It is a national holiday observed in every Aussie town, large and small, it is a day so sacred that merchants once required special permission to open their doors, Anzac day and its memorial services, honoring our soldiers, becomes increasingly popular with every passing year, and this year, the 100th anniversary is, by far, the biggest event yet.
Together with New Zealand, Australia has few non-indigenous traditions and as such, we have clung on to this one event in our history, and made it a tradition observed by young and old alike. The proud, egalitarian, happy-go-lucky spirit, our friendly ‘larrikinism’, our casual “she’ll be right” Australian attitude is epitomized in the ANZAC forces (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), in WWI. Anzac memorial services have become a tradition, not because they were a wonderful success, (the original campaign was, in fact, an abject failure, and led to the dismissal of Winston Churchill), but rather because this event has so defined our nation and become entrenched in our psyche and because we, as a nation, need to remember April 25, ANZAC Day, “Lest We Forget.”
Memorial services are held at dawn, and are attended by millions of Australians, like me, across Australia, whether or not they have family members who are military veterans. Why dawn, you might ask? Stand 2, or dawn, is seen by the military, as the best time to launch an offensive strike. Anzac day’s dawn service commemorates the exact time the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand combined Army Corps), forces attacked the Gallipoli peninsula in the Dardenelles, in Turkey in 1915, 100 years ago.
The most moving tribute of all is the laying of the wreaths on the community monument to the sounds of the Last Post. A truly poigant moment….
A few naysayers think Anzac day is becoming over-commercialised, but I would rather see this, than forget the sacrifice of those young men and indeed their families who lost loved ones; rather see this than forget the lessons learned in the “war to end all wars”, rather see this than have the general public forget the true meaning of Anzac day altogether and instead think of it as just another day off from work. Pondering the lessons learned in quiet remembrance will ultimately fade away in time without the awareness of the meaning behind the holiday, driven mainly by the media, won’t they?
In almost every suburb in the community, there stands a statue with a soldier (known as a digger – presumably because they dug trenches in which to fight), or that of a light horseman. We owe many things and perhaps, even our liberty, to brave young men who without much thought, willingly signed up to fight someone else’s war. In particular, those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, giving all that they had to give: like my 2 Step Great Uncles that gave their life. My Great Uncle Ted was a Gallipoli veteran who survived the campaign and was left with respiratory problems for the rest of his life, from mustard gas inhalation.
The Gallipoli conflict was not one that involved Australia directly, but rather our allies. So it was due to the strong colonial ties that prevailed at this point in our history, and the fact that Australia was not permitted, by Britain, to have a fully autonomous military force, that we sent our bravest and strongest young men to fight in the war in Europe. Firstly, to protect the Suez Canal, Churchill then wanted to make a quick strike to knock Turkey out of the war, who was allied with Britain’s enemy, Germany. But how wrong can one get? Very wrong, as it turns out…
Gallipoli, the Turkish Anzac campaign, was a much documented disaster, for which Winston Churchill was entirely to blame. He could not have chosen a worse location: landing troops on a beach under a steep cliff atop where Turkish snipers were waiting to pick them off. The allied forces were forced to withdraw * months later long after the first landing. Churchill was later sacked as Prime Minister.
The Australia population was then around 500,000. Australian casualties for the campaign were 26,111, comprising 1007 officers and 25,104 other ranks. Of these, 362 officers and 7779 men (total 8,141) were killed in action, died of wounds or succumbed to disease. These were our bravest and strongest men, our genetic best, and many were not to return or were to return incapacitated in mind or body. For a young nation struggling to find its feet, their loss was devastating.
Even though the name ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) pertained to the original WWI conflict in Gallipoli, the name has become synonymous with military personnel fighting under the Australian and New Zealand flags until they were formerly separated into distinct military forces. And so, the event lives on in our community, with children wearing their father’s medals from conflicts in Vietnam, Korea and Afghanistan, and younger people wearing their grandfather and great grandfather’s medals, from WWI and WWII, with pride and remembrance.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them…. Uncle Ted and the others…. lest we forget.
More about the history of Anzac day here:
Significance of ANZAC day from Wiki
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, and is commemorated by both countries on 25 April every year to honour members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. It now more broadly commemorates all those who died and served in military operations for their countries. Anzac Day is also observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.
Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs. Anzac Day remains one of the most important national occasions of both Australia and New Zealand. This is a rare instance of two sovereign countries not only sharing the same remembrance day, but making reference to both countries in its name.
The Gallipoli campaign
When war broke out in 1914, Australia had been a Federal Commonwealth for thirteen years. In 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of an Allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, under a plan by Winston Churchill to open the way to the Black Sea for the Allied navies. The objective was to capture Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany. The ANZAC force landed at Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Turkish Army commanded by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk). What had been planned as a bold strike to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915, the Allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. The Allied Gallipoli casualties included 21,255 from the UK, an estimated 10,000 dead soldiers from France, 8,709 from Australia, 2,721 from New Zealand, and 1,358 from British India. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders at home and 25 April quickly became the day on which they remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in war.
Though the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives of capturing Istanbul and knocking Ottoman Empire out of the war, the Australian and New Zealand troops’ actions during the campaign bequeathed an intangible but powerful legacy. The creation of what became known as an “Anzac legend” became an important part of the national identity in both countries. This has shaped the way their citizens have viewed both their past and their understanding of the present.
Anzac Day is a national public holiday and is considered one of the most spiritual and solemn days of the year in Australia. Marches by veterans from all past wars, as well as current serving members of the Australian Defence Force and Reserves, with allied veterans as well as the Australian Defence Force Cadets and Australian Air League and supported by members of Scouts Australia, Guides Australia, and other uniformed service groups, are held in cities and towns nationwide. The Anzac Day Parade from each state capital is televised live with commentary. These events are generally followed by social gatherings of veterans, hosted either in a public house or in an RSL Club, often including a traditional Australian gambling game called two-up, which was an extremely popular pastime with ANZAC soldiers. The importance of this tradition is demonstrated by the fact that though most Australian states have laws forbidding gambling outside of designated licensed venues, on Anzac Day it is legal to play “two-up”.
Despite federation being proclaimed in Australia in 1901, many[who?] argue the “national identity” of Australia was largely forged during the violent conflict of World War I, and the most iconic event in the war for most Australians was the landing at Gallipoli. Dr. Paul Skrebels of the University of South Australia has noted that Anzac Day has continued to grow in popularity; even the threat of a terrorist attack at the Gallipoli site in 2004 did not deter some 15,000 Australians from making the pilgrimage to Turkey to commemorate the fallen ANZAC troops.
Something Sombre to Ponder About