It’s ANZAC Day once again – the 101st Anniversary of the allied landings at Gallipoli. A day of remembrance in several areas of the world, but particularly central to the national identities of Australia and New Zealand. It’s a long-adopted part of Australia’s national mythology that our country, then only 14 years old, was actually forged on that beach; hammered into shape and made whole.
That Gallipoli was a resounding, bloody defeat after eight months of ultimately militarily valueless sacrifice may have been very significant. Our remembrance of these events and perhaps therefore the balance of our nation’s wartime experiences have focussed first and foremost on the cost of war, the very real destruction of very real people with very real lives from which they were ripped, the cost to their families, and the cost to our nation, which suffered the highest per-capita losses of the entire First World War. In every town, hamlet and even suburb in the country, the memorials for those that didn’t come home are never hard to find. The individual names of people from every community are listed for posterity. And only a fool would look at all of those names and think other than “There but for the grace of God go I”.
Had Gallipoli been a glorious victory, one wonders if the focus of our commemorations been quite so heavily focussed on the cost of war and the calamitous sacrifices of individuals, and whether our national attitude to war would be so slanted towards prevention. Or whether the melancholy never-again air might have been absent in favour of some kind of unthinking tacit endorsement of war. I like to think not, but it’s an interesting question.
Our annual remembrances are squarely about giving thanks and perhaps an almost apologetic promise to never forget those who let on clunky old ships and never came back, many without so much as a grave or someone to say a few kind words over them as they went to their rest. Rest indeed.
The old song concludes “But year by year, more old men disappear…..soon no-one will march there at all…”; At least this grim prediction has been proven to be incorrect. Our ongoing respect and remembrance are assured now, with perhaps too much fanfare as compared to 40 years ago, but if it serves the ongoing recollection of the legacy of the ANZACs, so be it. Let us also commit to remember the lesson they left behind.
Lest We Forget.