Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Need for Anzac Day

Lest We Forget

Good day all. I hope this latest missive finds you in good health, having enjoyed a pleasant Easter in whatever fashion you found most appropriate. Tomorrow is April 25, and I hope that all my readers will remember to take some time out and remember all those killed or wounded in either this nation’s service or from where every you happen to be reading this.

My memories’ of this day are usually as one of the cadets during the parade that my school held every ANZAC Day. Full military uniform including the Macpherson kilt (school tartan) then marching around with a lee- enfield rifle on the shoulder being led by the pipe band. However that was just the usual pageantry and ceremony leading up to the culminating memorial service. Then every time they read the memorial address the colour and trapping of the preceding dissolve into meaningless confetti and I’m transported back to a hospital bed by a window in what must have been a Veterans ward and my few conversations with my Grandfather Harry James House, a veteran of the Great War. He was in pain and almost completely blind from the shrapnel wound he’d received long decades before at Pozieres. Now I was just a young child and, I suppose I didn’t know any better, or maybe it was just the insatiable curiosity of the young. So of course I asked him about the Great War. To my father’s surprise ‘Pop’ spoke for about fifteen minutes on what he’d seen and what had happened. That, in my father’s experience, was the longest conversation he’d ever heard about the events that had so affected the House clan. Harry House, in all the long years since had never spoken about the horror and suffering he must have seen daily, and the loss of friends and mates. It was something remembered ‘personally’ a long running grief.

Now every year on this day, all over Australia, New Zealand and those places around the world where Anzac blood was shed so profusely, there will be memorial services. To those of you unfamiliar with the whole Anzac idea, it is for us Antipodeans, a combination of 4th of July and the French Bastille Day wrapped up with Memorial Day (USA) and Remembrance Day. The reason this day trumps all others in the calendar of national days is that for us Down-Under, it was the first occasion our fledgling nations made an appearance on the world stage. It is perhaps unfortunate that this representation of emergent national character was expressed so dramatically on the bloody field of conflict. However that is frequently the case amongst us flawed humans and our imperfect social organisation. What is also ironic is that the day and the campaign we revere so highly was, in the end a defeat. At this point I could get all jingoistic and proclaim martial pride and valour- you know awards, tributes, the jingling of medals and other clutter. Or like the great Australian war historian, CW Bean, I could state that Australians were natural soldiers.

Bean is substantially correct, in that the life experience of Australians at that time made them intelligent, versatile and competent soldiers. Then add the British training regimen and you got men who turned out to be very good soldiers, with the added benefit of having an ingrained habit of initiative. But hardened veterans and bullet proof super heroes they weren’t. Instead the lads, that early on the morning of 25th of April 1915, stormed ashore at the beaches of Gallipoli, were as fragile and as flawed as the rest of us. But that didn’t stop them as they surged up those steep rugged cliffs to do their bit for Australia, New Zealand and their shared allegiance for the British Empire. Now that’s the simple facts. A more difficult one for us to understand in these cynical times of propaganda and ‘media management’ was that the Anzac’s who served in the Great War, amongst the mud, blood and death, were all volunteers. Even more impressive is that almost every family in the nation provided one or more to serve. Either husbands and fathers or sons and nephews, that kind of commitment is almost unprecedented. What motives brought them there were more complex than commonly repeated slogans on a poster.

Some historians have since claimed that the First AIF (Australian Imperial Force) were naively duped into serving a foreign war. Others maintain that it was boredom and the possibility of adventure and drew them into the fearful maw of war. No doubt these were contributing factors. However in the main it was patriotism, a sense of duty and a belief that it was the ‘right thing’ to do. While human nature is somewhat repetitive in its actions, this doesn’t look like the usual surge for colonial expansion. As I said in these ‘modern’ cynical times where motivation for conflict is usually rendered down to money or oil or both, these men travelled half way around the world not bent on conquest, or plunder or to seize someone else’s natural resources. No, it was in response to the unprovoked declaration of war by an alliance of non-democratic nations bent on using a political assassination for an excuse to launch a long prepared military campaign for aggrandisement and conquest.

Or so it stands my opinion. These men individually made a conscious decision to step forward either for us, for their beliefs or for their mates. Then in amongst the turmoil of Gallipoli and the dreadful conditions of the Western Front they stuck it out through fearful bombardments, incompetent leadership, poor rations and the chilling chatter of the machine gun.  Like the above painting of the doomed charge of the Australian Light Horse at the Nek, war doesn't look very glorious to me and I'm not sure modernist revisionism adequately explains these men's motivations.
So I say past the politics, recriminations, the economic persiflage of stock market derivatives and blatant self interest:


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Regards Greg


  1. Well said! I love ANZAC Day because it's a day to show how proud and thankful we all are to those servicemen who have risked, and still are risking, their lives for the safety of others.

  2. To JM Chase thanks for the support.