The first telegram arrived some time around May 1942.
Addressed to my great grandfather, Bernard Mulligan, it delivers some troubling news.
“I have been directed by the Minister for the Army to advise you that no definite information is at present available in regard to the whereabouts or circumstances of your son, Private Ronald Phillip Mulligan, 2/20th Battalion AIF.”
It’s hard to imagine the fear, concern and sadness that would have been running through Bernard Mulligan’s body when the next telegram arrived some two months later.
“I am directed by the Minister for the Army to advise you that he must now be posted as missing, and to again convey to you the Minister’s sincere sympathy.”
At that stage, it’s probably fair to say that Bernard Mulligan knew the fate that his son Ronald had or was going to meet.
But it would take some three painstaking years before the grim reality was confirmed.
In a hand written telegram, the tragic reality of war hit home for Bernard Mulligan and his family.
“It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that NX57811, Private Ronald Phillip Mulligan, died whilst a Prisoner of War in Sandakan, Borneo on 21st February 1945, and desire to convey to you the profound sympathy of the Minister for Army.”
When he left to fight for his country, Ronald Phillip Mulligan was yet to celebrate his 21st birthday.
He died at the tender age of 24.
His sister, my grandmother Mary, passed away earlier this year. She spoke of her brother highly and often feverishly researched Sandakan and the tragic impact war had on her family.
She always used to say that when she said goodbye to him when he left to fight for what he believed in, that she could feel she’d never see him again.
When ANZAC Day comes around every year, many of us wake up early and head to the Dawn Service.
It is a time of important reflection and tribute. For each individual, there’s a slightly different reason they’re there and a mixture of feelings running through their thoughts.
One thing we should all reflect on is how bloody lucky we are.
And how much we owe those who served our country, many losing their lives so we could live ours in the high standards we do today.
There is no question that all of us, at times, take for granted the opportunities we have today as a result of those who came before us.
And that’s not just in relation to those who fought on battlefields.
Every generation could do with showing just a little more respect to those who have ‘been there, done that’.
The generation finishing their schooling and entering the workforce today face their own challenges in an ever-changing world. They are more connected, more accessible and more tech-savvy than any generation before them.
Whether that’s a positive or a negative, well, the jury is out on that one.
I do hope though that no matter how glued we are to our phones, no matter how many photos we want to take of ourselves or our food for no apparent reason and no matter how much we want to brag about our lives on social media, that we can all take time out on Monday morning to pay tribute to the men and women who fought and died for us.
It’s far more important than a sleep in and a selfie.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.