Friday, April 25, 2008

Who'll come a-waltzing matilda with me?

Today has always been an important day in our home, especially for my wife, Sarah. 25 April is ANZAC Day, the day the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps landed in Anzac Cove on Gallipoli in a long and ill-fated campaign to knock Turkey out of the First World War.

The landing and the next five days would cost the ANZACs nearly 5,000 killed, missing or wounded, and the entirety of the campaign would claim nearly 9,000 ANZAC casualties. Just a tiny fraction of the nearly 340,000 combined casualties that the next eight months would bring, but the impact of those 9,000 is still seen today.

Two war correspondents, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and Charles Bean, by documenting and this and other endeavors of the Australian troops, are largely credited with giving birth to the Anzac Spirit

The Anzac spirit or Anzac legend is a concept which suggests that Australian and New Zealand soldiers possess shared national characteristics, specifically the qualities those soldiers are believed to have shown in World War I. These qualities cluster around several ideas, including endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship. According to this concept, the soldiers are perceived to have been innocent and fit, stoical and laconic, irreverent in the face of authority, naturally egalitarian and disdainful of British class differences.

The Anzac spirit also tends to capture the idea of an Australian "national character", with the landing at Anzac Cove often described as being the moment of birth of Australia's nationhood.

Correspondingly, ANZAC Day is a big day there. It typically starts with a Dawn Service at a local war memorial or other prominent place.

The Dawn Service observed on ANZAC Day has its origins in an operational routine which is still observed by the Australian Army today. During battle, the half-light of dawn was one of the most favoured times for an attack. Soldiers in defensive positions were, therefore, woken up in the dark, before dawn, so by the time first 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 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 and the daytime ceremony was for families and other well-wishers. Before dawn the gathered veterans would be ordered to "stand to" and two minutes' 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 the 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.

I attended a dawn service eight years ago, when Sarah and I were in Cairns for her sister's wedding. Everyone was there - ages 5 to 85 - reflecting on the tragic event that gave birth to their "national character". It was a truly moving experience, and one that I can see no parallel to here in the United States.

The day is just as significant in Turkey. Dawn services are also held at Anzac Cove itself; this year's was attended by ten thousand Australians, New Zealanders and Turks. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first President of the post-Ottoman Turkish Republic, was in command of the Turkish forces at Anzac Cove, as a Colonel.

In 1934 Atatürk wrote a tribute to the ANZACs killed 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.

This inscription appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, ANZAC Parade, Canberra.

In the past, we would usually recognize ANZAC Day by having a dinner of traditional Australian fare - rack of lamb, with potato, pumpkin, and vegetables, and a pavlova for dessert. We'll also listen to Australian music - from folk (like The Aussie Bush Band) to rock (like Cold Chisel, whose lead singer, Jimmy Barnes sings "Good Times" with INXS on the Lost Boys soundtrack).

This year, it kind of got away from us, with everything going on. And that bugs me, for two reasons. First, it's a large part of Sarah's identity; she is a proud Australian, and as happy as we are together, the separation she endures from her home still weighs heavy upon her after 11 years. We also want our children to take as much pride in their Australian heritage as their Lebanese and American heritage. Lastly, it means a lot to me because, as I said, we don't appear to have anything here that parallels ANZAC Day here in America where we, as a nation, take the time to really reflect on our national identity and at what price it was bought. The direct, practiced link between history and today is not ingrained. I felt some of that on Patriot's Day eve, when I attended the Old North Church lantern lighting ceremony, but name the three (yep, that's it...three!) states that recognize Patriot's Day (I mean the anniversary of Paul Revere's ride...not 9-11!).'s not even ANZAC Day anymore...does that mean I need to delete without posting?

On a final note, I mentioned we listen to Australian music on ANZAC Day. A big part of it is this song - "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" - written in 1972 by Eric Bogle,
describing the futility, gruesome reality and the destruction of war, while criticising those who seek to glorify it. This is exemplified in the song by the account of a young Australian soldier on his maiming during the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War.

It can be tough to get through with dry eyes, but it is a beautiful piece.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
-Laurence Binyon

1 comment:

Dr. Momentum said...

I first learned of the importance of this day when I visited monuments to the cooperation between Australian and New Zealand servicemen in Sydney.

Thanks for posting this!