Anzac Day, and the band plays on

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THE most sacred day on the sports calendar means different things to different people, Chief Writer RON REED no exception:

NOT being much of a fan of modern rock music, I certainly wouldn’t have gone to the MCG on Anzac Day to listen to the Birds of Tokyo. Having been unable to distinguish exactly what they were singing about before the Collingwood v. Essendon blockbuster, I wouldn’t, now, go anywhere else to hear them either.

In the debate about whether such entertainment is appropriate on a day of solemn commemoration of war-time sacrifice, I’m with the naysayers. It added nothing to the mood and possibly detracted from it. Is that a big deal?

Not really. Certainly, I found it impossible to summon any outrage or even uneasiness over the band’s name, on behalf of my now long-dead Dad who spent most of the war in a Japanese prison camp in Nagasaki, where he became one of 24 Australians to survive the atomic bombing that ended the hostilities, and who endured various other potentially fatal indignities at the hands of his cruel captors.

He also escaped near-certain death when a Japanese troop ship transporting him and his mates from one prison camp to another was torpedoed at sea.

Private W. C. Reed, VX45894 of the 2nd/3rd Machinegun battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces, never spoke about it much, although what he didn’t say when I naively arrived home one time with a new Japanese car spoke volumes.

But 40 years after the war he and a couple of fellow survivors were taken back to Nagasaki and given a deeply emotional reunion with the foreman of a foundry where they had been consigned to slave labour.

It ended in tears and handshakes.

Afterwards, he became  more willing to tell his story, and even attempted to write a book about it. But before he could proceed past 19 pages of handwritten prose he died on the operating table during heart surgery in his mid-sixties, a long way short of his 100th birthday, which would have arrived just a few weeks from now, on June 6.  

He spent his final years preaching forgiveness and peace, saying: “There is no point in being bitter about the past. It’s the future we have to be concerned with. I’ve seen one mushroom cloud – I never want to see another.”

His story has never been fully told, but I intend to put that right next year. The closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics will be on the 75th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and will commemorate it in significant fashion, with the world paying attention.

I’ll be there on his behalf, which will amount to closure given that there will not be another significant anniversary of that melancholy milestone in my lifetime.

The book I’m now writing will also be a memoir of my own half a century on the sportswriting beat around the world and one story that will definitely get a guernsey will be the time I was extremely lucky not to have been among the 100 or so victims of a suicide bombing just a short walk from my hotel in Colombo, just before the 1996 cricket World Cup.

So, the just-gone Easter weekend’s events in the same city have resonated powerfully – another war, more bombs, unimaginable slaughter.

That particular experience has no direct connection with the legend of the Anzacs but it definitely made the minute’s silence at the MCG all the more meaningful.

The Anzac Day match has become a fantastic feature of the national sporting calendar, not the least because so many attend – 92,241 this time – and watch on TV and are therefore immersed in the importance of peace, whatever your colour, creed or conviction. It is probably more important than ever.

Regardless of whether you have any empathy with the Bombers or the Magpies – as a Carlton supporter, I wish they could both lose —  you always get your money’s worth and this was no exception.

When Collingwood were 33 points in front entering time-on in the second quarter, I started wondering whether hitting the road at three-quarter time might not be a sensible option.

The thought didn’t last long.

The Bombers re-captivated the crowd by reducing the margin at every break before losing by just four points, with the umpires copping plenty of flak in the dying stages.

Dylan Shiel during the ANZAC Day clash.

The Bomber faithful weren’t without a point but that doesn’t excuse them booing the man of the match, Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury, who played a blinder.

Booing has become an issue in footy but, hey, it’s been around forever and let’s face it, it’s never going to go away, which is why the AFL surely cannot be serious about trying to control or even ban it. How can that be done?

That said, there needs to be some context – and there was precious little to the treatment dished out to Pendlebury. Especially not on a day built around applause and respect, not hostility and hatred.

mm

Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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