Voice of Real Australia: Stories of soldiers surviving the odds are not limited to one nationality

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SOLDIER STORIES: The lives of Colin Brien (left), Michael O'Brien (middle) and Dudley Marrows continue through the stories we retell on Anzac Day.

SOLDIER STORIES: The lives of Colin Brien (left), Michael O'Brien (middle) and Dudley Marrows continue through the stories we retell on Anzac Day.

Two years ago I had a conversation that caused an online storm.

It was about Anzac Day and it was with a friend who lives 14,000km away from me in Turkey.

Her words made me - with my strong German ancestry - uncomfortable about how we continue to define our enemies.

For 364 days of the year, the Turkish people welcome Australians as their family. But on April 25, each year, we are transported back a century.

The city of Canakkale loses its identity and once again becomes known as Gallipoli as thousands of Australians make the annual pilgrimage to Anzac Cove.

My Turkish friend described the annual arrival at the Dardanelles Strait as "a yearly invasion of Australians".

When we speak of the sacrifice that was made on that shoreline in 1915, we so often frame it with pride for the Anzac spirit.

We neglect that sacrifices were made on both sides. At the end of the offensive, 11,488 Australians and New Zealanders lay dead at Gallipoli.

Another 86,692 lives were lost from the Ottoman Empire.

The weight of that nation's grief was no less worthy of remembrance.

When I wrote in 2019 that it was time for Johnnies and the Mehmets to stand side by side, there were 35,000 Australians at Anzak Kogu Beach.

Compare that to the first time, in 1915, when Australians and New Zealanders numbered 25,000 at the cove.

Then in 2020, the beaches fell silent. In fact, the world fell silent as we 'lit up the dawn' from the ends of our driveways instead of gathering together.

We stood together apart across the world, as the death toll climbed under the oppression of the pandemic.

Across the world, for the first time since the end of the world wars, we grieved together. And we continued to tell our stories.

No matter where Anzac Day finds you this year, there will be no shortage of stories to tell. Our diggers are all gone, but their stories live on to unite us.

The story surrounding the disappearance of NSW Southern Tablelands Lieutenant Michael O'Brien united families across the world.

After fighting at Gallipoli, the Goulburn-born soldier disappeared. A century later, his granddaughter in Wales began to investigate what had happened.

Years of detective work unravelled long-held family mysteries and resulted with an emotional family reunion across the seas as the Welsh-born side of the family met the Australians for the first time.

You can read the story here if you are a subscriber to The Daily Advertiser.

Regardless of our cultural backgrounds, these stories swell our national pride. And so they should.

One such story is that of Private Colin Brien, a former NSW Riverina boy who was left for dead multiple times, buried alive, and survived an attempted beheading during the Battle of Singapore 1945.

Private Brien survived the war - and the notorious Changi Prison - going on to a successful business career spanning decades and continents, until his death in 2013.

Or the story of Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows of Mildura who risked his life to save a German U-boat crew during World War II.

Years later, the captain of the U-boat tracked down the Australian war hero, and the pair became unlikely friends until the German's death in 1991.

Stories of those who overcome impossible odds to protect their families and generations to come are not hard to find.

Scratching below the surface of any family tree is bound to uncover some of these tales.

Regardless of which side our families stood during the world wars, this year on Anzac Day we can stand together.

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