For many years now, I've been saying I will get up early and go to a dawn service on Anzac Day.
Well I finally did.
I'm only over 13,000 km from home (and that distance makes me feel a bit heartsick to be honest) and there was no eternal flame, no lighthorsemen or soldiers standing guard, but there was a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis (and their American families) and I think maybe a few Turks as well, and we stood in the pre-dawn light, listened to the Last Post, laid wreaths and flowers, listened to a short speech or two, a song sung on such occasions by Maoris (Maori men fought alongside their European brothers), and promised to remember the fallen and the returned.
It is one hundred years on 25th April this year since the storming of what came to be known as Anzac Cove along with other beach fronts on the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula in what is now called Turkey. Australian, New Zealand, English, French, Indians and even some Newfoundland troops attacked the Ottoman Empire with the idea of pushing through to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and controlling the passage of ships through to the Black Sea, allowing Russia sea access. It was early in WWI and men from the colonies flocked to defend their motherland and her allies.
Like many Australians (and Kiwis), I had a relative at Gallipoli. My Pop didn't storm the beaches and cliffs that day. He enlisted later, on 22nd of June 1915 and sailed from Melbourne on the HMAT Makarini. This man, who is not my Pop, enlisted on the same day - even the writing on the enlistment is the same - and sailed on the same transport ship, and I'm pretty sure Pop would've known him and probably did pretty much the same things as him. I know Pop was at Mudros and something I've read or heard said his Gallipoli campaign was not long.
|At the going down of the sun|
But he was an ANZAC.
And he fought at the Somme and nearly died there.
And he came home, like so many others, a man broken certainly in body. His lungs were scarred from being gassed, his face was broken from the almost lethal wound he took. He was missing a kidney I think too. He didn't talk about the war but often disappeared into his shed.
|And in the morning|
Pop died when I was nine. I have few memories of him apart from him being tall and scary, with a shock of white curls on his head, a husky voice (either from being gassed or the wound that nearly killed him) and a face that didn't work properly. I remember him bestowing sloppy, bristly kisses. I remember his bright blue eyes pleading with me when he was in hospital, trapped in a body that had had a severe stroke, a stroke that robbed him of his voice and movement on one side and not long afterwards, his life.
It's not much to remember your grandfather by, but it is what I've got. It might also explain my interest in working out where he went during the war and when he was there.
40% of the fit and able male Australian population aged 18 to 44 enlisted for duty in WWI. 40%. 60% of them became casualties - either dead or wounded. Our Kiwi brothers suffered hardly any better - they had a 59% casualty rating. If Australia made that same commitment to a war now as we did a hundred years ago, three hundred thousand men and women would die on the battlefield, and some three quarters of a million men and women would return wounded. 300,000 would die within several years of the war. It is shocking to think about the impact this must have had on the population left behind, the fathers and brothers and sons lost to the nation. (Link here.)
It's not appropriate to say "Happy Anzac Day." There is nothing happy about Anzac Day, not the reason for the fighting, not the huge loss of life - not just Australians and New Zealanders and English and French and Indians and a handful of what now would be Canadians. 87,000 Turks lost their lives defending their shores. Not the fact that we still send men and women into danger and bring them back so often broken in spirit and body. Anzac Day is a commemoration not a celebration of war, of the horrors, of the damage. But it is a day of pride too, pride in the accomplishments of our then two newly birthed nations, of the sacrifices made by so many in so often overwhelming odds. It is a day that makes me sad to the point of tears, and I feel compelled to read as many stories about it as I can.
It is appropriate to say, "Lest we forget."