Wednesday, April 26, 2006
ANZAC DAY - LEST WE FORGET
Yesterday was ANZAC DAY. It is a day of reflection and remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders on those who have paid great sacrifices in the service of their nation and their comrades.
Perhaps Australian Ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating said it best:
"That is surely at the heart of the Anzac story, the Australian and New Zealand legend which emerged from the war. It is a legend not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity."
25 April 1915
"The word Gallipoli has profound meaning to the people of New Zealand and Australia. It was the first major campaign in which the ANZACs1 fought, and because of the extremely heavy casualties, it seems that every family in these young colonies was affected. In some ways the battle became symbolic in forging the national identities of both nations, and to this day it is remembered on the 25 April, Anzac Day, the day the first ANZACs landed in 1915.
The exact events and decisions made are controversial to this day, but it is clear that not enough use was made of intelligence regarding the landscape and topography of the peninsula, and the enemy's positions and preparedness. This resulted in the ANZACs being landed on the wrong beach, and being forced to fight inland up a steep eroded slope to high ground held by an enemy who was already dug in, with predictably high casualties. Worst of all for the chances of success, the element of surprise had been lost, and the Turks had time to reinforce their positions.
The ANZACs were not the only troops in the campaign. There were troops from France, Britain, India, Nepal (Gurkhas), South Africa, and most of the British and French Empires. But it was the ANZACs who bore the brunt of attacking the toughest terrain, and the toughest opponent - Mustapha Kemal. ( later known as Ataturk, the founder of the modern state of Turkey). Kemal was a young Turkish officer who had been charged with the defence of the high ground above the ANZACs' landing grounds. Unfortunately for the ANZACs, but crucially for the fate of Turkey, he was brilliant at his job.
With the high ground gone, and the casualties mounting, it became clear to the high command that the campaign was lost and the allies must evacuate. Ironically this was the only phase of the campaign which went smoothly. Through subterfuge the ANZACs managed to convince the Turks that the ships arriving and leaving were actually reinforcing their positions, rather than evacuating them, and thus managed to avoid casualties. In the end the final ANZAC soldier left on 20 December, almost eight months since their first landing.
During that time the small colony of New Zealand had suffered 7,500 casualties and Australia 26,000. Other nations had also lost many men. France had lost 27,000 and other British Empire losses were around 120,000. The Turkish losses would have been similar, if not worse. After visiting Gallipoli, the Australian war correspondent CEW Bean wrote, 'The dead lay so thick that the only respect which could be paid to them was to avoid treading on their faces.
This was a terrible campaign in a terrible war. Similar tales can be told about many theatres of war. The ANZACs continued to fight and die on the Western Front; everywhere else the war was waged; and small country towns on the other side of the world erected monuments to the fallen. A generation later there was another world war, and more New Zealanders and Australians died in far-off lands. However it is Gallipoli in particular that started the ANZAC Legend, and retains a place in the history and hearts of New Zealanders and Australians."
In one of the most moving things ever said by a war time leader Ataturk, despite an invasion by foreign powers showed his compassion to all those families, mothers and children who lost someone in that far away land. I think you will look for a long time to find a more noble statement of compassion.
Overlooking Anzac Cove is a wall that has a quote from Ataturk on it:
"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us, where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."
I put the above together from numerous sources and some personal knowledge. I hope those sources will forgive me if I do not acknowledge them all. The picture is from the Australian War Memorial.
No one but a complete idiot glorifies war, death and carnage. The following is also a true story.
I personally knew a man very well, who served in World War 2 in North Africa and New Guinea. He never spoke much about what he did or saw during that time except for occasional asides such as
”Well I joined up because it seemed like a good idea, a bit of lark. They gave us two weeks training in the parklands with wooden guns and two weeks later we sailed past Fremantle (a small coastal town in Australia). I remember thinking…bloody hell !!What have I gotten into! That was the last time I saw Australia for five long years.”
Many years later, this same man was well into his eighties, sick and bed ridden. I was visiting and noticed tears in his eyes (which I never seen before in his whole life). I asked him what was wrong and after much prompting came this story:
“We were looking after wounded in Alexandria (North Africa), and young boy (remembering the storyteller would have also only been in his early twenties) came in from “the Black Watch”, a bullet had passed through his lower face and jaw rendering speech impossible. We did not have much in the way of medicine and we knew he would not live but he lingered for some time.
As I would check on him, he would thrash around and gasp at my arms. As time went by the thrashing got worse and worse eventually we had to strap him down. I just assumed it was the pain.
He died later that night.
In the morning as we wearing clearing his bed space, I found someone had placed all of his personal belongings underneath the bed, amongst them were several unopened letters from home that he must have received just prior to being shot.
The poor bugger wasn’t thrashing in pain, he just wanted someone to read him his letters from home before he died….
The old man’s voice trailed off then as he was very sick himself at this time..
”I know he will be waiting for me…”
That poor old man had carried the guilt of not knowing about those letters for over sixty years, and it was still what he was thinking about in the final hours before his own death.