When the letter calendar came out for the A to Z Challenge I was excited to see that the letter V fell on 25 April. Today’s blog topic was the first topic that I slotted into the Challenge because it was an obvious choice. 25 April is the day Australians and New Zealanders celebrate ANZAC Day.
ANZAC Day is akin to Veteran’s Day in North America – it is our national day of remembrance for those who have fallen, those who have served and those who still serve in the defence forces. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and today marks the 97th anniversary of the first military campaign fought by the Australians and the New Zealanders in World War I.
In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The ANZACs were to lead the Allied assault on the Peninsula, providing the covering force and landing before dawn at about 4.30am. The British would be landing later that morning and would be covered by the guns of the British Royal Navy.
The Australians were landed from row boats. Most of the troops were still in their boats when the Turkish forces opened fire with many men being killed or wounded in their boats. It became apparent that the Australians had landed about a mile north to the intended beach for reasons that are still unclear today. Despite water-logged uniforms, thick scrub, steep slopes, unfamiliar terrain, confusion and enemy fire the Australians took the first slopes. However, throughout the day, the Turkish forces, led by Col Mustapha Kemal held back or annihilated the Australians. They were later joined and reinforced by members of the New Zealand Division. For the next eight months of the campaign the Allies attempted to expand their toehold in Turkey, the main offensive being the Battle at Lone Pine. The Peninsula was finally evacuated in December 1915 without the objectives of the campaign being met. By that time Australia had more than 28,000 casualties, including 8,700 killed and New Zealand suffered 7,500 casualties with 2,700 killed.
It is traditional for ANZAC Day to begin with a dawn service. During the War, dawn was often the most favoured time for an attack. After the War, returned soldiers sought the quiet and mateship they often felt at dawn and the dawn service became the favoured form of commemoration. Wreaths are laid at war memorials across the country and servicemen or their descendants march in a public show of support.
The Gallipoli campaign could not be considered a victory on any analysis. However, the battle was a victory in terms of Australian patriotism, mateship and the fighting Aussie spirit. It is where the term “digger” originated, a term used in the Aussie vernacular for the ANZACs, but also now a slang term for “close mate or friend”. If someone refers to you as a digger you know that they are loyal and will do anything, including laying down their life for you. This year marked the first year where no surviving diggers remained to take part in the ceremony.
Whether you agree with the concept of war or not, the troops deserve our support and recognition. ANZAC Day is the day to give thanks to the troops and to truly appreciate the freedoms their service has enabled us to experience. Listen to the sounds of our peaceful skies and look at the people gathering in masses to express their opinions. None of this would be possible without the sacrifices of those who serve in our defence forces.
So on this Anzac Day, we say the Ode (which comes from For the Fallen, a poem by the English poet and writer Laurence Binyon):
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
and give thanks for the liberties of this great land.
Lest we forget.