Just before dawn, 108 years ago, sixteen thousand Australian and New Zealand soldiers joined many more thousands of Allied troops in an assault on a small beach in Southern Turkey.
It was a disastrous and ill-advised campaign and one of Australia’s greatest military disasters. Over 8700 Australians were killed and more than 16000 injured. In all, more than 130,000 men died – Australians, New Zealanders, British, French and Turks.
As a kid I knew nothing about war and suffering and defeat and heroism.
Then I became a teenager and knew it all.
A load of no-hopers?
At school I read Alan Seymour’s brilliant 1958 play The One Day of the Year which focuses on families and men on Anzac Day – a day commemorating the service given by troops from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
I had seen old men staggering down streets, drunk at dawn on Anzac Day, clutching mates and sobbing into their beers. I was disgusted and puzzled how any nation could tolerate this sort of behaviour, and why any nation would “celebrate” a massive defeat. I empathised with the kid in the play – Hughie Cook – and joined him in scorning those “no-hopers” with their rattling medals and their beer-breath and tear-streaked cheeks.
- No, Dad. You started it … when you dragged me by the hand through mobs of them like this – just exactly like this. That’s all I ever saw on Anzac Day, every year, year after year, a screaming tribe of great stupid drunken no-hopers
Alf – Hughie’s dad – says
- I’m a bloody Australian, mate, and it’s because I’m a bloody Australian that I’m getting’ on the grog. It’s Anzac Day, that’s my day. That’s the old Diggers’ day
I am now a bit older – and perhaps a bit more tolerant and understanding – and perhaps with slightly less of the arrogance of youth.
I have served in the Australian Army and on a couple of occasions have even been part of Anzac Day parades, bearing the flags of soldiers no longer able to carry their own flags. I now realise that for all too many people, men and women, who have fought and have seen their mates killed or injured or unable to adjust to a non-battle civilian life, a special day such as Anzac Day allows memories, allows sadness, allows an acknowledgement of sacrifice and heroism – and perhaps allows or even encourages a quiet beer or two with surviving mates.
Shaping the future
The Australian War Museum website (www.awm.gov.au) tells us that the Gallipoli was the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces in World War I. At that time, 1915, Australia as a nation was just fourteen years old following Federation in 1901. The AWM states:
- Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the actions of Australian and New Zealand forces during the campaign left a powerful legacy. What became known as the “Anzac legend” became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways in which they viewed both their past and their future.
Following a tradition that started in 1916, memorial services were held at dawn yesterday in Brisbane and in towns and cities large and small around the world, in Turkey, in France, Rabaul and in the United Kingdom where Prince William continued the tradition established by his ancestor King George V over a hundred years ago, laying a wreath in remembrance.
It was a cold and wet morning in Brisbane at when the Governor of Queensland Dr Jeanette Young arrived at the Shrine of Remembrance to lead a service starting at 4.28 am, the time of the first landing at Gallipoli. There were lots of other leaders – military and civil and church – present, but the fifteen thousand people who made the effort to be there, were a largely silent and respectful crowd of oldies, small kids and people of all ages in between.
Many people wore medals – ones they had been awarded – or those awarded to a father or brother or sister or grandparent no longer able to attend the service. Many also wore red poppies – flowers that were found sprouting almost symbolically in the blood-drenched soils of the Western Front.
A trend I rather like is the wearing of a sprig of rosemary instead of, or in addition to the poppy. While the poppy is perhaps more appropriate to Armistice Day, the rosemary is a very emblem for Anzac Day. This herb is an ancient symbol of remembrance and features in Ophelia’s speech in Hamlet. Rosemary grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula, so is a double-edged emblem for this special day.
During the many months of lockdown during the COVID pandemic, such huge gatherings were not possible, and people paid tribute in their own ways, by lining the streets of their neighbourhoods holding flaming candles as a remote bugler somewhere played The Last Post. In my street a kindly woman walked along handing out freshly baked Anzac biscuits: a lovely act of sharing and remembrance.
Brisbane’s Shrine of Remembrance is a striking monument in the centre of the city – with an elevated Greek Classic Revival structure and flights of stairs leading down to a park. The huge Sofitel Hotel looms over the square, and at yesterday’s service some guests were early risers and could be seen silhouetted in their rooms, watching the laying of wreaths around the eternal flame in the centre of the shrine.
These hotel guests were a long way financially – but not so very far at all geographically – from the poor man I saw sleeping rough in the doorway of a shop near Anzac Square.
I wonder who his “mates” are, and where they were yesterday morning.
One hundred and seventh parade
Just before 10.00 am, the traditional parade through the city was held for the one hundred and seventh time. This year marks the one hundred and eighth anniversary of the landing at what is now known as Anzac Cove, and it is also marks seventy years since the end of the Korean War and fifty years since the end of what we call the Vietnam War.
Many people do not know of Australia’s involvement in international skirmishes – whether as peacekeepers or as soldiers.
The 1850s Indian Mutiny, the Taranaki and Waikaito Wars in New Zealand, the Boer War in South Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Russian Civil War in the 1920s, the Malayan Emergency, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq …
Over 103,000 Australians have died while serving their country overseas.
In yesterday’s parade many of these battles were commemorated by marchers – or by those who could not march but were pushed in wheelchairs, driven in WWII open Jeeps. Others were represented by their children or grandchildren.
Crowds lining the streets – or peeking between the bars of barriers – waved flags and cheered as they greeted military bands, Aboriginal and Torres Straits soldiers, the Queensland Police Pipe Band, War widows, nurses, mounted troopers, New Zealand and Australian soldiers past and present, one man with a seeing-eye dog, men in period or historic military uniforms … and an old man who proudly but sadly told reporters that he was the only one left from his original military unit.
The Last Post
At the end of Anzac Day services and commemorations The Anzac Day ode is recited
- They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. We will remember them.
… and then The Last Post is sounded by a solitary bugler – a particularly poignant moment. The final notes die away and are followed by two minutes of silence, of reflection, of good and great and sad memories, but a sense of hope is introduced when Reveille is played.
In his first Anzac Day address as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese summed up the whole horror of war when he said
- We hope that war will one day be done, that the cause of peace will prevail, and we can stop engraving names on memorials …
Until that time, however, it is important that we continue to remember the service given by all those men and women over so many years and in so many places and whose names are engraved on memorials.
Not “no-hopers” at all.
Anzac Day, 25 April 2023
Text © Christopher Hall January 2023
All photographs from the Internet
In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit. I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.
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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight.
- Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship