ANZAC Day—Why we remember
This morning I spoke to the School as part of our ANZAC Day Assembly. I would like to share my address with you as we approach ANZAC Day 2010:
‘ANZAC Day is as much a part of Australia’s identity and culture as the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru; as Waltzing Matilda; as BBQs, beaches and vegemite. So much so that most people are unable to remember a time when they did not know what it was about. Most of us have experienced countless ANZAC Day ceremonies at primary school, many of us have attended a dawn service and some of us have marched in a parade. So the idea of ANZAC Day is one that we as Australians are familiar with —we are comfortable with it.
Sometimes such feelings of familiarity and comfort make us lazy. They make us complacent. Such feelings can stop us thinking deeply about ideas and their importance. It is important for us as a nation to challenge ourselves when we slip into the complacency associated with familiarity. The ideas which form the foundation of the ANZAC Day commemoration are important ideas. I would suggest that there is sacredness about these ideas which transcends our everyday lives. I challenge you to think about those ideas; about ANZAC Day; about what it is we remember and why we remember it.
We associate ANZAC Day ceremonies with a minute’s silence; with the haunting notes of the last post which resonate so strongly with many of us. Still I ask you to think about why? Why do we remember? You may believe you know the answer but still I challenge you to use your imaginations and develop some new ideas and ways of thinking about this significant national day.
ANZAC Day originally commemorated the landing of Australian troops at ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in 1915, but now it goes beyond the anniversary of that landing. “It is the day we remember all Australians (and New Zealanders) who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of ANZAC, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity”, (Australian War Memorial, 2010, ANZAC Day ¶ 1).
So the answer to that question why do we remember emerges from more than the landing or the defeat of Australians at Gallipoli. I suggest that it connects with the concept of sacrifice—the sacrifices made by those young men at Gallipoli, by the men and women involved in World War II, by the young people who participated in Vietnam and those who have lost their lives in conflicts in the Middle East.
ANZAC Day is a day to remember all of those people. One way that nations symbolise the very many individuals who have lost their lives in war is through the acknowledgement of an unknown soldier—an individual who represents the many people who have been lost in war. In 1993 Australia’s Unknown Soldier was entombed in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial. Many of you may have visited it. When this body was interred the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating spoke—I want to read you part of what he said about the remains of the man we call the Unknown Soldier.
“We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was. Yet he has always been among those whom we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 59,000 Australians who died on foreign soil.
He is all of them. And he is one of us.”, (Australian War Memorial, 2010, Remembrance Day Speech ¶ 1 – 3).
For me, Mr Keating’s words capture the meaning of ANZAC Day and help to answer the question why do we remember? ANZAC Day is all about people, people who lived and breathed; who laughed and cried like you and I do. People who may once have sat in a school assembly like you are now. People who had hopes and dreams of doing things with their lives just like you do. That is why we remember!
The well known war poet, Rupert Brooke wrote about these people in his poem, The Dead, he wrote.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.
These people who we remember gave up the things that you and I may take for granted – the right to be young and to grow old, the right to have children.
They gave the lives of their children as well as their own lives. That is why we remember!
When I was at university one of my lecturers spoke about World War I and why we remember the sacrifice of those people who lost their lives. I have never forgotten the way he spoke about the impact of this war on our own society —on us. He also focused on the people who lost their lives and the people who are missing today because of those 59,000 Australians who died in WWI. He suggested that each of those 59,000 dead might have had three children had they lived. He went on to speak about the children of those children and so on until he came to a conclusion about the number of Australians who were never born because of World War I. I have done some calculations and having been very conservative in my estimates I think I can safely say that at least 450,000 Australians were never born because of World War I. 450,000 Australians have never laughed or cried, lived or died because of WWI. These Australians have not attended schools or universities—these Australians who would today be around your age are not sitting in this assembly today because of World War I. That is why we remember!
Just as we are remembering today so are people in many places in many countries. Perhaps one of the truly sacred elements of this remembering is that there are people in other countries who are remembering Australia’s dead. In France the people of Villers-Bretonneux feel a deep gratitude to the Australians who saved their town in 1918 when it was captured by German tanks. They erected a memorial to those men in 1919. At its unveiling the town’s Mayor said, “Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for…”, (Australian’s on the Western Front 1914-1918, 2008, Villers–Bretonneux, Australian National Memorial ¶ 4).
These are beautiful words, but perhaps they are not surprising given that these Australian soldiers had fought for the French people of this town. Now though let me tell you about Australians who are honoured and remembered by those against whom they fought. On the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey there is a message which stands on a panel of stone. It is a tribute written in 1934 by the first President of Turkey, (Mustafa Kemal) Ataturk. It is a message to the Australian soldiers who had fought against his people at Gallipoli. Listen to these words…
“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 mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent your 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.”, (WorldNomads.com, 2004-2010, Stowing Away ¶ 1-2)
That is why we remember.
In World War I and all the wars since, ordinary men and women behaved in extraordinary ways. I challenge you to remember their sacrifice —to remember their humanity, to acknowledge our common humanity and to celebrate your good fortune in living in a situation of peace and plenty.
‘Lest we forget.’
Ms S Bolton