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ANZAC DAY 2024 - Flowers for the Fallen


Poppies by the Roadside

 Many thanks to Pamela Kelly for this image

 It’s Anzac Day again, the day that Australia commemorates its fallen servicemen and women. There won’t be many if any, of the original Anzacs left, since that tradition began after the First World War – you know, the one that was to end all wars, but let me tell you if they knew about Gaza and Ukraine and all the useless wars we’ve fought since, they’d be turning over in their graves. So would those who fought so valiantly against Fascism in World War Two. They would be horrified to see those ideas gaining traction again in so many countries around the world. Some people never learn or have extremely short memories. 

Lest we Forget


While we are mourning the loss of life in war, we should also consider another group of victims who did not lose their lives in battle, but committed suicide on returning home. We did not hear about them after World War Two, but perhaps they were not counted previously or not separately from other suicides, but I can’t help thinking that starting with the Vietnam War and possibly the Korean War, it was at least partly because our returning soldiers were no longer receiving the honour and glory which usually greeted those who risked their own lives for their country or the welfare of others. Many have also found little peace on returning home.

In Australia 1,677 former armed forces personnel died by suicide between 1997 and 2021. In the USA there were 6,392 veteran suicides in 2021 (an increase of 114 on the previous year). Since the numbers depend on how many went into battle, percentages are perhaps more useful. A 2019 Canadian study for example, found that the rate of suicide for veterans was about 1.4% greater than the national average for males, and about 1.9% for females between 1976 and 2014. By contrast, the UK which had only 285 veteran deaths between 2002 and 2021, the rate was slightly lower than that for the general population with younger personnel being found to be more vulnerable. 

Regardless of the numbers, each of these untimely deaths is a tragedy, not only for the individuals but their families too. Many possible reasons have been put forward to account for them. Though Australia is still in the midst of a Royal Commission about that, they are generally thought to include the following:

·         High exposure to stress and trauma, leaving former service personnel stressed, anxious or suffering from PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, because of what they’ve seen and experienced

·         Feelings of alienation, hopelessness and isolation, especially after the intensity and comradeship of military life. Loss of sense of purpose

·         Difficulty reintegrating into civilian life especially if unable able to find employment or having problems rebuilding relationships or lacking a sense of belonging and support

·         Having familiarity with and access to firearms

While evident in countries such as Australia, The USA, The UK, New Zealand and Canada, the fact that Veteran Suicide is 400% higher in the USA compared to Britain, where it is in fact lower than for civilians, suggests  that they are doing something differently. True, the absence of guns is one factor which accounts for a good part of it – Canada’s rate for example, shows veterans to be 300% more likely to commit suicide than the general population, but Australia, which has largely banned guns, still has a considerably higher rate, so there must be more to it than that. The question is, how are societies responding?

Looking down the various lists of resources available to veterans in Australia, The UK and the USA, there is considerable similarity between them. For example, there are provisions for Health Care and Mental Health Care, Counselling Services, Helplines and Crisis Support, even Peer Support, Financial Assistance, Help with Employment and the Transition to Civilian life and Help for the widowed and orphaned. The US throws in subsidised child care, specialised housing and education assistance and even a nutritional program through its Department of Agriculture, and yet veterans are still dying.

Why does the UK seem to have the Happiest Veterans?

The UK does seem to have a great deal more emphasis on various kinds of Specialised Mental Health Services. Op Courage for example, is a government funded service available through the UK's National Health Service for veterans and their families. It provides support, counselling and intervention. It helps with housing. The UK's transition service also has a focus on Mental Health and promotes wellbeing. Then there is a Complex Treatment Service, again dedicated to improving Mental Health Outcomes. A dedicated App for veterans has been developed in a collaboration between the Samaritans - the general Crisis Line  and the Royal British Legion - a service person's charity which also provides financial, social and emotional support to members and their families, as well as Advocacy, housing, recovery and rehabilitation services and a range of social activities.  Community groups play an important role too. See for example, Lancashire- based  Veterans in Communities, a charity which organises social events, walking groups, trips, allotments, art and craft activities, even a choir and small community projects, in addition to providing outreach within the community.

Australia does have returned services clubs in every state, which also advocate on behalf of former service personnel, but the main focus is on social activities which are usually funded by gambling revenues and alcohol sales, which may or may not improve Mental Health. More recently, a veteran's centre has opened in St. Helens, Tasmania which combines healing and rehabilitation with social activities and community work. This seems a very positive step since it combines that essential connection with those who have had similar experiences, as connection and a sense of purpose.

Meaningful Work

Speaking of a sense of purpose – and I am not sure how the employment and integration services work, but I can see how after the intensity of combat  – a daily battle of life and death, life back in the blandness  of suburbia might not cut it.  Having meaningful work is important to everyone, but particularly for those who have already made sacrifices on behalf of their country.

When I was growing up in the aftermath of World War II, veterans in Australia were virtually guaranteed a job and had specific occupations which were reserved for them. The Corps of Commissionaires for example, dressed in their grey uniforms, were trusted to carry important legal documents between offices. They carried them in a silver suitcase which was chained to their wrist and they were highly respected wherever they went. [I haven't heard much about them in Australia in recent years. They now seem to provide various support services for veterans and look after commemorative events, but they are still going strong in the UK where it was the first private security agency and also in Canada, where members are responsible for security, fingerprinting and criminal record checks.   

Back in the 1960s and 70s Disabled Veterans would also man the lifts in office buildings and Department stores, calling out what was available on each floor. Although lifts were mostly automatic, it provided them with human contact instead of shutting them away somewhere, rather like Japan's windowgazers - now also pensioned off in the name of being more competitive. Some Veterans also went around the office, selling sewing notions such needles and safety pins which no other group was allowed to do. While some of these occupations may seem demeaning today, they would have prevented the isolation which many veterans feel as well as a giving them a little more income than their pension allowed and yes, a sense of pride at contributing and being part of society too.

Sappers and Linesmen would surely have no trouble transferring their skills to the Renewable Energy and Communications Sectors and should they miss the excitement of their former career, I am certain that the Emergency Services which we seem to be needing more and more often, would welcome their presence. Security is another area where their skills could be used more effectively. If police are too overstretched to say, respond to AVO’s – see previous post, perhaps ex -armed forces personnel could attend more fully to surveillance or escorting people safely to and from transport hubs after dark. I am sure there are many other areas where meaningful work – paid or unpaid, could be done, without encroaching on existing employment arrangements.
Interestingly, Tasmania has also been quite proactive in the area of employment too. As part of its recently launched Veterans Employment Strategy and working closely with organisations such as the Returned Service Men's League and the Federal Departments of Veteran's Affairs and Defence, it is seeking to place more Veterans in State owned Business Enterprises and companies.  

It takes great courage to begin a new life after the turmoil and trauma of war. There are also great battles to be fought at home - the fight against despair and depression, the fight against injustice, the fight against climate change or the return of fascism and the fight for the lives of our women and children. 

 If this topic has raised any negative feelings for you or someone you know, please contact or encourage them to contact their local helpline. If you have never done so, the following is from the Samaritans in the UK. It might just make a difference to someone.

For Help in Australia:

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling. Free confidential 24/7 counselling and support for veterans and their families.      Call 1800 011 046

ADF Mental Health  -All-hours Support Line: Call 1800 628 036 for immediate assistance

Lifeline - For confidential crisis support and suicide prevention Call 13 11 1

Beyond Blue - is a 24/7 Crisis Line which helps with depression Call 1300224636

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123 

In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 988

 Other international helplines can be found via

[Many thanks to Microsoft Bing AI for links and answers to my questions].



Very interesting and thought provoking.
Veronika Wild said…
Thank you Pamela, Glad you found something of interest -