Friday, April 25, 2014
An ode of remembrance
Today, Kate and Wills - the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - are in our nation's capital, Canberra, along with thousands of locals in the chilly, pre-dawn darkness, at the sombre and moving Dawn Service.
It was in those eerie hours before dawn, that Australian and New Zealander soldiers tumbled from the boats into the murky waters of what is now called Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey. As they emerged from the sea and made their way up the beach, Turkish snipers picked them off. Bodies covered the blood-soaked pebbly beach, as yet more and more soldiers tried to run across it to reach the relative safety of the cliffs.
Inch by inch, the Allies fought the Turks to gain control of Lone Pine, a strategic post. The battle at Gallipoli raged for several months, and by the end of August, 1915, it had cost the Allies 141,000 casualties, of whom more than 44,000 died. Of the dead, 8709 were Australians and 2701 were New Zealanders. The Turks suffered 251,000 casualties, of whom more than 86,000 lost their lives.
Here we are, 99 years later, and the Turks commemorate the battles of Anzac Cove and Lone Pine alongside us, welcoming tens of thousands of pilgrims each year to the ceremony on the beach in Anzac Cove, paying tribute to the Turks, Australians, and New Zealanders who so valiantly fought in that place.
It makes me sad just to write this. War, in any context, is a sad waste of precious human life. But the time for debating the rights and wrongs is long gone. It's left to those of us who enjoy a peaceful, free life, to thank those - on both sides - for their sacrifices.
In Australia, ANZAC Day has come to be the day when our nation pauses to remember not just those men who died at Gallipoli in World War 1, but at all theatres of war we have been involved in. In the trenches of France, especially at Villers-Bretonneux; in World War 2; in the Crimean and Boer wars; in the Korian and Viet Nam wars; and in Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, East Timor, and Iraq.
Next year, it will be the centenary of the battle at Gallipoli. In one hundred years, so many have lost their lives either defending their own country, or in assisting others.
Today, we salute veterans everywhere, and those currently serving. In major cities, little country towns, and remote communities across Australia, hundreds of thousands attend dawn services, line the streets for the march past of military and nursing personnel from all countries, and thank them.
May peace reign throughout the world. May we always remember and thank those who have defended the defenceless in our world. Lest we forget.
"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."
This song, written by Scotsman, Eric Bogle, captures the Anzac story so poignantly. Sung here by The Bushwhackers.