Why does our nation pause to commemorate what most historians choose to describe as a failure or a sad series of blunders? it is because every person and every nation must, sooner or later, come for the first time to a supreme test of quality; and the result of that test will hearten or dishearten those who come afterwards. For Australia as a nation that first supreme test began in the early hours of Sunday 25 April 1915 on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Eastern Mediterranean.
‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them’. It has become customary to read the ode from which this came from ‘For the Fallen’ at memorial services marches, dawn services and reunions. This ode, written in 1914 by Laurance Binyon, tells of how the soldiers fought with pride and enthusiasm for our country and died for its freedom.
The Anzac experience in WWI is determined to be Australia’s earliest act of nationhood. Any conflict between then and now has just contributed to our national identity. The most recent act has been at East Timor when our troops went over for peacekeeping and this shows our everlasting loyalty, mateship and all the qualities that Australians have come to be seen as.
In 1915 Australia and New Zealand soldiers allied together to set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula. They landed at Gallipoli on the 25th of April, meeting savage resistance from the Turkish. The plan to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate and the campaign dragged on for months. At the end of this 8 month period the allied forces were evacuated after both sides had endured heavy casualties and sustained great hardship. More than 8000 Australian soldiers were killed. News of the landing at Gallipoli made an impact at home and the 25th of April rapidly became the day where Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in war.
Some of the ways we commemorate is by having a public day set aside to commemorate. There is Anzac Day, the day in which the Gallipoli campaign commenced. Remembrance Day, the day in which The Great War ended and at the 11th minute of the 11th hour on the 11/11 one minute silence is taken to remember all the soldiers that have died in wars since WWI up unto now. There is even a day to celebrate the Vietnam War, Long Tan Day. The date, April 25th, was first named Anzac Day in 1916. In that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia. Over 2000 Anzacs marched through London in that year, and a newspaper heading dubbed them ‘The knights of Gallipoli’. During the 1920s Anzac Day had been established as a national day of commemoration for the 60 000 Australians who died during WWI. The first year in which all the states observed some public holiday in Australia was 1927. By the mid 1930s all the rituals we associate today with Anzac Day – dawn services, memorial services, reunions, sly 2up games – were grounded as part of the Anzac Day culture. Anzac Day has been celebrated at the Australian War Memorial since 1942.
I recently attended a service for Remembrance Day and it was good to see the number of people who turned up to listen to the recital of the ode, the last post, to see two plaques unveiled and to observe a minute silence to remember all of those who died for us.
The reason we celebrate Anzac Day is because it is when Australian soldiers went away from Australia and NZ to risk their lives to fight for our freedom. Services are held at dawn across the nation at the same time the original landing occurred, then later ex-service men march through the streets. Commemorative ceremonies are held at war memorials around the country. It is a day when Australians reflect the many different meanings of war.
Today still living there are no actual Anzacs who landed on the original landing left in Australia or NZ still alive but even today as I attended the memorial service the commemoration was still alive in us today. Anzac Day is held for those of us who died in WWI and all the wars since then right up until now and people still keep turning up to this special day. The most recent of our heroics would be the peacekeeping in East Timor and even that whole event has made younger people more aware of remembering those who died for us back then as to now.
Australians won’t forget how they went across the ocean and we watched them leave many of them never to be seen again with their cheerful grins of their faces and the never failing look of hope, courage and bravery and how they thought it was a wonderful thing to be going off to war to fight for their country.
I know I will always commend the brave and strong men from Australia and New Zealand and hope that if needs be that the Australian men of today will imitate their loyalty and vigilance that they showed then.
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