memorial with Aircraft Hall and Anzac Hall where we saw the “G for George” bomber that had miraculously survived the 1944 raid on Nuremberg in addition to some of the toughest missions flown by Bomber Command over Germany, France and Italy. It was there that we watched the sound and light show, Striking by night, which attempts to make you feel as though you’re experiencing a night operation over Berlin in December of 1943. Watching Uncle Jimmy take in the show was more chilling than the show itself – clearly I was still marvelling that he’d actually served in a real war.

We saw a number of other war vehicles such as the Japanese midget submarine, a Mosquito plane (made mostly of plywood and balsa wood if you can imagine) and many others before moving on to a new section. We only had a limited amount of time and the War Memorial is huge so we asked Uncle Jimmy for his recommendation on where we should finish up our tour. He steered us to the Vietnam War section as this section had personal significance to him. Walking through and seeing everything from planes to jeeps to guns used to the stage costumes worn by popular entertainers of the time that had traveled overseas to entertain the troops, alongside someone that had experienced the war first-hand was pretty overwhelming.

On that note, we made our way back to the car and set off for the Yacht Club where Uncle Jimmy said he thought we could maybe eat outside in spite of our jeans and thongs (flip flops). James and I grabbed a table while Uncle Jimmy went up the stairs and into the main dining room to check on the ruling and came out carrying 2 beers. I ran up the stairs to take the glasses from him and he let us know that there were to be no thongs anywhere at the club, inside or out, and that we should do what we could to hide our feet. This was difficult as they don’t serve you on the patio, instead you have to run up the stairs and walk clear through the dining room to the bar where you pick up your own food and bring it out to your table.

Though I’ve waitressed before I was never great at it and was definitely out of practice so I opted to carry out only 2 plates at a time and having to quickly make my way through the dining room to the bar, unnoticed, to pick up the third plate. Towards the end of the meal Uncle Jimmy said that his food was getting cold and made a joke about the bad service (ie my attempt at playing waitress).

Next up was the Red Hill Summit. Uncle Jimmy drove us up to the lookout where we got a beautiful 360-degree view of Canberra. We took a number of photos and Uncle Jimmy pointed out the hospital where his mother, my great-grandmother Nanny, had been admitted to when she fell ill. I’m not sure if it was the emotional toll of having walked down many a memory lane or if it was just the go-go-go of the day but I could tell that Uncle Jimmy was getting tired. We got back into his white Mercedes and drove the short drive back to his home where we’d left Jamie’s car earlier that morning.

We said our thank yous and our goodbyes and Uncle Jimmy mentioned that he may see us again for dinner at Aunt Anne’s (Jamie’s mum) after our road trip to Melbourne and along the Great Ocean Road and before we make our way back to Sydney.

I’m not going to lie, J.J. and I were both exhausted by this point as well and decided we’d have the photos of Uncle Jimmy’s birthday party printed for him at a nearby photo shop and then make our way back to Jamie’s to find out the plan for the evening.

Jamie had gotten off work early and suggested we go to a Thai restaurant for dinner just down the street. Some more great food, wine and conversation later we were ready to head home to make our dessert – something we’d started the previous night but thought we could do better – crushed Tim Tams over vanilla ice cream.

We stopped off at the store to get the original Tim Tams and some caramel ones as well before making our way back to Jamie’s. While J.J. dished out the vanilla ice cream, Jamie put a mixture of both kinds of Tim Tams in a plastic bag which he placed on a cutting board. The next thing I know, Jamie’s hitting the bag of Tim Tams with a hammer and J.J.’s making suggestions. Boys. I have to admit, they made quite the team because the final result was sweet delicious goodness.

We put on a George Clooney movie and true to form I was asleep within 10 minutes.

Goodnight Canberra, and sweet dreams.

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One Response to “Visiting the War Memorial With a War Vet”

  1. Jamie Mawson April 3, 2012 at 08:29 #

    I must say, I found this entry very very entertaining! Hehehe!

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