War stories

The spectacular international success of the stage show War Horse, based on the 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, has raised awareness of the extent of the  role anzacof horses in  World War I. Records indicate that more than a million horses were sent to the battlefields from the Britain; of this number just 65,000 returned.

Perhaps less well known is that more than 130,000 Australian horses went to the fighting fronts of the “Great War”. At the end of the war 13,000 Australian horses remained overseas, but due to quarantine restrictions could not be shipped home; they were sold or destroyed.

Of course in the 1914-18 war the human sacrifice from Australia was even more significant. In just four years, 60,000 Australians died – out of a total population then of less than 5 million.

ANZAC Day was established to commemorate Australia’s involvement in World War I and specifically the landing on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.  More recently this day has become arguably Australia’s most significant national occasion.

On ANZAC Day we now remember all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

ANZAC Day brings with it a mix of emotions – a sense of achievement, a sense of pride, but also a sense of sadness. Nevertheless, for everyone it’s a time for reflection – a time to reflect on what is and what might have been.

By the mid 1930s all the rituals we now associate with ANZAC Day were well established – dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions and even two-up games. Another of these traditions is the bugle call of the Last Post. The ceremonial presence of the lone piper is also likely to have become a feature of Australian memorial services from the early 20th century. The traditional Scottish song of mourning and remembrance, Flower of the Forest, is the tune usually played on these occasions.

Flowers and plants in their own right have come to play a part in this process of reflection and remembrance. It’s now commonplace to wear a sprig of rosemary on ANZAC Day. Centuries ago this aromatic herb was believed to have properties to improve memory; and possibly because of these supposed properties rosemary became an emblem of both fidelity and remembrance in ancient literature and folklore. The Flanders Poppy is another flower increasingly being used as part of ANZAC Day observances.

The narcotic pain relievers have been developed from another kind of poppy – the opium poppy – and remain one of the most valuable groups of medicines available. It’s a grim irony that the Taliban, fighting our forces in Afghanistan, are being supported by funds derived from the heroin trade – heroin manufactured from those same poppy plants.

Unfortunately the pain experienced by our troops in war zones is often such that it can’t be managed by pain relievers alone.  Post traumatic stress can be severe and long lasting.

Official recognition was given to the condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1980 following the Vietnam War. While the majority of causes of PTSD are war related – war veterans, peace-keeping forces and refugees are all at high risk – people who are victims of natural disasters may also suffer PTSD.

With the assistance of the Australian Government and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Pharmaceutical Society has produced a fact card on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It’s one of a series of Cards that includes Anxiety, Depression andSleeping Problems available at your nearest Self Care pharmacy.  Phone the Pharmaceutical Society on 1300 369 772 for more information or check the Society’s website www.psa.org.au and click on “Self Care” then “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”, for the location of pharmacies providing the Society’s Self Care health information.

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