Violence and Violins, Poland

ANZAC Day 2022

A mother and her daughter came to our charity stall after crossing the border from Ukraine. Despite being nearly a month into Spring, the evening air was uncomfortably cold. They accepted a seat beside the gas heater in our tent, grateful for the chance to rest somewhere warm after their wait to enter Poland. As with all the refugees we see, they have very little luggage with them. I can’t imagine having to triage the tangible pieces of my life, not knowing if any of the things I leave behind – or even my home – will still be there if I return. The daughter, who looked in her early teens, carried a violin case.

After the two new arrivals had sat for a while, warming up with hot drinks, one of the volunteers asked the daughter if she would play her violin. She agreed readily, and whilst opening her violin case and preparing her instrument, discussed with her mother what she should play. With the decision made, she lifted the violin to her chin.

Through the burble of voices around the tent came the first notes, steady and sure and clear in the crisp night air. The voices died away, as those around left their conversations to turn and watch the girl as she played. The melody was neither light nor sombre; a somewhere-in-between that didn’t speak of grief nor happiness. We listened intently until the final note, upon which we applauded the young musician and thanked her for playing for us.

Last year around ANZAC Day I wrote about the El Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt, and my friend Bob who served in North Africa during World War Two. In addition to being a bagpiper (it was through piping that I met Bob), he was also a violinist. I remember him bringing his violin to pipe band practise one night and playing a few old melodies for us.

I found out later that Bob took that same violin to North Africa, where he arrived with the 2/12th Australian Field Regiment, 9th Australian Division, in 1940. I can imagine him playing his violin with his mates, the music raising voices and spirits during such grave times as the siege of Tobruk and the Battles of El Alamein.

This year on ANZAC Day, Australians and New Zealanders will again gather to remember those who served during past wars, and to acknowledge the current members of the defence forces. I believe that many of those who come together on the 25th will also be thinking of the people of Ukraine.

The invasion of a European country by an aggressive neighbour is something that belongs in the past, in the era of black and white newsreel footage, telegrams, and crackly grammophone records. And yet, over 75 years since the end of WWII, soldiers and tanks have once again violated a sovereign nation’s border bringing destruction and bloodshed. Long ago my friend Bob carried his violin to war, and now a young Ukrainian girl is carrying her violin too, escaping the horror and tragedy unfolding in her homeland.

Lest we forget.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Honour Them With Peace, The Cemeteries of Gallipoli

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