This morning, we all woke up at 5:30 for a very different Anzac Day dawn service. Along with many Australians and New Zealanders, we watched the livestream of the service from Canberra on our driveway, unable to attend any large gatherings. And we remembered. We could hear the same service coming from the house two doors down. Another neighbour played the Last Post on his trumpet, and the bugler in Canberra echoed the song seconds after.
My aunt sent through photos of their dawn service: their whole street was lined with people with candles.
Later today, we watched a replay of the Anzac Day dawn service in Villers-Bretonneux from 2018.
For those who don’t know, Anzac Day is one of Australia and New Zealand’s most important occasions. On this day, we remember all of those who have served and died for our countries. 25 April marks the day the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey in 1915.
The Gallipoli campaign was a failure for the Allies, and they evacuated in December. Approximately 8,700 Australians and 2,700 New Zealanders were killed. There were more than 44,000 Allied casualties, and more than 86,500 casualties from the Ottoman Empire (New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2016). It has become a significant event in Australia and New Zealand’s culture and identity.
Maybe there’s a reason this day remembers a failed campaign. We are not celebrating victory in war, or glorifying war. We are mourning the loss of men and women who were brave enough to serve our nations. We have made a promise to never forget those who have died in war.
We commemorate Anzac Day not to glorify war, but to remember. Indeed, we are loathing war. Grieving it.
We remember. Remember the sacrifice. Remember those who lost their lives. Remember those who lost their mates. Remember those who lost their loved ones. Remember those who came back scarred. Remember those who came back unrecognised and forgotten– the Indigenous soldiers, in particular. Remember those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom. Freedom is never free. Someone always has to pay. And how can we repay those who do? We can remember, promise never to forget.
Up until recently, I didn’t know I had family who served Australia during war. This is my first Anzac day where I have known that I have ancestors who were willing to sacrifice themselves for their country.
My great-great grandfather Private Albert Porter served in the 7th Australian Field Ambulance, in France, in World War One. In 1916 at Pozieres, after working all night he went out into no man’s land with one other from his unit to tend to and bring back the wounded, while under heavy fire. For this, he was awarded a Military Medal. He was wounded in action in 1917, and later rejoined his unit, before being repatriated to Australia in 1919.
My great-grandfather Lance Corporal George Francis served in Papua New Guinea in World War 2. Poppy returned to Australia.
There is something different about Anzac Day now that I know I have ancestors who served. Anzac Day has always been important for me, but each year I realise even more the reality of what it means.
Albert Porter and George Francis returned to Australia: but how many of their mates didn’t? What had they gone through? I can only imagine the fear, the pain and the trauma. They were prepared to die for their country.
This Anzac Day, I was supposed to be in Belgium. I was going to be on a tour of the Western Front, as one of the winners of the Simpson Prize essay competition. I hope I still get that opportunity after this; it would be an incredible experience. We probably would have gone to Pozieres, where Albert served over a hundred years ago. For me to see where he was would be so special.
Anzac Day felt different without being physically there with others for the dawn service and the parade. In the same way, Easter felt different this year. We’re not used to being by ourselves for these events. We’re used to commemorating and celebrating together.
But maybe this year is a chance for us to really remember why. Why we remember the fallen. Why we celebrate Easter. Perhaps taking a step away from the big events has meant we can reflect on what they mean for us. For me, both are about sacrifice.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.John 15:13, NIV
Lest we forget.
New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2016). Gallipoli casualties by country. Accessed from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/interactive/gallipoli-casualties-country on 25 April 2020.