Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Last Aussie WWI Vet Dies

Quite a run:

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) – The last remaining Australian to serve in World War One has died at the age of 110, Veterans' Affairs Minister Alan Griffin said on Wednesday.

John "Jack" Ross, who was also Australia's oldest man having turned 110 in March, died in his sleep early Wednesday morning at a nursing home in Bendigo in the state of Victoria.

Ross was 18 when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in January 1918 and trained at the wireless training school, but the war ended nine months later and before he could be posted overseas. He was discharged on Christmas Eve that year.

"Mr. Ross showed his willingness to serve Australia and her allies in what was an extremely tumultuous time in our history, and for that we are grateful," said Griffin in a statement.

"While he did not travel overseas, he completed his training, ready for deployment."

Griffin said Ross was the last of 417,000 Australians who served in World War One and one of only a handful of remaining veterans from that war.

Ross served Australia again in World War Two as a member of the Volunteer Defense Corps. As a civilian, he worked for the Victorian railways before retiring in 1964.

"It now falls to Australians everywhere to ensure that veterans memory is kept alive. We must ensure that their contribution to Australia's wartime history is passed on to future generations, so that their sacrifice is never forgotten," said Griffin.

We should definitely remember service and sacrifice, but also the many terrible lessons of World War I itself. I really wish they were better remembered today – that the major players wanted to go to war, ignored the lessons of the American Civil War, had no idea what they were getting into, faced unprecedented horrors yet doubled down, and wound up slaughtering almost entire generations. Some have argued that the U.K. and France, among other nations, never fully recovered, and the economic devastation imposed on Germany by the overly punitive Versailles Treaty helped pave the way for Hitler's rise to power, and another round of carnage.

I probably know the British perspective on WWI best, but Peter Weir's film Galipoli chronicles a seminal, brutal battle for Australian soldiers. (As the Wiki entry notes, there's at least one significant historical inaccuracy, but it's a good film overall.)

Meanwhile, I know the excellent Liam Clancy version best, but here's the original – Scottish-born, Australian folkie Eric Bogle singing his memorable song, "And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda," with some great photos added:

Peace, Armistice, Wisdom and Remembrance.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

1 comment:

thepoetryman said...

RIP... I love that song, Waltzing Matilda.