Lest We Forget

26 Apr

As the dawn broke over the cliffs of Gallipoli ninety-eight years a go, it saw the dawning of a political and military disaster for the Allies in World War I.  It was the moment hundreds upon hundreds of young Australians and New Zealanders were sent, mostly unprepared, with instructions to secure the Turkish peninsular and sent ultimately, to their deaths. This day, April 25th, is now commemorated as ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) Day and marked with dawn services around the world. It marks the occasion young men landed on the beaches of Gallipoli full of courage, fighting for their lives and fighting for each other in a battle they were never going to win. Young men who fought with bravery, persevered with determination and buried their dead with compassion: values which have come to be known as epitomising the ANZAC spirit.

As Ruth Pollard, who was present for the dawn service at the since-named Anzac Cove at Gallipoli, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, the headstones of those who lost their lives during the campaign also reflect the spirit and laid-back nature of the ANZACs. The headstone of ‘Trooper E.W. Lowndes of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade reads simply: “Well done Ted”.’

It was at a very poignant and moving dawn service at Bondi Beach, at the same moment that the ANZACs landed, that we were described the horrors that awaited those young men: ‘a maelstrom of bullets and blood’ and we were asked to turn and look out to the beach and try to imagine it without the shops, cafes and houses and instead the grizzly scenes which would have met the soldiers; a stark contrast to the calm and serenity of Bondi that morning. The guest speaker gave a powerful reminder of why we were there: to honour those who fell, those like many of the young men stood in the crowd amongst us. More than 11,000 lives were lost in that one failed campaign and the statistic, which resonated with many of us today: in the Australia of just 5 million people, 300,000 joined up to fight, the equivalent of 1.4 million young men doing so today.

Thousands of people gathered to attend the dawn service, an apparently growing trend, and made the occasion all the more special as there were so many children in the crowd as well – a point which I have noticed here is that the younger generations seem to mark the day and are encouraged to continue the tradition and commemoration more so than for Remembrance Day in the UK (this may have changed a little due to the recent war in Afghanistan and it may help that it is a public holiday in Australia.) An estimated 20,000 people paid their respects at the cenotaph in St,Martin’s Place, Sydney and over 3,000 stood silently at the North Bondi RSL. Current and former servicemen and women decorated with medals, stood with ordinary members of the public, some of whom were also wearing the military medals of their ancestors or carrying a photograph of loved ones who had been killed in action. Particularly poignant was the laying of wreaths by the parents of two young combat engineers who lost their lives in Afghanistan, the most recent having been killed in October last year, aged 24.

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Thousands at Bondi RSL ANZAC dawn service

Dawn over Bondi beach

The sun rising over Bondi was a more cheering sight after a 5am wake up and so it was on to breakfast and then into the city to watch the parade. My friend and neighbour, Katie and I watched proudly as all the Navy marched first. Both of our respective partners were parading and it was particularly touching to see how much applause there was and how many cheers erupted from the crowds, particularly as the veterans walked or were wheeled past.

Veterans ANZAC 2013

Paratroopers Sydney parade

ANZAC Day 2013: Sydney parade

HMAS Watson parade ANZAC Day 2013

SYdney parade ANZAC Day 2013

Marching band: ANZAC Day 2013

Support for the troops

ANZAC Day 2013: Sydney veteran

The sombre and ceremonial aspect of ANZAC Day is countered with a much more celebratory but none the less important part of the day as well. Following the parade, it is a chance for serving members (and the public) to enjoy a few beers. A chance for some to get as drunk as possible in one afternoon but generally, a chance to let the hair down, relax with colleagues and comrades and a moment to feel very proud of the uniform they wear.

ANZAC Day celebrations James said the whole experience of ANZAC Day, from the words spoken at the dawns service, to the obvious support from the crowds, gave him a feeling he wishes he could bottle to bring out during challenging times at work, those moments when motivation may be at a lower ebb.

James at Rose Bay

For those who use the public holiday as an opportunity for a lie-in and a booze in the sunshine, I would ask that although you don’t need to attend a dawn service, or even support the troops in a parade, at least spare a thought for the reason why you are having fun in the sun, for the men and women who have paid with their  lives to let you enjoy those beers, for that is the real reason behind ANZAC Day. A day on which many Australians and New Zealanders do reflect on the ultimate sacrifice so many made to protect their way of life, a day on which they do spare a thought for those past and present in the armed forces, a day on which they remember three words with a very significant meaning: Lest We Forget.

Sunset over Sydney

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