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We will remember them: Remembrance Day 2019 Reflection

St Brendan's College marked Remembrance Day with a service during assembly on Wednesday 6 November, with the reflections from SBC Head of Identity Mr Shane Peers and long-serving teacher, and returned serviceman Mr Peter Hayes included here.  The reflections focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness.
All students and staff will also stop and mark one minute's silence today, 11 November 2019. Lest we forget. 

Mr Shane Peers, Head of Identity: 

Good morning and welcome to our Remembrance Day reflection. Before we commence this morning, can I please ask any returned servicemen or women to stand... Let us acknowledge their service and show our appreciation with a round of applause.

Remembrance Day is the day Australians remember all those involved in all theatres of war.

For most Australians, Remembrance Day is a time for gratitude, reflection and expressions of national pride. But for many soldiers and veterans scarred by trauma, it’s a time of anxiety, stress and unwelcome triggers. For today, I would like to shift our Remembrance Day focus to the area of mental health and in particular to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD, as it is commonly referred to is a condition marked by recurrent memories of a stressful event, nightmares, and severe emotional distress or physical reactions to any reminders of war-time trauma. It’s an area that’s becoming all too common and for so long it’s been pushed to the side.

Those experienced with treating mental health issues stemming from military service say they often see these anxieties in those who have not adjusted well to life after service. Their ability to handle November 11 generally corresponds to the experiences they had with the military, how much support they receive from friends and family, and what, if any, treatment they are offered upon return.

Even though well-meaning citizens organize celebratory events, such as Remembrance Day, to recognize sacrifice and offer gratitude, a damaged soldier might find the event only increases the symptoms that lay ever dormant under the ‘she’ll be right mate’ façade.

What most people do not realize is that many of our honoured veterans of all ages will continue to sacrifice and suffer for the rest of their lives with the invisible wounds of PTSD.

For some, these dates and their nightmarish memories are clear, horrific and devastating. For others, there is a gloomy fog hanging over them that they just can’t identify. And for many, they are plagued with survivor’s guilt – the haunting question of "why me…why did I come back alive?"

These feelings wreak havoc for both our returned solders and those around them, especially their families who often deal with the uncontrollable symptoms and the tragic, all too common, side effects. For some, these heightened symptoms may last a day, while for others it could last for months.  Sometimes they themselves are not even aware of what took place back then, but they react anyway. It seems as though the body remembers even what the brain has blocked out.

For today’s reflection I will show the song titled ‘I Will Catch You’. The song was written to help raise awareness of PTSD by DefenceCare Ambassadors Luke O'Shea & Amber Lawrence, both Aussie singers and both featured highly in all the golden guitar awards in Tamworth. The song is accompanied with a powerful video directed by Duncan Toombs, starring actor and Australian veteran Damien Thomlinson.  View video at link - https://youtu.be/g4_mrSfc-bY

The response to the following prayers is:

We pray to believe that justice and peace is possible.

For all those affected by war in current and past conflicts: for those serving in areas of conflict, for all who must fight when there is no other choice: for their families who wait in fear and anticipation for their safe return, for those who don’t return….In peace we pray.

All:    We pray to believe that justice and peace is possible.

For the world that stands on the brink of war: for organisations that work for peace where peace seems most unattainable; for wisdom and courage for all political leaders …In peace we pray.

All:    We pray to believe that justice and peace is possible.

For all people of faith: for peace between people of different religions; for peace among those who share the same faith; for reconciliation and healing that will one day lead to unity … In peace we pray.

All: We pray to believe that justice and peace is possible.

For the people of our nation: for peace in our parishes; for peace in our neighbourhoods and streets; for peace in our homes; for peace within each human heart … In peace we pray.

All: We pray to believe that justice and peace is possible.

In the gospel of John Jesus speaks with his disciples and says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

We have paused today to remember the sacrifices made for our freedom and we pray that the spirit of peace and goodwill will descend upon the places in our world where many are still impacted by war.

Please listen the words from the poem ‘The Brutal Game’ written by Alex Cockers who was a Royal Marines Commando and served on Operation Herrick 5 and 7 in Helmand province for a total of fourteen months while serving in Afghanistan.

The Brutal Game

I’m sitting here now

Trying to put pen to paper

Trying to write something

That you can relate too

 

It’s hard to relate

To my personal circumstances

I’m out here in Afghanistan now

Taking my chances

 

Read what you read

And say what you say

You won’t understand it

Until you’ve lived it day by day

 

Poverty-stricken people

With medieval ways

Will take your life without a thought

And now we’re all the same

Each playing our part in this brutal game

At eleven o’clock on the eleventh of November every year people pay their respect to the soldiers killed in wars by being silent for one minute. Before the minute silence we read the ‘Ode’.

The Ode of Remembrance may be the most well-known part of Remembrance Day ceremonies. It is the fourth stanza of the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, who before the war had been an assistant keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum.

The Ode of Remembrance was selected in 1919 to accompany the unveiling of the London Cenotaph and soon passed into common use across the British Commonwealth. In Australia it is recited on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

Written just a few weeks after the war began, For the Fallen anticipated much about the war on the Western Front – not least the vast numbers of dead and the symbolism that came to be associated with the red poppies which grew in mass in northern France and Flanders.

For soldiers who fought on the Western Front, the Ode of Remembrance also called to mind two of the most important moments of the day in the trenches – dawn and dusk, the time of the ‘standto’. This was the favoured time of attack by armies on both sides and all eyes at sunrise and sunset were focused on the enemy line.

Please stand for the Ode, followed by the last post, a minute silence and finally the national anthem.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

For the final refection today, I would like to invite Mr Hayes to address the assembly.

Mr Peter Hayes, Returned Serviceman: 

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to have served my country and it is an honour to make this Armistice Day address.

I dedicate this address to the Soldiers of 17 Construction Squadron who survived the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group Namibia (UNTAG) but died at their own hand upon return to Australia.

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the Armistice that had been signed the evening before by the belligerent parties came into force.

The guns fell silent and the world rejoiced because the most horrific war in history was over. The War to end all Wars was finished.

There was a genuine expectation that no more young men would be called on to sacrifice their lives. This expectation was short lived as the world never stopped fighting.

The thing with armed conflict is that the trauma, misery and dying does not stop when the guns fall silent. The young men who did come home are not the same as they were before they left.

There is an old saying often attributed to Plato that “war is 99% boredom and 1% pure terror.” If he did say it, he forgot to mention the unending tension, stress, anticipation and heightened awareness while you are bored.

This makes people different.

To quote a military psychologist’s recent address to returning Australian servicemen:

 “ Fellers you are now returned servicemen. You are different from the person who went away. Not necessarily better or worse but different.”

The diggers who returned from the Great War may or may not have been damaged by their experiences, but they were different from the young men who went to the great game as the recruiting posters called it.

Many came home with the monsters of the mind acting upon them with many others waiting for the monsters to emerge. Some were callous to the suffering of others. Some became violent. Many lived with depression and anxiety. Some took their own lives over the years that followed. By 1931, 13,500 of them were on pensions because of psychological problems.

Many had “shell shock” to use the First World War term. This was called “Combat Fatigue” in World War II and Korea. Today we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

PTSD shows up at differing times for different people. It may be as simple as restlessness or as severe as incessant anger at everything and everyone or the wish to end it all.

The funny 1960s movie stereotype of old man who hears a car backfire and hits the ground yelling “Contact” is not funny to the PTSD sufferer. It is all too real for several Australian veterans.

Statistically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is more likely to effect rear area troops than front line soldiers.

The problem with the statistics is that they are taken from major wars with visible front lines and rear areas.

Low intensity wars, (that is Guerrilla wars) and peace keeping operations do not usually have fixed front lines. Everybody is a target of sudden violent events and all combat and non-combat troops have a heightened sense of awareness so that they do not become the recipient of a ramp ceremony.

A simplification of the causes of PTSD is that the condition is caused by prolonged stress and fear or instant traumatic stress such as seeing a death or horrific injuries.

The event can have an instant effect or be a nightmare that lays dormant until triggered by some event, smell or memory that the participant re lives. The monsters of the night come back to haunt the victim.

Some of these victims I served with. For them the monsters are gone. Eternal rest grant unto them o Lord and may your perpetual light shine upon them.

May all the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace Amen.

 

 

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