Lest We Forget.

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.

Yesterday, April 25th, was Anzac Day. For those of you living in Australia, I’m sure you are well aware of the significance of this day in Australian culture (and no doubt appreciated the public holiday… and the football! What a game. Bloody Collingwood. Anyway). For those of you who don’t live in Australia/have no idea what Anzac Day is or means or all that, let me attempt to explain it.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a battalion formed in Egypt during the First World War which went on to fight in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). The most well-known ANZAC battle took place on April 25th in 1915 on the shores of Gallipoli (a place that is now known as Anzac Cove). On the morning of April 25th, the Anzacs stormed the beaches, but due to an error in judgement relating to the movement of the tide, they were faced with mountainous, rocky terrain instead of the flat landscape they had been told to expect. Heavy casualties amounted, and the Gallipoli campaign continued on ’til January of 1916, with some 8700 Anzacs killed and 19400 wounded. Anzac Day was first commemorated as a remembrance of the bravery and mateship displayed during the Gallipoli campaign, but in subsequent years it has become a day in which all veterans and active servicemen are remembered and widely recognised, and also a day in which Australian culture is celebrated.

One outcome of the Gallipoli Campaign was the reporting in the media of the so-called “Anzac Spirit” from Anzac Cove to anxious audiences back home in Australia and New Zealand. Apparently “our boys” had a bit of a reputation over on the battlefields as being larrikins; however it was their clear characteristics of mateship, courage and determination that have since been deemed as qualities of a true Australian, in a way. As a child, I always understood the historical significance of the day. Not a year went by in school where we didn’t learn the Anzac alphabet or hear the story of Simpson and His Donkey, but it wasn’t until my later years of education where it became apparent how truly influential the WWI campaign was in shaping Australian identity and values. The first world war broke out a mere 13 years after Australia had federated, moving from a collection of colonies to a unified nation of states and territories. Our national ideas of strength and courage and giving a mate a hand, having a beer and having a laugh- they all emerged from the stories sent from the battlefronts, especially from the Gallipoli trenches. It’s actually fascinating to me how these legends and stories and values have become so entrenched in national ideals and culture; how our soldiers of old were and are always heroes, defending Queen and country.

It was a completely different story when our armed forces (many of them conscripts) returned from the conflict in Vietnam. In today’s Anzac day marches, all war veterans including Vietnam vets (and also descendants of Turkish soldiers who fought at Gallipoli) are honoured. However, the recognition of service in the Vietnam war was a long time coming. Vietnam was a war of shame for many, and in Australia in particular, there were no welcome home parades like in the first and second world wars, and many RSLs refused membership and entry to Vietnam veterans for several years. Yet, today, it’s all come together in who “we” are as a nation, as a people, as Aussies. As one of the most multicultural countries in the world, Australia has had its fair share of controversy, especially in relation to Anzac Day (don’t get me started on some of the Facebook pages you can find, ugh) and I can understand how it can be viewed as outdated and somewhat irrelevant to modern Australia, but the fact that the day, its significance and the Anzac Spirit have remained such key aspects of Australia’s national identity is so intriguing to me. And nothing beats the feeling I have in the pit of my stomach when I hear the Last Post at the Dawn Service, or the full minute of silence from 90 000 people at the MCG before Collingwood and Essendon take part in their annual Anzac Day football match. The term Anzac and the whole idea of it is now used as a term of endearment and almost affection. The Australian and New Zealand forces engaged in conflict in the middle east are still referred to as diggers, even though they are far from the trenches of Gallipoli.

Anyway. This post became quite jumbled in the end, didn’t it? Not happy, Jan. Ah well. I’ll just go have another Anzac biscuit  (try them, they’re delicious.)

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