‘It’s important to honour our ancestors’: What Anzac Day means retired Air Commodore Chris Griffiths

Retired Air Commodore Chris Griffiths

For over a century, April 25 has been a day for Australians to stop and reflect on the sacrifices made by others in service of our nation.

This year we asked staff specialist Professor Chris Griffiths, a retired Air Commodore with the Royal Australian Air Force, what Anzac Day means to him.

“I find Anzac Day has more meaning if I think of an individual. I think of my wife’s great uncle Robert Henderson who was the assistant engineer at the Electric Light and Power Supply Corporation, Balmain. He could have joined as an officer but as most Australians joined as a private. Before leaving for Gallipoli he was promoted to corporal. He survived Gallipoli and was promoted to lieutenant before leaving for France where was wounded and gassed twice. In 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross and promoted to captain.

“In April 1918 he was interviewed by Australian war historian Charles Bean. He said to Bean of the original men who had left for Gallipoli with the 16th Brigade there were only a few survivors, and he was philosophical about dying. You couldn’t plan when a shell might hit your trench, so there was no point worrying. ‘Just keep smiling, damn you,’ he said.

“Two weeks later the German army broke through the allied line and rushed toward the coast to try to split the French and Commonwealth forces. Two Australian brigades marched back to try to stop the Germans in open country. These two Australian brigades stopped the German army outside the small Belgium town of Villers-Bretonneux.

Robert Henderson, middle.

“The British 8th Division had then arrived and twice tried to take the town but were repulsed. The Australians were then told to attack, the Germans said Australians came at them like mad men and retook the village in hand-to-hand fighting of the horrific kind. The Germans were so shaken they didn’t counter attack.

“This was where Robert Henderson was wounded and later died of his wounds. He was posthumously awarded a bar to his Military Cross.

“I think of Robert Henderson every Anzac Day as I look at his photograph which passed from his sister to my wife’s mother and now resides on my wife’s bedside table. He is the lanky one in the middle with a fag in his hand waiting to be awarded his first Military Cross.

“The Australian achievement at Villers Bretonneux such a decisive action that our Australian Memorial was built there.

“I think, as do most religions from our South East Asian region, that is important to honour our ancestors, and this is what we do as a nation every 25 April.”

In the absence of local Anzac Day ceremonies this year, Prof Griffiths will stand at the end of his driveway at 6am to remember those who have fought and died.

Find more ways to observe Anzac Day this year at this link.