Friday, 25 April 2008

Anzac Day 25th April

And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water;
And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk, he was waitin’, he primed himself well;
He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell
And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell,
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.
But the band played “Waltzing Matilda,”
When we stopped to bury our slain,
Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.

From the song…The Band Played Waltzing Matilda – Eric Bogle

AnzacAustralian New Zealand Army Corp.

"Gallipoli was a bastard of a place," he said. "I never understood what we were fighting for. All I could think of was that I never wanted to go back to the bloody place."

Albert White, aged 100, Brisbane, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 2002

Anzac Day is an extremely important to Australians. It’s when we remember all those who gave their lives in war so we could be free. The tradition of Anzac day came about after Gallipoli. Where is Gallipoli? It’s in Turkey. On April 25, 1915 at 4:28am Australian and New Zealand forces were ordered to land on the beach at Gallipoli as the English military strategists had some theory that that part of Turkey had to be under Allied Control in WW1. Of course years later we know that it was the worst place to land and so many young men died at the command of pompous English officers who did not have a clue. But the troops landed, did their best trying to fight uphill and thousands were killed as they were in an impossible situation. But the thing is they endured what they had to through sheer guts, courage under impossible conditions, the bond of mateship and larrikin humor.

The Australian soldier of legend was enterprising and independent, loyal, bold, egalitarian, cheerfully undisciplined and contemptuous of the class of British officers. Blood, guts and the stuff of legend,

SMH, 24 June 2005

So the Anzac spirit was born. Many believe that this was a turning point in our history – that we came of age – that our identity was born. Yes, we were part of the British Imperial forces but we started to stand on our own to feet and be led by Australians who understood Australians – that rules do not always apply and if asked Aussies will do the impossible if respectfully asked to. As for the Turks - they were only defending their homeland from foreign invaders as you do. Today, there is a great respect between our nations.

You the mothers, who sent your sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace ...

Mustafa Ataturk, 1934

My great uncle Sinclair was at Gallipoli. Click on the link below to take a squiz. He died later in France. His parents never got over his death. They had come from Scotland to start a new life in Australia and to lose a child in war scarred them forever. They threw out all Sinclair’s letters home from Gallipoli – a terrible loss to our family history but understandable. I often think of Sinclair and what he might have been.

But Anzac day is not just about Gallipoli, It’s about all servicemen and women – living and dead who risked their lives for freedom. It’s about the men in World War II who fought the Japanese along the mud of Kokoda Track in New Guinea because the enemy was getting too damn close to Australia. It’s about those who endured the prisoner of War camps like Changi, the Sandakan death march and the atrocities on the Burma Thai railway. We remember the nurses who died or were captured when the hospital ships the Centaur and the Vyner Brooke were torpedoed in WWII. Like many nations we were
in Korea, Vietnam, East, Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq – I could go on and on. Anzac Day is about anyone who has or is peacemaking and peacekeeping. It’s about remembering them and realizing how lucky we are as a nation. As the old soldiers pass each year, we keep the tradition alive because it’s part of who we are as a country. It’s not about the wars, it’s about those who did their best in impossible circumstances and gave their all.

My paternal grandfather fought in WWII – by all accounts he was a gentle man who was badly affected by the war. My maternal grandfather was too old to fight and I believe he wouldn’t have because he did not believe in the war and, as a proud, bloody minded Scot (brother to Sinclair) he wasn’t about to do anything the English wanted him to. Besides he had to stay at home because, my grandmother Elsie, was very worried what would happen if the Japanese invaded their small country town and specifically wanted her piano.

My father – eyes right if you will – fought in Vietnam as part of the Australian Army Team. They were attached to US Special Forces. He was stationed in Danang – and yes, he still has his green beret. It’s kept in a special box. My brother was in East Timor. So yes, there is a military tradition in our family as there is in most families.

I know every nation has something similar to Anzac Day. I know how important it is to remember. War sucks but the armed forces still do what they have to and I believe we must respect that.

I went to the dawn service this morning. I was unsure where it was in the cemetery and it was dark but I thought what the heck, I’ll find it. As I drew close to the cemetery, 100s upon 100s of candles lit up the darkness. There is something about the lonely sound of the Last Post and the stirring chords of a bagpipe being played that sends a chill down my spine. I thought about Sinclair and all the other terribly young men and women who died in war and how lucky I am. Lest we forget.

At the end of the ceremony, the speaker invited everyone back to the RSL (Returned Services League Club) for breakfast. “Nothing fancy,” he said. “God knows what they’ll cook up – probably bloody stew or something but come anyway.” Australians – I love ‘em.

The British troops were suffering from 'an atrophy of mind and body that is appalling... The physique of those at Suvla is not to be compared with the Australians. Nor, indeed, is their intelligence... They are merely a lot of childlike youths without strength to endure or brains to improve their condition... After the first day at Suvla an order had to be issued to officers to shoot without mercy any soldiers who lagged behind or loitered in an advance... [By contrast] It is stirring to see them [the Australians].. they have the noble faces of men who have endured. Oh, if you could picture Anzac as I have seen it, you would find that to be an Australian is the greatest privilege the world has to offer'

Phillip Knightley quoting Keith Murdoch, father of Rupert, who wrote from Gallipoli in 1915. Australia: A Biography of a Nation, 2000
Go ahead: Live with abandon. Be outrageous at any age. What are you saving your best self for?


Anonymous said...

Lest We Forget

barbara huffert said...

Every nation has something similar. If only the entire world could remember at the same time maybe it would help.

LynTaylor said...

Wow AJ! A beautiful post. Very moving. We went to the march this morning. Poured down rain but we prevailed. I went in respect to my Grandfather who fought at Gallipoli - 2nd Battalion, A.I.F. He made it back, god only knows how, but he was never the same.

Lest We Forget!

Unknown said...

Both my grandfathers served in WWI and also my paternal great uncle who died of mustard gas in the war. So sad. My maternal grandfather stayed in the states as a cook during the war but my paternal grandfather was sent to fight in Europe. My Uncle Bill (my mom's older brother) fought in WWII also in Europe in the Rainbow Division. My dad went into the Navy at the tail end of WWII and was disappointed that it ended before he could fight (I'm not as maybe I wouldn't have been born). Dad's sister's first fiance, the love of her life, died fighting in Europe in WWII.

Hubby and I were both in the Air Force in the very late 70s and 80s. We were just very lucky that those were times of peace.

Molly Daniels said...

Both my grandfathers fought in WW2; one at Midway, and the other was the postmaster. Don't know where he was stationed. We should all be proud of our troops!

Phoenix said...

Seems counter productive to say "Happy Anzac day". With you and Anny both discussing war, it is clear the threat is on our minds.

May the fallen always be remembered.

Anny Cook said...

Wonderful post, AJ. I've had family in every War or Conflict beginning with the Revolutionary War.

It is easy to forget when we sit at home, comfortable in our peace. Thank you for reminding us that it is bought with a terrible price.

Unknown said...

Growing up in San Diego, a military town, I know how important it is to honor those who have died so that we can be free. Thanks for the beautiful post.

Sandra Cox said...