Since I arrived in Australia I’d heard about Anzac Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), one of the most important holidays for Australians. And my question was why every city in Australia celebrates Anzac Day with so much passion, intensity and love? What makes them stand up in the freezing weather at dawn without seating? Why do they celebrate in smaller places across the country or travel to another city for the big event? And also what is the real meaning of this sentence that is written everywhere “lest we forget”? I went there to check.
25thApril, 2015, 3:30am. I was in the capital of Australia, Canberra, trying to get to the “Australian War Memorial” to commemorate with them the 100th anniversary of the landing of Anzac troops on Gallipoli in 1915. Dawn, in the morning darkness, was the time of the original landing and nowadays is when the first Service takes place.
It was freezing, packed, difficult to park. Everybody was walking to try to find a spot to stand. There were some chairs, not enough for a huge mass of people that was coming. There were families, young people, children, babies and elderly people waiting for the Australian Dawn Service to start. The Service began punctually at 4:30. A selection of images was projected onto the front façade. I couldn’t believe how thousands of people could suddenly become so silent. Seriously, it was really quiet and
the only noise was a baby crying or some birds.
the only noise was a baby crying or some birds.
Letters and diaries of Australians who experienced war were read aloud by a member of each of the Australian armed forces for one hour. It was impressionable, but I was exhausted, almost sleeping, frozen and hungry. Elderly people beside me fainted on the ground. Doctors came instantly with care and some lollies.
In the cold darkness, the sunrise was opening in the sky while the ceremony was being held. Trumpet, didgeridoo (a typical Australian aboriginal instrument), hymn, prayer, the laying of wreaths, a recitation, Anzac dedication, the playing of either the Rouse or the Roveille, the national anthem, the last post and finally one minute’s silence followed by “lest we forget”. And all of the people repeated: “Lest we forget”.
Because of the darkness I didn’t realize how many people were there until the service finished. After I walked around I could see the big parade suggested almost 130 thousand people. It surprised me how the people come out without comfort and entertainment (only to compare, Canberra has 360 thousand inhabitants).
After the ceremony, people gathered in the Memorial’s Commemorative Area where they honour more than 102,700 servicemen and servicewomen whose names appear on the Roll of Honour. People place red poppies at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier or beside the names of relatives on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour creating an impressive curtain of flowers.
To understand a little bit about the origin of Anzac Day, 100 years ago, on 25th April of 1915, Australian and New Zealand men who were volunteers, were in Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey to help British soldiers defeat the German Army (only to contextualize, when the war broke out in 1914, Australia had been a federated nation for only 13 years and the new federal government was eager to establish its reputation among the nations of the world).
In Gallipoli the Anzacs headed ashore after jumping out of their boats and quickly find shelter under the steep hills confronting them. They were on the wrong beach. Soon the Turks had rushed up and the fighting in the hills became wild and bloody. At the end of the day the order came – “dig, dig, dig, until you are safe”. A line was made, and there the Anzacs held on. Troops were constantly digging trenches and tunnelling for the rest of the desperate eight-month campaign. They suffered many types of injuries, sicknesses and also orders to run from the trenches uphill in the direction of the enemies. A huge homicide and a failed campaign, from the beginning: difficulty in navigation, wrong beach, beach landing in darkness, combined obstacles, towering cliffs, dead-end gullies, dense low scrub on land, vulnerability to enemy fire and terrible command from the monarchy. A truly disaster.
Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the Australian and New Zealand actions during the campaign left them all a powerful legacy. Anzac infuses their sense of who they are, how they relate to one another, and how they see their place in the world. The national spirit revealed in the courage, doggedness, and sacrifice of the troops on Gallipoli, and in their egalitarianism and support for each other. These men had given their young nation a story to be proud of.
In other words, Anzac Day is a time at which Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war. Is was touching to see people taking part in the dawn service, giving respect and acknowledgement to all soldiers and those who have served, suffered and died in all wars and conflicts.
To finalize, when a mortally wounded Australian asked: “Will they remember me in Australia?” The answer was: “Yes, Australia has been remembering since that day”. Lest we forget.