You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Anzac Day’ tag.


An antarctic blast brought in some wintry weather yesterday.  It seemed singularly appropriate as a meteorological comment on Anzac Day, when Australians all over the world commemorate the brave Australian “diggers” who fought and died in other peoples’ wars over the years.  I wrote about Anzac Day two years ago and I’m happy to say that what I said then still reads well. You can check it out by doing a search for Anzac Day.

Anzac is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  April 25 was the day the troops landed in Gallipoli (in Turkey) in Churchill’s ill-considered plan to take Istanbul and break through to the Black Sea.  The Aussies and Kiwis met a hail of machine gun bullets from the Turkish army dug into the hills overlooking the beaches.  The landing quickly deteriorated into trench warfare, ending  in a stalemate that lasted eight months.  Over ten thousand soldiers from the southern hemisphere were killed during the campaign.

It seems a strange choice as the national day commemorating Australian soldiers, but I suppose the first day of a disaster is as good as any.  There seems to be a tendency among Australians to idealize warfare, to see it as some form of extreme sport for which they are very well equipped.  Like Americans, they appear to believe that they must measure up, to prove their bravery in battle.

In Melbourne, forty thousand people gathered for a dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance.  Other Australians commemorated the day in Gallipoli and at the Australian War Memorial on the hill above Villers-Bretonneux in France.  46,000 Aussies died on the Western Front.  For a country with such a small population, the decimation caused by the First World War reverberated through every single community.

Every evening at dinner I pick up a silver napkin ring that once belonged to my wife’s grandfather.  It is inscribed “My Dear Boy 1914.”  He was seventeen when he went off to war.  His mother told him before his departure to the Western Front that she would rather he came back in a pine box than dishonored or disfigured.  When he got a leg full of shrapnel, the young man refused amputation, knowing that it could cost him his life.  Fortunately, he survived the bullets and bombs and managed to keep the leg.

In a recent interview, Amos Oz, the Israeli writer and peace activist, suggested that his politics have been shaped by his imagination, a novelist’s primary tool.  It has allowed him into the heads of Palestinians, many of whom are living in conditions not dissimilar to those Oz knew as a young man before the United Nations voted to establish Israel. Oz grew up with the sensibility of a Zionist terrorist; his first words in English were “British, go home.”  But now his point-of-view has shifted completely and he is considered a traitor by mainstream Israelis for suggesting that real peace can only come with the creation of a Palestinian state.

Maybe that is what war comes down to, in the end:  a willingness to be blind, a failure to look at the shades beyond black and white, between us and them, between good and evil.  A failure of imagination.  Let us honour brave soldiers and honor the fallen, but imagine the world John Lennon sang about, a place where peace grows and spreads like poppies on the fields of Flanders.

Advertisements

I rose too late for the celebration.  It began at dawn, presumably at 6 am, in the City.  The march was scheduled to begin at 8:15.  I rose early, but bearing witness to the commemoration of the Australian losses during World War I was not on my agenda.  It was coffee, breakfast, and the morning paper, wrapped tight as a drum in plastic wrap.  The significance of the day itself has been foreshadowed in “The Age” all week.  Ironically, despite the passing on of all the players, interest in  Anzac Day, Gallipoli and the Australian role in the campaigns of past wars has been increasing.

When war broke out in 1914, the new national government was eager to establish its reputation.  Australian and New Zealand forces formed part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture Istanbul, capital of the Ottaman Empire, at that time an ally of Germany.   They landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 and met fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders.  There were more solders lost in the first day than had been estimated for the entire campaign.  The battle dragged on for eight miserable months before the soldiers were evacuated.

News of the extraordinary bravery of those soldiers electrified Australians, helping to  forge a notion of  national identity, only tenuously formed thirteen years earlier with the  amicable separation from Britain.  The campaign itself was a failure, of course, a fact that was brought out brutally by Peter Weir (see previous post on Hanging Rock) in his 1981 film starring young, handsome blue-eyed boy, Mel Gibson.

Weir and screenwriter Williamson’s take on the war is that the campaign was poorly conceived, and botched by British officers who had nothing but contempt for Anzac soldiers and saw them as mere machine gun fodder. Here is a telling exchange between the two mates at the center of “Gallipoli.”

Frank:  Because it’s not our bloody war.   Archy:  What do you mean, not our war?  Frank:  It’s an English war, it’s got nothing to do with us.  Archy:  You know what you are, a bloody coward.

The trajectory of the film sets out to prove the falseness of the last statement, but it does raise serious questions about the value of unquestioning patriotism which fuels all wars.  An editorial in today’s “Age” says it very well.  “Anzac Day was born of a folly and christened on the shoreline of Gallipoli in 1915.  It is estimated that 8000 Australians and New Zealanders will be standing on the shoreline at dawn.  They will watch the sun rise with the ghosts of the victims…. One tourist for every dead Australian.”

Flickr Photos

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 41,411 hits
October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 143 other followers

Top Rated

October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  
October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Categories

Advertisements