Today, April 25, is ANZAC Day in Australia & New Zealand. A most reverent & sacred day in this part of the world, it commemorates the day in 1915 when Australia and New Zealand Army Corp troops (the nominal ANZACs) made a landing at Gallipoli on the coast of Turkey (a place now called ANZAC Cove).
The day certainly isn’t a celebration of a great victory – the Gallipoli campaign (the brainchild of a young Winston Churchill, then chief of the navy) was an abject failure and cost tens of thousands of ANZACs their lives before their eventual withdrawal by British high command after having gained mere yards. A mistake by the planners meant that instead of landing at a lightly defended beach, the ANZACs landed at a steep, mountainous cove peppered with Turkish machine-gun positions. With the advantage of height and numbers, the Turkish guns made a complete mess of the troops storming the beach. The ANZACs were tenacious, made small gains, dug in and held on as they were ordered to for months, but made no appreciable ground and were pulled out months later, their ranks decimated by superior numbers and by the privations of trench warfare.
But why remember such horror? Our troops had certainly been involved in military action before and with more success, in places like the Crimea and during the Boer War. Well, despite having first been colonised by the British in 1788, Australia didn’t become a federated nation until 1901. ANZAC Day marks the first time Australian troops went into battle representing their own nation and not just a colony of Imperial Britain. It is considered by some an important step in the building of our national character – the baptism by fire of our fledgling democratic nation in international conflict. Others see it as a warning not to simply do the military bidding of another nation (a warning that’s rarely been heeded).
These days it has chiefly become a day of rememberance and for thanksgiving for the sacrifices of all our fallen soldiers, sailors & airmen and a day to spare a thought for those currently serving around the world. Today, Australians & New Zealanders will be attending parades or watching them on TV, having barbecues (thought it is autumn and getting chilly), playing two-up, going to church services, many will be in Turkey at ANZAC Cove itself for a dawn service, or just taking a minute whenever they can to remember Australians that risked or gave their lives for our country. Far from glorifying war or violence, ANZAC Day is a day of quiet reflection, of appreciation of sacrifice … and to remember how those bastard Brits shafted us at Gallipoli.
So, today, if you know a soldier or sailor or airman or marine or someone serving somewhere – regardless of the reason they may have been sent there – spare them a thought. Or perhaps reflect on the sacrifice of someone you lost. Regardless of our various political positions on military action, our service people choose to put their lives on the line for us and that deserves to be respected. That’s what this day is for in Australia. Not to glorify war, not to celebrate great victories or heroic deeds, but to remember and appreciate the sacrifice of one human for another.
I’ll keep it short and leave you with what’s become the more or less official ANZAC Day verse for the fallen, usually played before the last post (which invariably brings a lump in my throat):
They shall not grow 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.
Lest we forget.