Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Anzac Day

The 25th of April is Anzac Day, a day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that commemorates the Gallipoli landings in 1915 of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Or, these guys: 

This is an old family photograph. One of these guys is probably a relation, but since the photo isn't marked, I don't know which one. I just hope they let the kangaroo go before they got on the boat. 

Somewhere I have a telegram advising of a relative's death. Somewhere, I've got a picture of his grave. He was 19. I've also got a letter, written in pencil and complete with misspellings, that tells his brother the story the telegram didn't: a shell exploded, he was buried, and it was probably painless. I couldn't find those. There are others, postcards and letters, family anecdotes and a "Have you heard from Douglas?" dated a month after he was killed. I found this though: 

I found this in an old wallet full of newspaper clippings that my great uncle Harry had saved. It's full of cuttings from the Second World War, with headlines like Fewer War Dead Than Last Time, and poems about Ypres and the Somme. All neatly cut out and folded, and tucked away meticulously in an old leather wallet that's now falling apart with age. 

When I was small I used to think the wallet belonged to Charles Hogg, and that Harry got because he died. I used to search it, wide-eyed, for bloodstains, for something to get me close to the enormity of war, for something to make me understand. 

Of course there was nothing. And of course wars still surpass all understanding. So we stand in front of a cenotaph, we listen to the Last Post and watch the sun come up, and, even if we don't know -- we can't know -- we pause a while for thought.

I'll end with one of the most extraordinary tributes written by a military leader about his fallen enemies, and wonder if many other countries would have been as gracious as Turkey. This is from the memorial on Anzac Beach at Gallipoli: 

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.

- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk


If you're interested to learn more about the origins and traditions of Anzac Day, check out the Australian War Memorial

If you want to make the biscuits, check out one of my older posts


  1. Oh, wow, thanks for that. Brilliant post. Had no idea it was a memorial day in Australia today.

    I'm afraid all I really know about Gallipoli comes from the movie starring Mel Gibson. Loved that movie though. Such a sad ending.

    Thanks for sharing the picture and letter.

    1. Hi, LG! Gallipoli is a great movie, back when Mel Gibson was young, hot, and not scary and weird.

  2. A fine tribute. And that memorial always makes my eyes mist up.

    1. Ataturk's words are just brilliant. Every time I read them I wonder if we'd be so generous if our country had been invaded. I know it's more complicated than that -- the Anzacs were there because England was there, and they were in Turkey because the Ottoman Empire was allied with the Germans, so it comes with a lot of imperialistic baggage. Gallipoli is seen as the birthplace of the Australian national identity as well as the Turkish, so I think we had more in common than not.



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