My Dad the ANZAC
by Chris Quinlan ANZAC Day 25th April 2014


While he was alive he told many stories of his time in World War Two. In his words, he hated war, yet he knew it was simply a matter of time for him when England declared war on Germany in 1939.

As soon as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941 he knew what he had to do. He wound up his affairs and volunteered as most did at that time. He wasn't bullshitted too like the boys that went off in a seemingly avoidable World War One.

He knew World War Two was Hitler and his Axis partners. To my mind, the only war where it was unavoidable, genuinely evil people at that time actively colluding to invade and conquer us. His words to me as a boy were 'It made me sick in the guts'.

The photo I have added was taken by his then wife. The two boys are my half-brothers Jim and Len. Len is still with me, Jim took his own life in 1981. Dad saw action for four years in the Solomon Islands.

He saw many horrific things in a day when counselling was a beer with the boys at the local RSL club. While Dad was away, his wife put Jim and Len in an orphanage and pissed off with a bloke who stayed back. For so many returned soldiers, the war didn't end simply by coming home.

When Dad came home in early 1946, he spent two weeks trying to find them. When he did, he found a new home and went back to work and eventually met my Mum Gwen. She was born in 1929.

Mum told me her job as a young teenager was to write letters to soldiers at the front from her city, Adelaide. Both my Father and Mother despised war. Whilst Dad was revered at the local RSL not only for what he did but because he ran the pub that supplied grog to them, he never marched in any ANZAC parade nor ever much attended any RSL function. He simply did what he had to do then left it.

It was me and Mum who heard his nightmares some nights.

No such thing as counselling, just drink grog with mates, get over it and get on with it. The story became all too common with far too many. Lots of nightmares, lots of grog.

I joined the City of Essendon Brass Band in 1989, I stayed there teaching kids drumming until 1994. After Dad passed away in September 1991, I drummed and marched in his honour on ANZAC Day 1992. It was the first time I was allowed to wear his medals.

In the ANZAC Days I drummed during that time, that day in 1992, seven months after my Dad and a few weeks later, Essendon bandleader Ron Rooth passed away (with his sons in the band) was the most emotional. Nobody there glorified war, we glorified our heroes, our Fathers and Mothers.

That is what ANZAC day means to me. To this day, I stand at attention at our national anthem even if I'm alone in a room and get a huge lump in my throat a few times every ANZAC day for my dear departed Dad and for my dear departed Essendon Band leader Ron Rooth. I also feel so much for the indigenous people who fought and received no recognition at all.

By the time I was old enough to serve in Dad's pub The Dan O'Connell Hotel in the early 1970's, I was serving grog to Irish Musicians, Bikies and Vietnam Vets. One Vet in particular, had a leather patch over the left side of his face and no nose.

I hate war, just like my Dad, but ANZAC Day leaves me without energy to play drums or much music at all. A day I stop to honour and love my fallen heroes.

Ron Rooth, Bandleader and soul of The City of Essendon Band which mostly disintegrated after his passing.

That Vietnam Vet with the leather patch and no nose.

My Mum, Gwenda Valeria Quinlan who wrote little teenage letters every night to soldiers at the front to keep their spirits up.

I haven't even mentioned my step-grandad Cpl. Albert Scwhartz who served with a Light Horse Regiment in North Africa in World War 1. One of only two times I saw him cry was when he told me he had to shoot his beloved horse once his service was over.

And my Dad, Sergeant at Arms John James Quinlan, 13 light ships Torakina, Bougainville.

I despise war just like they did, but I honour ANZAC Day simply because I love and honour them.

Lest we Forget. xoxo

Chris Quinlan f.dip.a is a musician, drum and guitar teacher, and producer of Melbourne Musos - The Drum TV Show and author of the MMDC Drumset examination syllabus used throughout Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. He has written for Beat, Mixdown and Drummer Magazines. He was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards in 2013.