World War II veterans are threatening to boycott this year’s Anzac Day march in Sydney after the NSW RSL banned them from marching behind their old unit banners, citing dwindling survivor numbers, too many descendants in the parade and safety concerns for the old soldiers as the reasons behind the decision.
The banners will be relegated to the back of the Sydney parade, carried by descendants of veterans, while the surviving WWII diggers will muster into divisional groups for the parade down George Street.
But decision is being seen as discriminatory against old soldiers, because it only applies to the army. Navy and air force veterans will still be able to march behind their ship and squadron banners.
Ray Gibson, 92, a veteran of the Kokoda Track who fought in the 32/3rd Australian Infantry Battalion, was at the meeting where the RSL made the decision and told 2GB’s Ben Fordham he was silenced when he protested against the move.
A furious Gibson says he’s marched every year since 1946, but is now looking at boycotting this year’s parade.
He says the decision dishonours his fallen comrades and that the unit banners are how the friends and family recognise their veterans.
“Our battalion wants our battalion banner carried as we have done in the past, but the RSL has changed things and they’re putting all the old diggers up the front under their divisional flags and no battalion flags will be shown,” he said.
John Haines, chairman of the Anzac Day committee and senior vice president of the NSW RSL, told 2GB that most of the diggers he’d spoken to were happy with the decision.
Mr Haines said he’d received complaints over the years that descendants were marching with the veterans and obscuring them.
“We tried to find a way in which we could recognise more prominently the World War II veterans,” he said.
Mr Gibson can still march behind his divisional banner, Mr Haines said. He said the RSL wanted to make the march more comfortable for WWII veterans and make them more recognisable.
This year, veterans from post conflicts after 1975, including Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan, will march at the front of the parade, followed by the WWII veterans.
The NSW RSL will meet again on Friday to debate the issue further and finalise the parade.
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