Lest we forget

25 Apr

It’s Anzac Day, a day of sacred remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating a bloody and blunder-ridden battle that was one of the first Australia had fought as a newly federated nation. It wasn’t glorious. It certainly wasn’t romantic. We weren’t even victorious. How typical of Australians to cling to the memory of a blue* we comprehensively lost; with our Kiwi brethren, our annual day to bash the Brits for their ANZAC_biscuitsmilitary ignorance and strategic stupidity, and to break our teeth on syrupy biscuits that, more than any other culinary tradition, proclaim our loyalty to our colonial and rural past and a way of life that most contemporary Australians have no genuine relation to.

It certainly makes for pretty movies. Mel Gibson never looked so good as he did ducking snipers and dashing across trenches in a futile effort to stop his mates going over the top.

In spite of all that cynicism and the sense sometimes that really, it’s just another excuse to stay home from work, Anzac Day is nevertheless the most important day in our national calendar. More important, certainly, than Australia Day, the purpose of which nobody seems too sure about, beyond its marking of the definitive end of the Christmas/summer break. And it’s becoming increasingly significant, as the swelling throngs of visitors to Gallipoli, the barren peninsula in Turkish Thrace where it all went wrong, and to the dawn ceremonies that take place in every city and town, attest.

dawn ceremony

There are plenty of commentators more expert than I to explain why a farcical fight a century ago is growing in fascination for Australians. I think perhaps it’s because we are increasingly uncertain of what it means to be Australian – a kind of national thrashing-about for values because we’ve let go of concepts like a fair go for everybody.

At the same time, we’re letting go of the respectful hush with which we’ve historically spoken of our war dead. We’re less ready to believe they were all heroes, although not for one moment or by one inch do we respect any less the courage, endurance and determination they carried into Anzac Cove. This article tells how the release of war archives are giving new generations the chance to know something of the Anzac ancestors they never met.

“My grandfather’s story does not fit easily with the Anzac myth. But unlike many from the older generation, my siblings and cousins are happy to look the truth of his service in the face.”

We’re also becoming more respectful of the role our indigenous peoples played in this and other wars. Around a thousand of them fought in the First World War, and returned home to the same prejudice, discrimination and lack of rights or recognition they lived with before they enlisted. As their descendants now march in Anzac Day parades in remembrance, it feels like perhaps we’re dismantling some of the walls, just a little, that should have come down long, long ago.

GallipoliSo that while the golden cinematic glow gives way to a more realistic assessment of our ANZAC legends, the real lustre of ANZAC Day remains and grows. These were real men and women serving in brutal and terrifying conditions, with next to no control over their lives or futures. They had each others’ backs; they served and sacrificed and suffered and skylarked. Those who came home came home damaged, whether or not they brought home visible wounds, and they picked up where they left off, raising families and building a country.

Individually and collectively, their stories are worth remembering.

“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.”

Happy Anzac Day.

Gracie x

* a “blue” is a fight in Australian slang

2 Responses to “Lest we forget”

  1. Servetus April 25, 2016 at 6:25 AM #

    I agree the film is a bit elegiac, but it’s a really great tool for showing students in the US just how pointless and stupid WWI was. I’ve used it in class quite a bit.

    Like

    • Gracie Macgregor April 29, 2016 at 4:29 PM #

      That’s fantastic! How wonderful to know it’s still prompting thought and debate. Thanks!

      Like

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