25 April 2013
ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps - though as you can see from the photos, it isn't just the army, it encompasses the entire military services.
The date of 25 April was chosen for this day because 25 April 1915 was the day the ANZAC forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula (in Turkey) - this was the first time Australia and New Zealand participated in wars as independent countries, rather than under the UK flag - and it was a long and drawn out campaign. The ANZAC forces were there for 8 months, and lost over 11,000 men.
So this is a very somber day, truly a day of remembrance, as well as a day of national pride.
The traditional activities of the day, all across the country, include a dawn memorial service and laying wreaths on tombs; a march of all military personnel, in full uniform, in various towns and cities - some of the people live in that area, others come for reunions with their platoon or squadron mates; then a big breakfast with one's military mates; and then either family or military get togethers.
I asked someone about the holiday, whether it was a happy holiday or something of a memorial day, like the US Memorial Day. He told me that you go to services, then the march, then brekkie, then you "sit with your mates, have some brew, and talk about the blokes who didn't make it back."
We missed the sunrise service, as well as the Air Force jets flying overhead. But we saw a bit of the military march - it isn't called a parade here, it's a march - and then we talked to some of the men and women in uniform, and they agreed to have photos taken for the blog.
One woman, hearing our accents, asked if we were from America, and she asked if we were here for our boys. (The US Marines currently have some 200 marines here in Darwin, we aren't quite sure why - a joint military venture or something.) I responded no, we didn't have any children, and Richard added that we're just tiki touring the world and happened to be here.
It really was an emotional experience, because these two countries had such heavy casualties in the various wars. The British commanders sent the Aussies and Kiwis into battles they felt couldn't be won, or at least that's the sentiment here.
And a little known fact to those of us on the other side of the world - the Japanese bombed Australia. They bombed the city of Darwin, and up and down the north coast. There are WWII airstrips all around this part of the country, where the ANZAC forces and their Allies were stationed and fought against in the Japanese in the Pacific theatre of the war.
I truly had no idea. The more I travel and talk with people, the more I realize that the "world history" I was taught in school was "world history as Americans were involved." Not true world history from a global perspective. Not that the Japanese bombed anyone but the US ships at Pearl Harbor. (They bombed Darwin over 60 times. Just Darwin! They dropped bombs on other parts of Northern Australia - but 60 air raids on Darwin!) Not that Hitler turned against the Italians mid-war. I could go on and on - but the more I travel, the more I realize how myopic our American vision of the world truly is.
People who know me know that I've been a somewhat active anti-war protestor since the Vietnam era. And so it might seem strange that I attended these activities.
But there's something about a day dedicated to "the blokes who didn't make it home" that is very moving, and I think the way a country remembers its wounded and lost is a strong indication of that nation's values. So while there is a sadness to the day, there isn't a very strong sense of nationalism. It's more a "let's not forget our soldiers" feeling, and not a "Rah rah Australia" feeling. And there is a definite awareness of the atrocities of war that runs through the day's activities, from what is shown on television to what we've seen today.
So - two online friends posted this quotation from Ataturk that is often read on ANZAC Day, and that is written on a plaque in Canberra, the Australian capital:
"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."
One hopes that sense of global unity and understanding remains and grows.