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Tuesday 26 May 2015

Anzac Day at the Gallipoli Peninsula

Carol Fuller shares her reflections on her experiences after visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula during the centenary commemorations.

What is the difference between celebration and commemoration? Quite a deal really if you think about it. 'Celebration' means a lot of jollity, happiness,’good time had by all'; the elements of a rousing party in honour of something good. 'Commemoration' is far more sombre and serious. It is about remembering, acknowledging, honouring and quietly contemplating what or who has gone before.

Did you celebrate or commemorate Anzac Day this year? I commemorated Anzac Day 2015 on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Standing at the top of The Nek, just behind the Sphinx, looking down the rugged terrain of Monash Valley seeing how impossible it must have been to walk up the cliffs, let alone carry packs, ammunition and weaponry, one could not possibly think of partying. The landing at Gallipoli was no picnic. This was a barbaric, futile endeavour, an almost criminal waste of time, money and above all thousands of lives: Australian, New Zealander, British, French, Indian and Turkish. If you were not aware of the other nationalities, you can be excused your ignorance since the stories we hear in Australia do not always give us the full or the true picture. The Turkish lost many more lives than the Anzacs, as did the British. Perhaps the plethora of books, documentaries, TV series and films have so extravagantly romanticised the notion of  the‘Anzac’ that we have overlooked the important elements of those eight months of hell, played out on the very tip of a wild and craggy coastline.

Standing in the Lone Pine Cemetery and seeing the ages inscribed on the head stones one can only despair at the number of young men, the age of today’s senior secondary students, whose lives were thrown away for no understandable reason.   

So how should we regard Anzac Day? What is it all about? Well it certainly is not a celebration. The Allies lost the Gallipoli campaign, thousands of young men lost their lives and losing has never been a cause for celebration. Therefore, Anzac Day is not about war or about winners and losers, it is about how individuals conducted themselves in extraordinary circumstances and the circumstances of the Gallipoli campaign were about the most extraordinary one could find. 

The Anzacs were asked to fight for another country, commanded by incompetent generals of another country, against an enemy who had never done Australia any harm. Signing up for this war was probably very naive but when reality emerged and the farce was revealed these young men became famous for the way they performed their duty rather than what they actually did or did not achieve.  

The enemy, Johnny Turk, also earned fame; not for winning the war in the long run but for how they, as a nation, honoured and respected their Anzac opponents. That respect is nowhere more apparent than in the beautifully manicured and Turkish maintained Allied cemeteries that spread across the Gallipoli Peninsula. One of the most poignant images you will see on the peninsula is the statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a slouch-hatted, Australian soldier. 

Anzac Day is also about how we, who remain, honour and remember the sacrifices made by not only the Anzac soldiers but also those young men and women who have fought in subsequent wars, such as: Korea, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, Timor and Afghanistan. 

The CBCA Tasmania has a wonderful publication called Mud and Blood and Tears, an annotated list of children’s books about war and conflict. Individuals who still believe Anzac Day is a day for celebration would do well to read some of the excellent books listed therein.

The CBCA Tasmania thanks Carol Fuller for her contribution to the Blog. Please feel free to comment on this post.

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