"On the sweltering, disease-ridden shores of Gallipoli, Australian troops displayed a courage…. that thrilled the world". "For something tremendous had happened. For the first time our soldiers had been tested and found not wanting." How many of us have heard words like these? These words are instilled in us from an early age, and reinforced as we grow, show through our nation’s attitudes towards war, the Anzacs, and Anzac day itself: Australia’s most important and sacred national holiday. But what has created the Anzac legend? The Anzac campaign was "a military failure…. It was the biggest fiasco of the war." So why place such importance in a defeat? Why is the Anzac experience such an important part of the Australian culture?
In 1901 with a vote, not a war Australia was born. However it would not be until April 25, 1915, that we would prove our independence, worth and courage on the fields of Gallipoli. Thought to be an easy campaign, perfect for the untried Anzac troops, the Gallipoli campaign was underestimated, killing 8,709 Australians, and in December 1915 the Anzac retreat was the most successful element of the campaign, incurring no casualties. One of the reasons Australians originally commemorated Anzac day, was the idea that nationhood could only be earned through bloodshed. After the initial landing Australia was filled with deep pride, there had been a feeling that Australians were second raters. There was universal relief when it was known Australians had not retreated when the going got tough, but had in fact fought with skill and daring. Gallipoli was a failure of leadership, but it was a triumph of men’s’ character.
Australia had practically no traditions as a unified nation. "When we went away we were Victorians or new South Welshmen…Which ever Colony we came from. But…. we realised we were all Australians, and we were proud to call ourselves that." To us, Gallipoli was our great battle. The one in which we proved ourselves to be a resilient nation, able to work in horrible conditions and keep fighting despite the odds. "No campaign was more identified with them as this. In no unreal sense it was on 25th April 1915 that the consciousness of Australian Nationhood was born." It is this, which led us to commemorate the Anzac experience.
Anzac Day is not a celebration similar to other holidays of nationhood around the world. It is a sombre and sacred day in which we not only commemorate nation’s birth, but also remember and respect the loss of life of so many young soldiers. Their bravery, resourcefulness, ability to put up with horrible circumstances and willingness to risk their lives to defend their nation and beliefs. When over fifty years later returned Anzacs where asked what Anzac Day meant to them, their answers were far from glory "It was the day we celebrated friendship" "Remembrance, not to glorify war." This too provides part of why we place such importance on Anzac Day.
The First Anzac day in 1916 was a day for mourning those who had died at Gallipoli…And it was also an occasion on which to emphasise that Australia had now come of Age …it’s people now had a feeling of nationality. After the Vietnam War Anzac Day suffered withdrawal of support within the community. War was no longer seen as something to remember, but to forget. With the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings Anzac Day had a resurgence. The emphases of Anzac day faded from the concept of Australia’s birth, and instead focused on remembrance of sacrifice.
An important ceremony to emerge with this resurgence is the backpackers pilgrimage to Anzac Cove for the dawn service. This service is not reserved for Australians, but is shared with the Turkish. It is a service that highlights the losses that both sides share. There are 8709 Australians buried on the Gallipoli Peninsula, 46,000 British soldiers and 250,000 Turks buried also. Words spoken by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1934 are now on the Ari Burnu memorial, Gallipoli
"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives.... are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehemets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."
This pilgrimage leaves those who undertake it changed. "It was a fairly emotional experience… you knew the ground that you stood on was just so blood stained." "Our nation had been built on this identity, this character of the Anzac, it made me so proud to be Australian."
One of the most important parts of Australia’s commemoration of Anzac Day is the dawn service. Thousands attend each year. The most known part of the ceremony starts with Laurence Binyon's 'For the Fallen'
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
This is followed by the playing of "The Last Post", then a minute’s silence. On this one day of the year, all stand, and mourn those who have parted in the defence of our country, and feel pride for our nation.
Later in the day the march of returned service men and women proceeds to local war memorial’s where another service takes place, including the laying of wreaths, followed by an address which places much stress on nationhood and remembrance.
The war memorial in Canberra is a permanent way we commemorate the Anzac spirit. The memorial is located in our nations capital, so when standing on it’s front steps you can look straight down Anzac parade and across to Parliament House. The memorial's location is deliberate. It is there as a reminder to the politicians of the ideals Australia has been built on and the effect of war as they are making decisions. Being in the memorial, walking along the wall of honour, and standing in silence in the tomb of the Unknown Soldier was one of the most moving experiences of my life. As I stood in that beautiful and sacred building looking up at the words on the windows, mateship, larrikinism, resourcefulness, something in me moved, I was able to understand the Anzac spirit, and why it was so closely linked with the Australian ethos. I feel the memorial is one of the most important ways we Commemorate the Anzac spirit, as it stands not only for the "one day of the year" but all year, a reminder.
Australians commemorate the Anzac experience, as it is part of Australia and linked with our nationhood. "In the eyes of the world we had won the right to take our place with the nations of the earth… We have been granted the status of an independent power, we have put on… nationhood." That is why we remember the Anzacs, because they are a part of us. They are our heritage and they are our nation. They are everything we believe Australia to be.
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