Anzac Day

Tomorrow is Anzac Day here in Australia.  ANZAC stands for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance, and began after the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in World War I, on the 25th of April, 1915, by Australian and New Zealand troops.  The Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives and over eight thousand Australians died, but the Australian public was profoundly impacted by it.

Anzac day commemorations usually begin with a Dawn Service.  As the early morning sky begins to lighten, thousands of Australians meet at war memorials, on hill tops, and on beaches, to stand in silence, pray, and listen to the moving sounds of the lone bugler.

Later, nearly every small town holds their own Anzac Day parade, where veterans, current servicemen and women, school children, and bands, march together through the streets to the war memorial.  At the war memorial, wreaths are laid, hymns are sung, and silence is held as we remember those who died, and those who are serving still, wherever they may be.

No matter what you think of war, or whether you disagree with the men and women who choose to serve their countries in the armed services, it is impossible to remain unmoved when you contemplate those young men, whose last sight of Australia was the beauty of King George Sound, and who were then thrown into the hellish horror of “the war to end all wars”.  From Gallipoli many went on to serve in France and The Middle East.  In World War II, Australians fought in Europe, the Pacific, New Guinea, Indonesia and Singapore.  Australia itself was bombed in the second World War.  Later, Australian servicemen and women went to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor.  There are many still serving overseas as I write.

Tomorrow, my father, who served in the Air Force for twelve years, will participate in the parade proudly wearing his own and our family’s service medals.  He will turn eighty this year.  Our son will march and play in the town band in two parades in our shire, and my mother and I will watch the parade and attend the service at the memorial.

At some point, Mum and Dad will probably reminisce on growing up during the second world war.  They’ll talk about the times they spent hours in trenches in the rain, never knowing if it was just a drill or a real threat.  We’ll talk about Uncle Jack, whose name is carved in the National War Memorial in Canberra because his bomber never came home.  We’ll talk about what it meant to be “a Nasho” or National Serviceman, which is where my Dad’s Air Force time began.  We’ll talk about how Grandad (Mum’s Dad) ended up in Darwin in the Civil Defence after it was bombed, and we’ll probably reflect on the Kokoda Trail and the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who saved so many Australian Servicemen in New Guinea.

Anzac Day will mean different things to different families.  For some there’ll be two-up and a few beers, and for others, there will be quiet silence, while others will enjoy an Anzac bickie and a cup of tea.  Many young Australians and New Zealanders now make the pilgrimage to Anzac Cove in Turkey, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and all over the television we’ll see coverage of Dawn Services and Parades.  Without doubt, “Gallipoli,” “Breaker Morant” and “The Rats of Tobruk” will be played on television at some point.

But in the end, the words of the fourth stanza of “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, are probably those that most signify what Anzac Day means to most of us.

“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.”

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