Written and Spoken by Tim Thomas, ANZAC day 2019.
On ANZAC Day, it is customary to talk of wars, of battles won and lost. After all, War has a very interesting mix of fear and courage. Today however, I want to talk about the fear and courage, in healing.
For all wars must end in healing. The healing of broken bodies, the healing of broken minds, and the healing of broken hearts. This is how a nation heals.
The importance of supporting those, who support the troops when they come home, cannot be understated. Transitioning out of the defence force and into civilian life can be a unseen battle ground claiming many silent ADF casualties.
There is fear in battle, but there’s also fear in admitting you have a problem and you need healing.
My name is Tim Thomas, I served with the Australian Special forces Commandos with deployments to East Timor and Afghanistan.
On ANZAC day, we remember that 104 years ago the ANZAC’s formed up to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in an attempt to open up the Dardanelles to the allied naval fleet. The objective was to capture Constantinople, now called Istanbul in Turkey.
*The ANZAC’s landed on Gallipoli and met fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. Their plan to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight long months.
At the end of 1915, the allied forces were evacuated. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed. News of the landing on Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home. The 25th of April became the day on which Australians remember the sacrifice of those who had died in the war.
History is full of war and battles. However, today we mark what makes ANZAC day so significant. So significant that we even talk about the ANZAC Spirit. That’s unique, Not many battles in all of history have a SPIRIT attached to them.
Let me ask you; Are the ANZAC’s important to you? ‘Is ANZAC spirit is still important and relevant in modern Australia?’ After all 104 years is a very long time!.
We use the words ‘Lest we forget’, but what exactly should we be remembering?
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to give you something very special. Something the Anzacs personally gave me. My wish is that what the ANZACs gave me, will powerfully, positively and permanently impact your lives, just like it did mine.
Australian troops were part of the Gallipoli peninsula campaign that occurred in 1915, skip forward 94 years to 2009. Australian Troops are now deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper. I was part of Bravo Coy in the Australian Special Forces Commandos. We would seek out and engage with an Enemy that was very intelligent, and we were on their home ground.
This home ground advantage was used to great effect in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. A reminder of this fact, to those of us on the ground, were the Destroyed Russian Tanks scattered everywhere.
As Australians used the BUSH MASTER. A heavily armored vehicle that would protect the soldiers inside. As special forces we had a select few bush masters, however most of us, traveled in light skin vehicles.
Picture a 4wd with the roof cut off and machine guns fixed in place. If you go to the Australian War Museum in Canberra there is one on display there.
We were doing operations outside the wire. On this one night, deep in enemy territory, we recieved intel telling us that there was a RPG (Rocket propelled Grenade) ambush waiting for us ahead. This wasn’t unusual, but the mountainous terrain didn’t allow our convoy to take any other path, and our enemy knew that. We had to go forward with our enemy waiting for us.
So the order came down to put all the heavily armored BUSH MASTERS (that RPG’s couldn’t penetrate) to the rear of the convoy. Tactically, the rear vehicle is least defended and so it’s the one that usually gets attacked.
Remember Our vehicle had no armor. It was simply a 4WD with no roof.
However, in the confusion and rush before the ambush, we got cut off and ended up as the rear vehicle in the convoy…
Everyone in that vehicle knew what was going to happen next.
There was the vehicle commander Al; Driving was Upai and myself on the 50cal machine gun. As ‘Al’ got his machine gun ready he said ”Fella’s, if this goes the way I think it will; It’s been a absolute honor serving with you…”
It’s funny, but in moments like that you notice the small things. Like hearing your own ‘Dinky Di’ Australian accent spoken back to you, in a very foreign land. However, this was not a movie, and we didn’t have a pause button…
I’d done a few ‘Ramp ceremonies’ before, where the flag covered bodies of Australian soldiers were returned home. Some of the fallen were closer to me than brothers. I remember thinking before the ambush, (and this is where soldiers use black humour), ”They’re going to return our flag-covered bodies to Australia. They’re going to carry us down the ramp of the aeroplane with all this BS ceremony, all because we got cut off in traffic!?!”
Joking aside, extreme Fear and anger began shutting my whole body down.
You’d think that as a soldier I’d get used to fear. Fact was I never did, but there’s something helpful about being exposed to fear so often. You do get a very clear understanding of how fear actually works, and it’s fascinating!
I found that Fear has a goal, and it’s not to scare you.
Fear’s ultimate goal is to immobilise you. To stop you from even trying. Your head might say, “I know I should be doing this… “ but fear stops your body from even attempting it.
Once you understand that, you realise that you don’t overcome fear with love.
You overcome fear, with ACTION.
Taking ACTION dispels FEAR.
Conversely, in action, not doing what you know you should, grows it.
I then took a course of action that has sculpted the rest of my life.
I said to myself, ”Tim, do you know anyone who has done this before? How did they get through it?!”
Fact was that I didn’t know anyone… Australia seemed so far away. The night somehow got darker, and I began to feel very alone.
Until I began to think ‘outside’ my own timeline. I realised then that I did know some men who had done exactly this. I knew that on a night as dark as this, the original ANZAC’s came face-to-face with a foe that was waiting for them on their home ground.
What did the ANZACs do? They kept moving forward without letting their fear control them. They kept moving forward without letting their fear control them! Despite hardships, despite a bad situation, despite an enemy intent on killing them.
The outside world could not stop them, from seeing the power inside them.
We often say,”Lest we forget…” But it was like those ANZAC diggers were poking me in the chest saying, ”Lest YOU forget!” “Lest you forget the power inside you! Lest you forget the power of looking after your mates!”
Even though the beach landing was almost 100 yrs ago, and their stories are told through history books; The ANZACs were right there with me in that moment, and I was no longer alone!
It was like the sun coming up at midnight.
My whole body felt illuminated!
The ANZAC’s 1915 ‘actions’, dispelled my ‘fear’ in 2009.
My actions, then became fearless. I could act and think without fear.
Before I hit the ambush, I thought, “They might find my body in a few minutes time, but you know what they’re not going to find? Bullets! All of my bullets are getting used, and you know what!? If I survive this, all of my dreams, are getting lived!”
I got through that night by discovering the ANZAC spirit.
I got through the rest of my Afghan deployment and can enjoy days like this because of the ANZAC spirit.
Unfortunately, for many defence personnel it can take a long time to enjoy days like this; It certainly did for me. It took me even longer to figure out why I survived when men far better than me died.
However, That’s part of the healing that must follow war. This can take time, as there is much fear and courage in seeking healing.
Fear of admitting there is a problem, the courage to let it go, and live life differently.
This is true for everyone, not just soldiers.
Part of my healing journey, and I see it as part of the reason I survived, is to revive the ANZAC spirit in this country. To people like you and me.
It’s important to note that the ANZAC’s who inspired me on that dark night were just regular people, as regular as anyone. The big difference was, they didn’t let their fear control them;
Can you see the implications of this?
Can you see the example the ANZAC have shown us?
They’re trying to show us that, you and me, as regular people, could do the same for others, in our lifetime, and beyond!
In our life, and in this modern world 100 plus years later; There are all sorts of knowledge a person can attain. However Imagine this; What if all a person needed to know, to be fearless, successful and find healing; Was to know someone who had done it before?
What if all that person needed to know… was You?
Can you feel the ANZACs poking you in the chest saying,”Lest you forget that!”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ANZAC Spirit.
ANZAC day is once a year, but the ANZAC Spirit is for everyday of the year.
It’s now our time to follow their example. To take action, and dispel our fear. Despite hardships, despite bad situations, despite any opposition intent on stopping us.
It’s now our time to finish the story.
That is why the ANZAC spirit needs to be protected, maintained, and cherished, and handed down to our children as a very important part of what it means to be Australian.
The ANZAC spirit changed everything for me.
My sincere wish is that it does the same for you.
Lest we forget…
Written and Spoken by Tim Thomas ANZAC day 2019.
To find out more about Tim Thomas click- https://yourcommando.com/about-tim-thomas/
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* Ref 1. Historical facts from the Australian Army website https://www.army.gov.au/our-history/traditions/anzac-day
-Credit for the photo’s goes to www.eventphotos.com.au;
-Names of other Commando’s mentioned in the speech were changed (operational security).