ANZAC Cove and New Zealand Point by Frank Hurley
“When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow,
We Gave Our Today.”
Epitaph at Kohima memorial cemetery
Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating the Gallipoli landing on April 25, 1915. Of the more than 44,000 Allied deaths at Gallipoli almost 11,000 were ANZACs; over 130,000 soldiers died on both sides.
This year was the 95th anniversary of the campaign and Gallipoli is still seen as a defining moment in Australian, New Zealand and Turkish history. The operation was a strategic and military failure but it was the moment both Australia and New Zealand started to emerge and forge our own identities, separate from Britain, in the wider world, and it also laid the groundwork for the formation of the Turkish Republic eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli who became Turkey’s first president.
There is a dawn service held at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli each year to commemorate the fallen and ANZAC Day has expanded over the years to remember all those who have died and served Australia and New Zealand; from World War I and II, to Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Usually there are services and veterans’ marches in every capital city.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Gallipoli campaign but I must admit I have slightly mixed feelings about ANZAC Day. As a day of remembrance and reflection it’s something I value greatly, particularly knowing how lucky I am to live in a free country and the sacrifices many Australians have made in her name. What I don’t like about ANZAC Day, however, is the way we often overlook New Zealand and Turkey in the commemorations, and particularly the nationalistic fervour that sometimes overwhelms it.
In recent years ANZAC Day has become more like a day of national pride in Australia. That’s not necessarily a bad thing except sometimes it’s seen more as a national holiday than a day of remembrance and some Australians think if you don’t wrap yourself in the Australian flag and wear green and gold, you’re being unpatriotic. Personally I try to commemorate ANZAC Day in my own way, looking at old photographs from Gallipoli and reflecting quietly on the losses on both sides and what it means to be Australian, but that attitude has begun to intrude on ANZAC Day more and more. It’s got to the point where the role of New Zealand is often overlooked in Australian commemorations and some Australians almost consider ANZAC Cove to be Australian soil, even though Gallipoli is still Turkish territory. I often wonder if we’re starting to lose what ANZAC Day is really about: remembering the cost of war.
Worse, though, is when people seem to have no respect for the ANZAC legacy at all. A war memorial in Sydney was vandalised on Saturday night, with a flag pole broken and garbage strewn around the Cenotaph. Why? What kind of person would do that? There was also a furore recently over the suggestion that because ANZAC Day fell on a Sunday this year, there shouldn’t be a public holiday in lieu on the Monday as it would be disrespectful (something I agreed with). But there was a public outcry against the idea and so the holiday stood. Likewise Kmart and other retailers recently applied to be able to trade on ANZAC Day morning, which RSLs were outraged by. Both cases show that people are beginning to associate ANZAC Day as more of a holiday than a day of reflection, which is troubling.
I’ve come across that kind of thing myself. I caught the bus home from Bondi on Saturday and a couple stood next to me, about my age or perhaps slightly older. Their language was vulgar, so much so that I won’t repeat most of it, and they spent most of the trip talking about an all-day party they were having on Sunday, planning to get so wasted they’d need Monday and Tuesday to recover and to “fuck like bunnies” all night. I have no idea if they even knew Sunday was ANZAC Day or not. Worse, though, they were standing in the way of the door and when an elderly woman stumbled into them as she was getting off, one of them called after her, “Fucking bitch. I should hit you so fucking hard for that. I hope you drop dead.”
They really got under my skin. First, I don’t see why such abysmal language is necessary in public. There was a little girl in front of me who heard all of it – and believe me, most of it she definitely wouldn’t have heard before. But much worse was the way they treated the woman. She was old enough to have been a nurse or war bride in World War II; is this the way we talk to our elders? To abuse them the night before ANZAC Day? Who knows what she has seen or done in her life. And what about the party? Getting that wasted on ANZAC Day of all days? Don’t you have any respect?
Maybe I’m off the mark but I think the ANZAC legacy deserves more respect than that. I know the original ANZACs wanted ANZAC Day to be as much a day of celebration as commemoration but I think the very least you can do is to spare a few minutes to think about how lucky we are for all we have on this one day of the year – and perhaps to abstain from getting so drunk that you won’t be able to remember any of it in the morning.
But perhaps it’s ignorance that is the real problem. After all, how can you really respect something if you don’t know the true story behind it? I wonder how many Australians actually know the true story of Gallipoli? Not the legend that has arisen since but what really happened? Somehow I doubt many do. There’s a famous quote by Alan Bond after winning the America’s Cup; his crew had been behind at one stage and he commented afterwards “it was just like Gallipoli, and we won that one”. That is simply wrong (not to mention insensitive). The Gallipoli campaign was a complete disaster from the beginning, ending when the Allies pulled out in January 1916 – yet it’s a misconception I hear again and again. Likewise many young people believe the first ANZACs gave their lives to protect Australia from invasion. Again that’s not true. The Allies were the invaders; the purpose of the campaign was to capture Istanbul (then Constantinople) and provide sea access to Russia, a campaign in a war we joined because of our ties to Great Britain. Also, Gallipoli is often referred to as the birth of our national consciousness, but the Western Front was just as important. Some Australians don’t even seem to know that New Zealand was part of the ANZAC Corps as well: at least one student at Queensland University was “shocked” recently when a New Zealand professor told them what ANZAC really stood for.
I can’t say any of it surprises me. I’m convinced the majority of Australians (and perhaps it’s true for other countries as well) don’t know their own history well enough. If we did there would be more sympathy for Indigenous Australians in particular and figures like Ned Kelly and Jimmy Governor wouldn’t be so notorious. I guess I can understand why; history is often dull and legends tend to take on lives of their own. But I don’t believe you can know who you are unless you know where you truly come from. That’s why I’ve always been interested in learning about the colonies, and Gallipoli, and why I began to research my family tree as well. I think most Australians would be surprised by how different much of our history really is. I doubt many people even know the extent of our deployments outside of Gallipoli, or just how close we came to being occupied by Japan in World War II.
I guess I’m just afraid that we’re slowly losing what is really important about ANZAC Day: remembering the fallen and our troops around the world, and the true cost and horror of war. Instead some people barely seem aware of it; for others it’s becoming more a day of national pride and while there is room for that as well, it shouldn’t be the focus. Each year ANZAC Day is being commemorated by more young people, at their schools and with their families, so that is a good sign at least. It shows they want to remember, to hear the stories and know what happened. If we can pass on the true history of Gallipoli to them, then the real Anzac spirit should never be forgotten.
In any case, I wanted to do a post to commemorate the 95th anniversary but I thought I’d post this on the 26th instead as I didn’t want my views to seem disrespectful. I thought I’d do something special as well, so I’ve put together another photo post, to show what the world and war was really like at that time.
The photos are from the Australian War Memorial, the State Library of NSW, the National Library of New Zealand and the National Media Museum on Flickr. They are all from World War I and II. Lest we forget.
And to all of our troops around the world, stay safe. We’re thinking of you, always.