Ninety-seven-year-old Bob Semple knows all too well about war. His uncle was killed on the 25th of April 1915 as the Anzacs landed on Gallipoli. Ten of his mates are buried side by side in the desert of North Africa. And the names of his gun crew are carved into the back of the violin he took to war.
“Never ever forget,” he said quietly, looking off into the distance. “And I keep saying, there are more Victoria Crosses and other high awards buried under the sand of the desert of North Africa and in the mud of the Islands than there are that ever walked about on top of the earth. [They have] nothing against their names, but we know who they were.”
It’s mid-morning and Semple is sitting in the front room of his family home in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon, talking about the Second World War as he prepares to travel to Canberra this Anzac Day to speak at the National Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.
It’s more than seven decades since the war, but for Semple, who turns 98 next month, the memories remain vivid. He still considers himself to be fortunate –fortunate to have survived six years of war, fortunate to have married the love of his life, and fortunate to have had a sense of humour and a passion for music that has helped him through it all.
He still has the violin he took away to war, along with the old felt hat and the greatcoat that he was given when he enlisted. They still fit, and the old violin case, marked with his initials and regimental number, still has sand in it from his time in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The old violin went into action,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the old case it was carted about with in the desert, but she’s a bit rough with the old desert sand in it. It got in everywhere, and I had to send [the violin] in for a bit of a polish and that to get it back into action after I got home…. It’s got my gun crew’s names scratched onto it, and it needs tuning, but I still pick it up. Music is the thing of mood really, and I’ve got sheets and sheets of music. I’ll open it up, and I can just sit there.