How many of us would be able to remain calm and, in the face of certain death, carry out brave acts?
The bombing in Boston for the marathon, the felling of the New York Trade Centre twin towers and their immediate aftermath, when so many rushed into the hidden depths of the smoke to attempt to help people, informs the thought that many people certainly have the courage of their convictions.
They believed that even in the face of death and the terrible odds that may lie against us that there is the promise of life; and that if one life is saved it has been worth the doing.
ANZAC Day – 25th April each year has in many ways now become jointly Australia and New Zealand’s most important historical occasion, more than any other day.
It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought in 1915 by Australian and New Zealand forces together during World War 1 (1914-1918).
It is an event about the past that speaks strongly to the present and, in a very powerful way.
When war broke out in 1914 in Europe Australia had only been established as a Federal Commonwealth for thirteen years, very young in the great scheme of such nationalizing events.
Our Government of the time, and its people, still looked to England for guidance and leadership in matters on an international scale. It was keen to confirm its place in the Commonwealth of Nations, those founded under a British aegis, as well as establish an ongoing dialogue with all the other nations of the world on both a diplomatic and economic playing field, so that they could secure the future of our new nation.
When the call came for Australian and New Zealand men to bear arms and band together like brothers to capture the Dardanelles, the gateway to the Bosphorus and Black Sea, as well as defend the values and ideas of liberty on which our nation had been founded, they did not hesitate.
They volunteered in their droves, leaving behind their loved ones as they set out on an overseas mission that would eventually involve a great deal of sacrifice, hardship and horror.
The story of the ANZAC spirit is a story about faith in action and how, if we allow, it will not only move mountains but also warm the heart far beyond the reach of life, or even death.
It happened at a time when stoicism was integral to the character of the Aussie soldier, and when leaders of men attempted previously unknown and unimaginable feats of bravery, supported by their troops who believed in freedom for all.
They bore all without complaint, displaying a strength of right and purpose that was emboldening to all those around them; conspicuous gallantry, devotion to duty, caring for others and believing in a cause way beyond self.
What is it that today distinguishes the ANZAC from other men throughout history who have gone to war?
Why is it that we still commemorate their journey, rather than say those who have served and are still serving in other hot spots around the world in contemporary times?
Is it that because they have now come to represent, after years of marches and services to commemorate their courage, a spirit internally that we all strive to obtain; one that never gives in to fear, to violence or to man’s inhumanity to man?
A failure in terms of its military objective, the campaign that took place on the west coast of Gallipoli was a triumph of the spirit. It became the ultimate field on which many laid down their lives for reasons far beyond what the eye could see.
It was about knowing what might happen if they did not do their best that was at the heart of the matter.
During the months before they had gone to Gallipoli the soldiers of the ANZAC corps were camped in the sand beneath the pyramids in Egypt where they were trained before moving onto the western front. This is why they gave the name ‘Sphinx’ to a prominent landform above North Beach where they landed.
The fact that the main landing took place on a long stretch of a sandy beach, an important aspect of Australian social life at the time, had to have had an impact on our soldiers.
Instead of a theatre for family enjoyment, fun and frivolity the beaches at Gallipoli became theatres of destruction, degradation and death, at least until the war moved inland over the merciless ridges that took the ‘diggers’ so long to surmount.
After the so-called Battle for the landing and the move inland, North Beach became a place where the men could go down to swim, washing off the stench of battle and soaking up the therapeutic qualities of the sea and salt water, reconnecting with their Aussie memories and roots. It would also be the place where those who survived left from, following a decision taken to abandon the campaign.
Ah, well! We’re gone! We’re out of it now. We’ve somewhere else to fight. And we strain our eyes from the transport deck, but ‘Anzac’ is out of sight!**
Today we eulogise and in some situations, idolize ANZAC heroes who are well worthy of our admiration and appreciation. But their efforts are about so much more. The men who gave their all were individuals, both complex and unique. They came from many different walks and all backgrounds, something we must always strive to remember. They united together for a common purpose proudly under the auspices of their flags, which they fought for and honoured.
Where would the world be now without some of those larger than life people in history, like our brave Diggers, who not only changed its course, but also impacted on what would happen in the future.
Today, as it is with memories of all those who have passed on, in time it is only their goodness we remember.
I would like the memory of me
to be a happy one
I would like to leave an after glow
of smiles when the day is done
I would like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times
and bright and sunny days
I would like that the tears of those who grieve,
to dry before the sun
of the many happy memories
that I leave behind when life is done
Lest we forget.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013-2018
Thousands lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign: 87,000 Turks, 44,000 men from France and the British Empire, including 8500 Australians. Among the dead were 2721 New Zealanders, almost one in four of those who served on Gallipoli.
Despite being synonymous with Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC was a multi-national body. In addition to many British officers in the corps and division staffs, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps contained, at various points, the 7th Brigade of the Indian Mountain Artillery, Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps troops, the Zion Mule Corps, 4 battalions from the Royal Naval Division, the British 13th (Western) Division, one brigade of the British 10th (Irish) Division and the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade.
The full ANZAC story is available on the excellent government website Gallipoli and the ANZACS http://www.anzacsite.gov.au
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was a First World War army corps of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force that was formed in Egypt in 1915 and operated during the Battle of Gallipoli. General William Birdwood commanded the corps, which comprised troops from the First Australian Imperial Force and 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The corps was disbanded in 1916 following the Allied evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula and the formation of I Anzac Corps and II Anzac Corps.
*Philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic and classical philologist Frederich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
** Poet Oliver Hogue