ANZAC Day: a distinctly Australian commemoration

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My father spent much of his earlier adult life in the army (or during the days of horse-drawn artillery, in the militia and later in the coastal artillery during WWII), but to my recollection, he never once participated in an ANZAC Day March or Dawn Service.  So why do I, who never progressed beyond the school cadets, attend every Dawn Service and encourage my family to accompany me?

I’ve asked myself this countless times, recalling my very first ANZAC Day, when school mates and I stood in the cold, early morning drizzle, at the Cenotaph in Sydney’s Martin Place.

Perhaps the answer is, at least in part, that we Australians are a pretty perverse mob.  We’ve often heard it said that in commemorating the hour and date on which the first Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) landed on the beaches of ANZAC Cove, we are honouring a defeat.  An unsuccessful campaign in which the Turks clearly emerged victors.  Why not commemorate some of our subsequent victories of that protracted war? For example, the Western Front or Palestine? WWI, the ‘Great War’, wasn’t even our first overseas foray – our armed forces had been to Sudan, Crimea and, even after Federation in 1901, the Boer War.

As a nation, we’re not overtly ‘patriotic’. Unlike the USA and many European countries, we’re not into flag-flying and saluting. Sadly, most of us don’t even know the words of our national anthem – I often find myself cringing at people stumbling over the words when I watch public events.

But I’ve come to suspect that, in our country, there’s a less obvious, more subtle form of ‘patriotism’. Not jingoistic, and difficult to articulate, but nevertheless very real for at least a significant proportion of the population.

In 1916, when the Australian authorities declared 25 April as the official date for commemorating the nation’s ‘baptism of fire’, the conflict was to be ‘the war to end all wars’. Sadly, as we know today, the Treaty of Versailles merely sowed the seeds of the next world war. So ANZAC Day, at the risk of sounding insensitive, gained a new lease of life; the passing of the WWI diggers would no longer lead to the demise of this national day of commemoration. And so the pattern emerged; Korea, the Malaysian ‘emergency’, Indonesian ‘confrontation’, Vietnam, Iraq, East Timor, Afghanistan, plus countless smaller spats ensuring that every year there was a Dawn Service, followed by a march and countless reunions across the continent and in numerous overseas locations.

Now, after every ANZAC Day, the RSL and the media will announce that ever larger numbers attended these services, marches and other events across Australia. And, as an observer, I can certainly vouch for that. The Dawn Service at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne has grown more crowded with each passing year. Those attending appear to represent a very diverse range of Australians – families, sometimes three generations, the young and old, men and women.

We’ve all heard how, in recent years, young Australian and New Zealand backpackers have draped themselves in their nations’ flags to attend the Dawn Service at ANZAC Cove. But many others, of all ages, visit Gallipoli throughout the entire year. Our family did so in June 2012. To stand above that beach and below those infamous ridges and gullies, is a deeply spiritual experience. And, now, our daughter SJ, the YourLifeChoices correspondent in London, rises early and buses to Hyde Park Corner to attend the Dawn Service before work. This year she’ll be joined by other young Australians and Kiwis from her office.

Perhaps, as other traditional and more obvious sources of spiritual inspiration and fulfilment have been eroded in our society, this eternal need in human beings is in some way satisfied by such pilgrimages to sites of extreme courage, sacrifice and ‘mateship’.

Two decades ago, there was justifiable concern amongst the authorities, including the RSL, that interest in ANZAC Day was waning, as demonstrated by declining attendances on the day. This trend has, to the surprise of many, been reversed and this augurs well for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, we will not require fresh casualties amongst the nation’s armed forces on active service to maintain this level of support.

How will you spend ANZAC Day?

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Written by David Fallick


Total Comments: 22
  1. 0

    Thank you for this well written article. LEST WE FORGET.

  2. 0

    mmm, interesting article but, I always thought we were celebrating the courage of these men and women, their selfless dedication again all odds, their bravery knowing their chance of victory and survival was pretty slim and, not as the writer seems to imply, that we should be celebrating the victories. ANZAC is an important day to remember all these heroes many still teenagers . LEST WE FORGET

    • 0

      I don’t call that bravery but rather stupidity. Not something to be celebrated. They should have had the guts to defy the order to advance. What purpose did this sacrifice serve?

    • 0

      Franky I have heard your comments my entire life. You just don’t get it. The people who went to war, while we call them men and women, were barely adults. Mothers and Father’s buried their children. Those who returned suffered PSD and war wounds.
      Millions died. It was horrific. Those who survived built the memorials and decreed the 25th April to be the day to remember all those who never got to live their lives, marry or have children.
      It is not glorifying war, or celebrating anything, and if you suggest their death was pointless then you make their sacrifice even more futile.
      We remember them proudly and honour them because their sacrifice was not in vein.
      What would have happened if Germany had won the war or if Japan invaded Australia.
      I can promise you they weren’t about to take prisoners.

  3. 0

    Bless them, all of them. I used to attend the March as a ” littly” to watch dad March. These days I watch it on t.v and still get teary. Though the ranks are getting thinner and thinner, the respect is still there. I was watching to dawn service in Adelaide and there were young school children singing the words of a hymn! All of them! Sime of the adults didn’t even know the words! That’s what gives one hope for the future. Hope that, someday, no one else will have to go to war. Sadly, with ” mans sad nature” a forlorn hope hut one day, their sacrifice will finally mean something to humanity. Until that day, we should go on honouring the courage, bravery and resilience of the young of these generations. And, of course, of all the animals ( and birds) who played a crucial role in each conflict.

  4. 0

    I am old enough to have an uncle who survived Anzac Cove but died at the Somme. Of one thing I am certain, he would not have approved of the changes we see in our society, the loss of freedom of speech, the groveling to those who have repeatedly stated their hatred and contempt for democracy, the very things the Anzacs and other soldiers in both wars died to protect.
    Lest we forget? Too late, we’ve well and truly forgotten!

    • 0

      Wars are never fought for ideals but for those who profit from war.

    • 0

      Franky, why did Britain go to war as promised when Germany invaded Poland? No possibility of profit there, only the certainty of virtual bankruptcy if they won and enslavement if they lost.

    • 0

      Franky, why did Britain go to war as promised when Germany invaded Poland? No possibility of profit there, only the certainty of virtual bankruptcy if they won and enslavement if they lost.

    • 0

      Franky, why did Britain go to war as promised when Germany invaded Poland? No possibility of profit there, only the certainty of virtual bankruptcy if they won and enslavement if they lost.

  5. 0

    My father was at Gallipoli & as far as I know never marched in the parades. He never spoke about the war. He always had a mischievous sense of humor. He sired 9 children of which 7 were girls. His eldest son served in the army as a gunner in New Guinea. My dad was a very resourceful person who learned to be a “Jack of all trades” & also a Jill.The more I learned about that war the more emotional I became & I cannot even bear to watch the TV coverage of each years commemoration. R.I.P. & we will NEVER forget.

  6. 0

    Seems a familiar story. My father served in WW2, both in Middle East and New Guinea, was wounded twice and, as far as I can remember, he never wore his medals or marched on Anzac Day. Nevertheless he was a stalwart of the RSL and Legacy.
    He never spoke about fighting but did have some amusing anecdotes of skulduggery with which he, and others, was associated . He bought back a lot of baggage including tropical ulcers which never healed, despite the best efforts of Repat, and what I realised much later in life was what we now call PTSD.

  7. 0

    My father in law fought with the 48th Infantry Battalion in Belgium and France in 1917/18 and lived through the most inhumane conditions imaginable. My father flew Kittyhawks with 3 Squadron RAAF in North Africa until shot down in July 1942 and had to live with severe facial disfiguration for the rest of his life. Both men spoke little in later life about their experiences. Both men saw Anzac day as a time to mark the loss of mates and to join with others of similar experience in a common bond. Neither man saw it as a matter for blind patriotism – rather a time of solemn reflection on the futility of war. Let us neither forget the sacrifice nor the message.

    • 0

      Again, a smart response. It’s patriotism whipped up by the elite which facilitates war from which the elites profit, whilst causing untold suffering and hardship for the ordinary people

  8. 0

    I don’t get ANZAC day. Why celebrate a defeat? To my knowledge we are the only country in the world doing that – and it wasn’t even our war. Neither were any of subsequent wars we involved ourselves in. I could understand if the focus of celebration was in PNG where we in a way successfully defended our country from a possible Japanese invasion. Paul Keating was the only politician who supported such a shift to celebrating something we can be proud of.

    • 0

      We are not “celebrating” anything Franky. Get in a car and go for a drive to the country and notice the rows of poplars lining the roads into town, then stop at their memorials with the long list of those who have died and look around at the tiny town you have stop at.
      Each of those poplars is there to remember a lost soldier.
      Anzac day is a day of grief and mourning. If you don’t care or don’t get it then please respect those who do.

    • 0

      I agree and respect the wishes of the old diggers. They all hoped that ANZAC would die out with them.

    • 0

      You aren’t speaking to the same returned servicemen as I do Bonny. I hope their pain will die with them however while they suffer I will stand by them.
      Anzac day serves as an excellent reminder of how easily war can begin and we must teach our young so this doesn’t happen again.

  9. 0

    Like most Australians I’ve also had close relatives caught up in wars…But there’s just so much mythology and hype surrounding what really happened in these wars it takes really good ‘history’ and the contextual perspectives of many to tease out its ghastly reality, and of course from what I can determine when faced, like we all are with myth, fact, hype, propaganda etc. etc. of these world conflicts it’s understandable to just want it all to be forgotten at times ……

    Sadly though this ability to ‘forget’ is just so much easier said than done, given the impacts of conflicts like WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam etc. on the lives of those caught up in these nightmares and which blighted the lives of generations of Australians for almost the entire 20th century and beyond in the form of death, injury, disease ie. VD, undiagnosed PTSD etc. with this grief and dysfunction having intergenerational ramifications…..

    Re: Anzac Day. I’m OK with acknowledging the sacrifices made by the poor buggers caught up in this mess, but still believe we’re far from knowing exactly what happens in war and think the whole Anzac Day sideshow should ban politician attendance, given these slimeballs make these decisions regarding military conflicts but are usually safely hunkered down thousands of miles from the action throughout the duration…

    But from what I can glean WW1 was not much more than slaughter on a grand scale particularly on the Western Front….

  10. 0

    i’m fed up with the pornography of anzac day. let’s change the motto to ”best we forget”.

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