Written by my friend and shipmate, Phil Eakin (Commander, USN Ret). Phil was stationed in Australia while on active duty and lived there for several years. Since his wife is an Aussie, he also visits there regularly.
A Yank’s Conception of ANZAC Day.
25 April 2020
Each year on the 25th April, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day to recognize the sacrifices that Australian and New Zealand servicemen and servicewomen have made not only in defending their country, but in upholding their nations’ longstanding commitment to peace and security.
ANZAC Day is to Australians and New Zealanders what Memorial Day is to Americans – ceremonies, parades, the odd libation, etc. The root of the ANZAC Spirit lies in the landings and subsequent fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey in World War I. Militarily, for the allied powers, Gallipoli was a disaster organized by the British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. British Commonwealth troops distinguished themselves under some say the poor management or mismanagement of British generals. The bonds of mateship forged on the beaches and in the trenches of Gallipoli bound, in particular, Australian and New Zealand military personnel and eventually the two nations. It is a bond that carried through two world wars, other British Commonwealth conflicts post-World War II, Vietnam and into Iraq and Afghanistan in more recent times.
The spirit of the ANZACs embodies the peculiar concept of ‘mateship,’ a fierce friendship known really only to Australian and New Zealand males, so far as I know, and service to one’s country. It is this resilient, fighting, unselfish and loyal spirit which is celebrated on ANZAC Day.
A typical ANZAC Day service features guest speakers who mostly try not to tell the same inspiring stories of valor in military exploits over the years, and readings from historic and now-famous texts. Extracts from two poems which feature prominently in a typical ANZAC Day service are provided below.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon (extract)
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae (extract)
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I, and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He died of pneumonia near the end of the war. (victim of the 1918 Influenza?)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
A Turkish Army lieutenant colonel, Mustafa Kemal, is credited with turning certain defeat into victory at Gallipoli, rallying his troops to hold the line, counterattack, and retake valuable heights overlooking the beaches at Gallipoli. He later became known as Ataturk (father of the Turks) and ruled Turkey as President from 1923 to 1938. In 1934 he penned some words directed to those enemy who had died in the fighting at Gallipoli. These words are frequently read at ANZAC services and are provided below.
At the end of the words from For the Fallen, the crowd repeats the phrase, “We will remember them.” The speaker then says, “Lest we forget.” And the assembled repeat that phrase, “Lest We Forget.” The same words from the For the Fallen poem are intoned every Friday evening at 7:00 PM in Returned and Services League Clubs (RSLs – like VFW and American Legion posts) throughout Australia.
This year the Australian Government banned the normally large gatherings associated with ANZAC Day due to the pandemic. This ban included the ceremony that has been conducted every ANZAC Day for the last 10 years or so on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. Other ways have had to be found to celebrate ANZAC Day 2020. A friend sent me this photo taken yesterday of the Marriot Hotel in Surfers Paradise, Australia. Nice effect using the room lights.
Lest We Forget.
And it’s always a good idea to wear sunglasses to an ANZAC Day service, even if it is dark or overcast