But this emotional time is about more than my family and me losing grandparents, parents, great-grandparents. Their passing signifies a generation leaving us; a generation who experienced pain like we will never know, made sacrifices that we need never make and held values that we must endeavour to remember and hold on to.
I wanted to share this with you: the greatest love story I have ever heard.
The story of my grandparents, Neil and Iris, meeting and staying true to each other through the toughest of times, as a reminder of the strength of the human spirit. As a tribute to those who have left us, but who still have so much to teach us and to contribute to society.
(This story has been documented by author Cameron Forbes, and published in the book Hellfire: the story of Australia, Japan and the Prisoners of War).
Neil and Iris "had met in a pretty village... on the north-west coast of Tasmania... They went out a couple of times, and Iris thought probably nothing would come of it... She went to Western Australia in 1939 for a short holiday and when war broke out she was marooned there because of travel restrictions. Neil enlisted... He wrote to her from training camp, surprising her with a proposal of marriage. On Christmas Eve, she received another letter. Enclosed was an engagement ring.
"On August 23, 1942 Iris took up her pen, reached for a sheet of foolscap paper and began writing a letter, a love letter. When I say it was a love letter, I don't mean that it was passionate. It was decorous, as was Iris herself, but it had warmth and it had, so importantly, steadfastness. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.
"Two years later Neil received the letter in a prisoner-of-war camp along the Thai-Burma railway, the sole letter to reach him from anyone during three and a half years in captivity.
"My dearest Neil,
This is my first attempt at a letter to a prisoner of war, and am following directions closely, hoping it will get through to you. First of all, my dear, let me tell you how thankful I was to hear from your mother that you were safe, after all the months of waiting and no news and while it could have been better, still the main thing to us is that you are alive and safe. Hope you are well, and trying to keep your chin up, as I know you will, though I suppose it's easy enough for me to tell you to do these things. When, or if, it is possible for you to write to me, let me know if there is anything at all I am allowed to send you, dear, and if you can't write to me, just put a little message in your mother's letter, and that will have to do. As you will see Neil, I'm still in the West, though at a different address, and hoping to go home for good some time this year and will be there waiting for you when you come back. What a day that will be for all of us. Anyhow, till then think of me now and again, won't you. Neil, I shall be waiting and praying for you till we meet again. Keep smiling, darling. All my love. Still your fiancee, Iris."
Lest we forget.