Tears of a Nation

Katie Steele
East Hills Girls Technology High
New South Wales

Years ago, I was awoken by my parents so early that I had no idea what was going on, but I was bouncing around after being promised a 'Happy Meal' for lunch.

I didn't understand why we had just got up at four o'clock in the morning to stand around and watch old men parade by with their proudly polished medals. 'ANZAC' was written everywhere but there were no cookies anywhere. I was so hungry! I tugged at my Dad's hand and looked up to see tears running down his face. He must be really hungry I thought with concern.

Many 4 a.m rises later, I realise I only see such hunger once a year. ANZAC day is such a poignant commemoration that many cannot control their emotions. Not that it is necessary or expected. I realise just how true George Johnston's statement is - "Australians have a great dislike of betraying any emotion about heroism". I finally realise the tears are something much more than hunger.

* * *

Eighty-five years ago, it was announced Australia would be going to war in aid of Britain. Australia did not have a very good reputation in war; being virgins in battle, they really did not have a reputation of any sort.

Those accepted had great expectations of lazy days sunbathing to miraculously return them heroes. Their shared elation was the making of what is now famously known as the 'ANZAC Spirit'. This initial spirit was not one of courage or devotion, but rather the spirit of anticipation. Anticipation does not seem like such an admirable trait, but the soldiers' obvious enthusiasm provided a foundation for perhaps the most significant building in the present Australian character.

Soon after arrival at training camps, the troops realised this 'adventure' wasn't what it was made out to be. It was nothing horrific (yet), but it was far from luxurious. A less than average situation was enlivened by the ANZACs. Other armies involved in this expedition, such as the Royal Marines and the British 29th Division, accepted their disappointment but already we see that the ANZACs had a unique ability to always look on the bright side. British soldiers had a reputation for their adaptation ability, yet the ANZACs set new standards.

A first attempt to attack the Turks and force the Dardenelles quickly ended in retreat, but this did not dishearten the determined, and the ANZACs were eager to try again.

Before trench warfare had even begun; a remarkable spirit had firmly established, but this was nothing compared to the ANZAC spirit to be created in the next eight months.

We all know what happens next. "On the 25th of April 1915, the ANZAC soldiers landed at the Gallipoli Peninsula - enemy territory". We have heard the facts time and time again. Continuously we are devastated by the number of deaths and images of bloody terrains and we are reminded that the landing at Gallipoli was one of the major tragedies of our history.

The situation the ANZACs endured went far beyond the facts and figures. It went far beyond a tragedy. It was indefinitely the greatest test of character anyone involved would ever face. The emotional challenges were the most difficult to face, yet through their tremendous characters, that were still in the making; through their optimism, courage and bravery; they were able to survive. All these characteristics are demonstrated in Frederick Aaron's brave decision to return to war - he had been shipped home after losing an eye on his third day in Gallipoli, yet stated "After no time at all I felt pretty well and said I'd go back". To other cultures this may have seemed simply insane, but this combination of patriotism and determination became yet another heroic quality of the ANZAC. These qualities would never have survived without their special mateship - a special bond that can only be created under extreme circumstances. But their mateship was far from being solemn --""hey we're probably the most unsentimental and irreverent soldiers the world has ever seen." said C.E.W Bean. Their mateship was instead an almost unaware willingness to help each other out, even if it was just to let light in with a unique sense of humour, helping a mate make the most of the situation when he was feeling down. This bond was for many the only thing that kept them going.

Aside from forming a love and trust in each other, the ANZACs were almost friendly towards their enemy. Although their comrades were being killed unmercifully, there was not hostility towards the murderers. Everyone was only doing his job.

When it was decided it was time to evacuate, unity and even dignity surpassed any feelings of defeat. They knew that if they had been beaten in any aspect of war it was not because of lack of courage, stamina or heart.

Mateship, bravery, sacrifice, determination, humour (and the list could go on) displayed at Gallipoli are what made the ANZACs so successful in proving themselves and their country as outstanding soldiers to the world. But these qualities, which can be summarised as the ANZAC spirit, succeeded in Australia in making them true heroes - a national icon. Their bond formed within the trenches also achieved greater sense of unity among the six colonies of Australia than even Federation had.

This spirit continued throughout World War 1 and subsequent wars, most recently East Timor. When disappointed, lied to or violated by higher authority; when there was no point in whingeing, the Australian soldier would continue on his merry way. It is the Australian way not only in battle but throughout life. "Always look on the bright side" is the motto we hear often. "Don't give up". The landslide disaster at Thredbo held the breath of Australia. The volunteers never gave up, their dedication to saving one man, even after it was almost hopeless, that one man never gave up his determination to survive, and the result was a near miracle.

Mateship has become a prominent feature of the Australian identity - a characteristic that is admired all over the world. No other nation has such a strong will to help others and make sacrifices for a friend in need. It is socially unacceptable to be unfair or untruthful: it has become expected to always be "fair dinkum". Participation has become much more important than performance - "have a go". All these unwritten laws 'became' in 1915, and have undoubtedly stood the test of time.

The ANZAC experience has had and will continue to have an immeasurable impact on our nation. It contributes so strongly to so many identities, yet in a different way to each. The ANZAC spirit cannot be passed down, as if a heirloom; it is something that becomes part of the individual Australian as they grow and learn. Not learn facts and figures and famous speeches, but discover where this eternal flame burns in their own heart.

* * *

I realise I see tears of admiration


Australian Women's Weekly 'Feature - When Australia was at War' 23 April 1980

Bean C.E.W The Landing at Gaba Tepe (from The Story of ANZAC - Volume 1 of Official History of Australia in the War 1914 - 1918).

Dennison Kit Gallipoli illustrated

Johnston George ANZAC…A myth for all man kind

Moorehead Alan The Anzac Bridgehead (from Gallipoli)

Powell Joseph Microsoft Encarta '97 Encyclopedia (Australia - History - Identity forged by War)

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