Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ANZAC Day

What is an Anzac, I asked? No, it’s not an insurance company. That’s AFLAC.



Nor is it a medical airlift. One is not “anzac’d out of there”.


Medivac.

In point of fact, an Anzac is a soldier from Australia or New Zealand who fought against the Turks in the First World War at Gallipoli. When Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Australia and New Zealand, as British commonwealths, were likewise drawn in.



Click on the map for a bigger image. The ANZAC landing is in the northwest, at ANZAC cove.
As part of the war efforts, Australian and Kiwi (not the fruit; Kiwi is a nickname for New Zealanders) forces were sent to the northern shores of Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula. Their job was to overrun the Turkish defenses as part of a bigger plan that would have allowed Allied forces through the Dardanelles Straits and on to Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed April 25th, 1915, but encountered both extremely difficult cliff terrain, and a Turkish force more than capable of holding its own position. Which they did for 8 months: on December 20, 1915, the ANZAC forces finally evacuated, having lost 8,141 men and women. More than 18,000 others were injured.

Today history looks upon the ANZACs through a variety of lenses. The events at Gallipoli are a great tragedy. The ANZACs were placed in a near hopeless situation from the get-go, and at times their lives were pretty much just plain sacrificed by Allied (i.e British) forces. (Check out the movie Gallipoli, starring a very young Mel Gibson, for a very poignant and gripping presentation of the lives needlessly lost.) The parish priest where I serve right now argues that on ANZAC Day Australia remembers the uselessness of war and the need for peace. (In this regard, it is also quite striking how often during the sign of peace presiders ask the congregation to pray for peace in our world. I have seen that happen at almost every Australian mass I have been to.)

The ANZACs themselves, however, are also viewed with great pride. They were placed in a completely indefensible position, and they stuck to it with determiniation and great spirit. They called themselves “diggers” after the kilometers of trenches they lived in while fighting the Turks. Some Australians I have met argue that with the ANZACs Australia established itself as an independent nation of the world.

Today ANZAC Day involves a pre-dawn memorial in every town and city, followed by a parade in the morning, church services, and festive occasions. In Sydney at the train station they were passing out cups of coffee and sprigs of rosemary for those taking part in the memorial. And signs everywhere said “Lest We Forget” – really, not too dissimilar from the sorts of things we have said since 9/11. For the Australians, though, remembrance does not enflame passions, encourage bravado or justify war; it only serves to recall its heavy costs.

A very significant difference…



The back of the Veterans Memorial in Adelaide, South Australia