Today is one of the most revered days in Australia - Anzac Day. What is it?
ANZAC Day is the solemn day of remembrance of those Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who fought and died at Gallipoli in 1915. It is also a day of remembrance for all soldiers who died while fighting for their country. It is celebrated on 25 April each year, regardless of on which day it falls.
The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed in 1914. It was an all-volunteer expeditionary force that first served in the south-west Pacific and New Guinea, seizing German outposts. In November 1914, the AIF departed from Western Australia for Egypt to head off the Ottoman forces.
To support forces at the Western Front, the Allied forces needed to open a supply route to Russia and the key land platform they could use was the Gallipoli Peninsula. The British and French made attempts during February and March using battleships. Despite some success, mines and torpedoes damaged several ships.
On 25 April 1915, the combined Australian and New Zealand Army Corps joined the Allied Forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula for a catastrophic battle that lasted until January 1916. Of the more than 130,000 casualties during the Gallipoli Campaign, 8,709 were Australian and 2,721 were New Zealanders. Over 25,000 returned as wounded to the two countries.
ANZAC Day has been celebrated in Australia since October 1915 (in South Australia) then nationally on 25 April 1916. It has been a public holiday across the country since the mid-1920s.
The Anzac tradition—the ideals of courage, endurance and mateship that are still relevant today—was established on 25 April 1915 when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
The men who served on the Gallipoli Peninsula created a legend, adding the word ‘Anzac’ to our vocabulary and creating the notion of the Anzac spirit.
In 1916, the first anniversary of the landing was observed in Australia, New Zealand and England and by troops in Egypt. That year, 25 April was officially named ‘Anzac Day’ by the Acting Prime Minister, George Pearce.
By the 1920s, Anzac Day ceremonies were held throughout Australia. All States had designated Anzac Day as a public holiday. In the 1940s, Second World War veterans joined parades around the country. In the ensuing decades, returned servicemen and women from the conflicts in Korea, Malaya, Indonesia, Vietnam and Iraq, veterans from allied countries and peacekeepers joined the parades.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the number of people attending the ceremonies fell as Australians questioned the relevance of Anzac Day. However, in the 1990s there was a resurgence of interest in Anzac Day, with attendances, particularly by young people, increasing across Australia and with many making the pilgrimage to the Gallipoli Peninsula to attend the Dawn Service.
The Dawn Service observed on Anzac Day has its origins in an operational routine which is still observed by the Australian Army today. The half-light of dawn plays tricks with soldiers' eyes and from the earliest times the half-hour or so before dawn, with all its grey, misty shadows, became one of the most favoured times for an attack. Soldiers in defensive positions were therefore woken up in the dark, before dawn, so that by the time the first dull grey light crept across the battlefield they were awake, alert and manning their weapons. This was, and still is, known as "Stand-to". It was also repeated at sunset.
After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn. With symbolic links to the dawn landing at Gallipoli, a dawn stand-to or dawn ceremony became a common form of Anzac Day remembrance during the 1920s; the first official dawn service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927. Dawn services were originally very simple and followed the operational ritual; in many cases they were restricted to veterans only. The daytime ceremony was for families and other well-wishers, the dawn service was for old soldiers to remember and reflect among the comrades with whom they shared a special bond. Before dawn the gathered veterans would be ordered to "stand to" and two minutes of silence would follow. At the end of this time a lone bugler would play the "Last Post" and then concluded the service with "Reveille".
In more recent times families and young people have been encouraged to take part in dawn services, and services in Australian capital cities have seen some of the largest turnouts ever. Reflecting this change, the ceremonies have become more elaborate, incorporating hymns, readings, pipers and rifle volleys. Others, though, have retained the simple format of the dawn stand-to, familiar to so many soldiers.
Now you might like this wonderful poem written by an avid supporter of this blog - Vera Rothwell.
I saw him in a photograph, taken in his youth
So handsome in his uniform, this man I never knew
Just turned twenty, the eldest of four sons
Joined up to see the world, and maybe bag a Hun.
A boy from Riverstone, he was keen to see new lands
And yes, he surely saw them – Egypt and Gallipoli’s sands
“Wounded” said the telegram, and yet he made it through
I can’t imagine what he felt, this man I never knew.
Back in Sydney, safe at last, he took a wife and then
With a baby on the way, enlisted yet again
To fight once more, to finish it, he had to see it through
Perhaps he was a hero, this man I never knew.
And yet I lived with him till I was 15 years of age
From my first memory of him he was always old and gray
He liked a bet and liked a beer and smoked the whole day through
An ornery old bugger, this was the man I knew.
As a child I hated Anzac Day, it always meant the same
The march, the beer (too much of it) and then the two-up game
He’d come home roaring drunk and then throw up upon his shoe
I didn’t know his memories, or the horrors he’d lived through.
And now perhaps I understand just a little more
What he’d seen and suffered on that foreign shore
On Anzac Day I stand, proud in the chill of dawn
And for my long dead grandfather, finally I mourn.
I stand beneath the Southern Cross with others hushed and still
We murmur softly “Lest we forget” and know we never will
And yet somehow still I feel regret for one so brave and true
The Anzac that I called my Pop, the one I never knew.
Copyright and kind courtesy of Vera Rothwell (c)
Clancy's comment: I pay personal respects to all those who fought and lost their lives whilst fighting for Australia. Today, thousands of Australians will pay homage to the fallen, soldiers will join together at services and a big, traditional football match will be played on one of the world's greatest stadiums - The Melbourne Cricket Ground - MCG - between two rival teams: Essendon and Collingwood.
Though the MCG will be packed with something like 86,000 fans, the entire audience will be silent before the game and the opposing players will line-up opposite each other to honour our fallen. Trust me. That silence is very moving, especially when the Last Post is played. You can only hear the wind. Watch this video and you will see what I mean ...
Lest we forget.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:Pax vobiscum!
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.