Unless you are a modern day Australian Hellen Keller with broken fingers, you will have spotted that next weekend is the 100th anniversary of the landings at the Dardanelles. ANZAC Day, in the vernacular.
The build up has been phenomenal (read the previous posts in the ANZAC categories on the right). It’s been almost on the scale of Christmas or Easter, with a discomfortingly similar level of commercialisation. All that’s missing is the greeting cards, something along the lines of, “Sorry for the loss or injury of your distant relative whom you never knew. Happy ANZAC Day!” would do the trick.
As a newcomer to the country, this confuses and bemuses me. I’m struggling to get my head around the personal significance all these years later. I get the historical significance; I spent part of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar on a pub crawl in Pinner which included a stop at the grave of Nelson’s illegitimate daughter, Lady Horatia Nelson. The deeply moving personal aspect of this Australian anniversary passes me by however.
I’m not sure whether I’m in the minority in this regard; as with the death of Princess Diana, there are some occasions where many people feel unable to fully express their counter opinions to those being offered in public. Is this one of those events? I’m not sure.
A social contact flew out to Turkey yesterday. He’s staying on one of three cruise ships anchored off Gallipoli and will be taking part in some endurance event the day prior to the dawn service. I didn’t have the courage to ask him whether a family member was in the campaign in 1915 or if any of his immediate family even served in the armed forces.
The view in the comments section of this organ is that between them, Keating and Howard supercharged what was previously an atrophying national day of mourning. Keating for his republican purposes, Howard for national patriotism reasons.
The biggest question that comes to mind when I witness the footage of the dawn services, flag waving, the green and gold rugby shirt-wearing congregation, the adverts for games of Two Up and discounted jugs of beer at the pubs and the subsequent late afternoon public drunkeness on the day is, how much longer will this national memory stay strong?
Ponder this for a moment; the Charge of the Light Brigade was only 60 years earlier than Gallipoli but people all over Britain don’t take October 25th off to go to a religious service at the local war memorial.
The Indian Mutiny predates the original ANZAC Day by only 57 years. Back home, it was perceived as a disaster and the national shock was felt years later in Britain.
Rorke’s Drift is only 36 years older than the Dardenelles campaign and, again, it doesn’t get a mention in the diary.
I don’t mean to belittle the events ANZAC Day is commemorating, the scale and national impact can’t honestly be compared to those primarily British events. There’s something to be said for the distance created by time and relativity, though.
The 1st Australian Imperial Force was an all volunteer army. One assumes that there weren’t many fathers of young families who came home after the declaration of war and told their wife and kids that they’d signed up to leave for the conflict in Europe. Is it therefore likely that many of those Australians killed in Turkey didn’t leave descendents. After a hundred years, there won’t be much of a direct generational link in the way that, say, there would be to those conscripts killed in the Sicilian, Anzio or Normandy landings.
My Great Grandfather was gassed in The Battle of The Somme. This knowledge is passed on in our family. I have no idea what happened to his (several) brothers though, or the brothers of my other three Great Grandfathers. Statistically, one of them was also highly likely to have been injured or even killed in the First World War.
Perhaps this is why I’m struggling to comprehend what is going on in Australia this month.
I’ll keep my gob shut about it in public though, and if someone can point me to something similar happening in other countries; say, France having a day of national remembrance and members of the public making pilgrimages to Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day, I’ll apologise for these rantings here.
In the meantime, I’ll be doing the “Lest we forget” thing back to people who say it to me over the course of the week. One colleague even changed his email signature to that last year. Twat.