‘How and why have Australians commemorated the ANZAC experience?’
The Anzac legend is a myth in the hearts of Australians of ‘the diggers’ at (most notably) World War I, which all Australians should aspire to achieve. Modern day Australians commemorate Anzac experience in many different ways, physical and social. The Anzac experience is remembered for a number of different reasons to do with Australia’s position in the world at the time, and the many grieving relatives and friends of the soldiers in World War I. However, the term ‘Anzac’ has not only been given to the soldiers that fought at Gallipoli in World War I, where the concept originated. The term has been given to all soldiers fighting under the Australian name.
The Anzac legend is drawn from the Anzac experience in World War I. The Anzac experience is the experience of the soldiers on the front of Gallipoli during this war. These soldiers fought long and hard under the poor British command, to be ultimately defeated. The Anzac legend was created from a devastating loss, rather than a marvellous victory. The Gallipoli Anzacs were primarily made up of Infantry from Australia and New Zealand, who voluntarily enlisted in the armed forces for the war with the Central Powers. This experience occurred on the beaches of Gallipoli, with the first attack commencing on April 25, 1915, the now date of Anzac Day. As Paul Keating said at the Entombment of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial in 1993, the Anzac Legend:
‘is a legend not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity.’
After eight months of heavy casualties and great hardships, the Anzacs evacuated Gallipoli and some returned to Australia to a half heroes, half disgraced reception. Others were sent to the Western Front to continue the Allies push. The Anzac Legend was created in Gallipoli, and now it is the standard that all Australians hope to reach.
Physically, Australians commemorate the Anzac experience in many different ways. The Anzacs are remembered through constructed memorials and war graves throughout the world. In all major cities, large memorials are dedicated to the Anzac experience, and in most suburbs, one will find honour rolls dedicated to the Anzacs that lost their lives in the fighting of World War I, and more specifically, Gallipoli. The Victoria ‘Shrine of Remembrance’ is possibly the most massive 1914-1918 monument in the world , showing the extent to which Australians commemorate this experience. The Sydney ‘Anzac Memorial’ in Hyde Park and Canberra’s ‘Hall of Memory’ are also example of memorials dedicated to the Anzac experience. However, are these memorials really necessary? The editor of a journal in the building industry looked at the sculpture proposed for Sydney’s Anzac Memorial and said:
‘the Australian Digger would [not] have appreciated anything so high-flown as this in his memory. He would have preferred plain facts to flights of fancy.’
Questions like this arise now and again, and are often crushed immediately by the Australian public. Australian war graves are scattered across the world. One would think that there would be close to 8000 (being the number of deaths) graves in the Gallipoli area. However this is not the case, as it was often too difficult and dangerous to bury the men in the forward position, as this would have caused more casualties. After the war, 33 grave markers were established by the Graves Registration Units and Imperial War Graves Commission. At the present, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the caretaker of all Australian war graves around the world. This shows the efforts of many people to commemorate the Australian war experience.
Socially, Australians remember the Anzac’s experience through Anzac Day and through the membership to clubs commemorating the Anzacs. Anzac Day, the national holiday on April 25 every year is Australia’s way of remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is nationally respected as the most sacred day of the year, and it was once said that it:
‘is like a great tall pillar standing on a wast plain that cannot help being seen, and as we look upon it we can only bow our heads.’
April 25 was chosen to commemorate Australia’s baptism of fire, rather than November 11, commemorating the end of the war. Anzac Day was started the year after the baptism of fire, in 1916, where there were a number of different services and memorials in Australia, a parade through London and a sports day at the Egypt camp. By 1927, April 25th was dubbed ‘Anzac Day’, and the public were given a holiday so they could line the streets and commemorate the Anzacs, both dead and alive. One ideal for the day as explained by a Chaplain in 1930, was:
‘that the wonderful spirit which led, and the inspiration which filled the hearts of the men at Gallipoli, could reach and enter the hearts of every person in the nation…’
However, it was (soon after the war) hard to combine praise of those who fought, and also show anti-imperialist and pacifist lessons. Once again, support for those who made the ultimate sacrifice crushed this opposition, and Anzac Day has survived ever since, with ever-growing support. Groups like the Returned and Services League, formerly the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia and the National War Memorial Committee work to preserve and honour that Anzac spirit by giving support and organising events to do with the commemoration of Anzacs.
Anzac Day is commemorated due to many reasons relating to the soldiers at the front. The fact that the Anzacs at Gallipoli were the first group of Australians to venture overseas in a brand new nation (Australian only have being federated 14 years earlier). This first group really left its mark on the world, as many saw the physical, mental and social qualities of the Australians as honourable, trustworthy, skilful and brave. The Anzac’s humility and regard for the enemy really shone through as an outstanding quality, as the legend of the Anzac was created. The noble sacrifice made by many of the Australians was seen as valiant, especially under the poor leadership of the British. The Anzac experience was remembered and honoured due to a devastating military loss, rather than an outstanding victory. The young Australia was put on the map by the first Anzacs at Gallipoli. Their adaptability to the harsh climate and configuration of Gallipoli caused Australians to be remembered by the world, and soon the word spread of the Australian character.
Australians commemorate the Anzac experience as it is a way to disseminate negative ideas about war and positive ideas about national belonging, as it addresses the intense and widespread emotional need to cope with grief and make sense of loss. Also, the fact that it is difficult to visit personal war graves and funerals created the need for a public day of remembrance that grieving families could attend. It is a way of the Australian public who lost loved ones in the wars to remember and honour their sacrifice, and boost the significance of ex-servicemen in the public’s view. The physical and social factors of how we commemorate Anzac experience gives the Australian public a pathway through which they can grieve and associate themselves with something truly Australian. At it’s establishment, Anzac Day was a way for mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends of those who died to commemorate the honourable sacrifice made by the soldiers fighting in the War.
The Anzac legend and subsequent Anzac experience is commemorated in Australia physically (through monuments and graves) and socially (through parades and clubs). The Anzac legend is commemorated due to the fact that Australians want to honour and celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Also, there are many reasons in relation to the soldiers at the front as to why Australians commemorate the Anzac experience. This is the Anzac experience which binds all Australians, me included, to aspire to the ultimate goal of the standards and examples created by the Anzacs at Gallipoli.
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