Posts Tagged ‘ANZAC Day’

Not just a day off

In Australia and New Zealand today we celebrate ANZAC Day. It marks the landing of New Zealand and Australian soldiers (the ANZACs – Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) at Gallipoli, Turkey, in 1915 during World War I. But for us the day commemorates all New Zealanders lost at war, in all wars, and honours returned servicemen and women.

In New Zealand we buy and wear traditional red poppies. It is a national holiday; no shops, bars or restaurants will open until 1 pm. The morning is a time of reflection. Throughout the country, thousands of people will rise early and attend dawn services – the time of the original landing – at the many war memorials in our cities and towns. The sheer number of names on these war memorials shows what a price New Zealand paid, how decimated small rural communities were after WWI and WWII, how willingly and enthusiastically our young men headed out to the far ends of the earth to fight others’ wars. As a result our country has the dubious distinction of losing a higher percentage of its population in World War I than any other nation. We know war is serious business – all too often a pointless waste of human life for little gain – even if it has not yet directly visited our shores.

Throughout the world on 25th April, Australian, New Zealand and Turkish Embassies join together to commemorate this day. When I was in Thailand in the early 90s, a joint dawn service would be held at Hellfire Pass and later another at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, where the Death Railway crosses the River Kwae. Old soldiers – mainly Australian Diggers – walked among the graves gently weeping, remembering another war, but equally painful loss.

Turkey also plays host to thousands of young Australians and New Zealanders in Gallipoli on this day. Former combatants commemorate a bloody campaign together in friendship. A demonstration perhaps of the ultimate futility of war. A sign that friendship and healing is possible.

Some say that New Zealand and Australia became nations at Gallipoli, where their sons died in mud, heat and fear over eight months. Where or not this is true, it is now popular belief. And perhaps it was there that we truly came of age, recognising that we could and should chart our own destinies in the world, rather than as subjects of the British Empire.

My husband’s grandfather served at Gallipoli. I have seen his notebook with jottings about the men who served with and then under him, their lives and deaths, and the postcards he received and sent home. He was wounded at Gallipoli, but lived to come home to his wife, and have seven daughters.

When my husband and I were in Turkey last year, we of course made the pilgrimage to Gallipoli, as most New Zealanders do. We saw where my grandfather-in-law would have landed (below), and generally where he was most probably wounded further south.


Looking down to ANZAC Cove, showing some of the terrain they were expected to cover.

We had an intelligent and engaging tour guide, a young Turk dressed in an All Blacks rugby shirt (he alternates with the Australian shirt) who was an enthusiastic historian, giving us all sorts of information, giving us new unsung heroes, and exploding some of the myths around the ANZAC efforts. I had moments of guilt that he was so magnanimous to us, we who had been on the invading, and ultimately defeated, side.  But this illustrates the way Turkey has embraced the ANZACs, and vice versa.

These famous words of Kemal Ataturk, who was the commander of the Turkish forces when the ANZACs landed, and who became the first President of modern Turkey, are amongst the most beautiful words I’ve heard from a leader, one full of forgiveness. These words, this sentiment, encourage me that there is hope for humanity.  (Click on the photo for an easier to read, clearer version of the photograph).

The words of Kemal Ataturk to the mothers of the fallen soldiers

ANZAC Day is not a celebration, the glorification of a mighty victory. Instead, appropriately, it is a sombre remembrance. As it has grown in significance in New Zealand over recent years, especially with the young who have never known war, I hope it doesn’t lose that focus, the horror and sadness at the sacrifices made.
At the ceremonies the Ode of Remembrance will be read, it will be shown on the TV News, the Last Post will be played, and tears will, as always, come to my eyes.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Peaceful cemeteries beside the Aegean Sea

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