Friday, April 24, 2009

ANZAC Day - Quiet Remembrance

It was supposed to be a quick and easy campaign. But British military incompetence blew the element of surprise. On April 25, 1915, British allied forces - including a large contingent of Australian and New Zealand units (ANZACs) - landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey only to encounter waiting Turkish forces dug in on the heights.

The intention had been to quickly knock Turkey out of the war (World War I), thereby rendering Germany vulnerable to invasion from the south. Instead, the allies found themselves on the defensive, clinging to the small bits of land they had gained in the early days of fighting. In one desperate battle, 17,000 ANZACs held off 42,000 Turks.

Several months into the campaign, ANZAC troops spearheaded an offensive to seize the high ground. New Zealand's Wellington Brigade managed to fight its way to the summit of Chunuk Bair, only to be swept off the top by a force led in person by Mustafa Kemal, who would later become known as Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. Of the 760 ANZACs who made it to the top, 711 became casualties.

The campaign ground down into brutal trench warfare. The troops, exposed to the heat and appallingly unsanitary conditions, were mowed down this time by dysentery. By the end of summer it became apparent that the campaign was a failure, but it took until early January 1916 to organize and complete an evacuation.

More than 10,000 ANZACs lost their lives during the Gallipoli campaign, which ushered in a coming of age for both nations. In the wake of that senseless bloodbath in distant Turkey, men and women in a far-flung corner of the British Empire came to regard themselves as Australians and New Zealanders rather than mere British subjects.

ANZACs also saw service as cannon fodder on the European front, where they suffered more casualties per population than the other forces in the war.

It is dawn in New Zealand right now, one day ahead of the US. New Zealanders of all ages right now are gathered at the war memorials that grace every town there, large and small. Simply counting the names of the dead inscribed into those memorials is a sobering exercise. The ceremony is simple and solemn.

I lived in New Zealand for 11 years, Australia for 5. As well as my US citizenship, I also hold New Zealand citizenship. My daughter was born and raised in New Zealand. She resides in Wellington with her husband, another New Zealander. Any children they may have will be New Zealanders.

The sun is rising in New Zealand right now. A bugler is about to sound Last Post. It is time for two minutes of silence, a quiet remembrance.


Warren Cooper said...

They shall not grow 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.
Lest we forget.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Warren. It was your earlier comment that inspired me to write this piece, so many many thanks.

Warren Cooper said...

Hi John

Even though I am an Aussie, it increasingly amazes me that the historical event that is "ANZAC DAY" is such a growth event in this country. They now advise people to stay away from Gallipoli as too many people show up that can be accommodated there for the dawn service. The rise in popularity has almost been doubling in the last 20 years to visit these sites. I think about why this does amaze me as it is an event centered on WW1/2 primarily and as time goes on the last of the "Diggers" are dying - so therefore why is this growing as a culturally defining event?

It is also interesting that having read many books and factual accounts of both the wars, the Aust and NZ forces were treated very badly by some of the allies and as you say, treated like cannon fodder. In both the wars it was apparent that the ties with England were still very strong and if the mother country went to war then we were in on it also.

Not only has the ANZAC day event been increasing in popularity but the number of people traveling to see where their grandfather etc were in action has increased. My father is a perfect example as he recently spent 5 weeks traveling through Greece and especially Crete to experience the place that was possibly the most defining/traumatic experience in my grandfathers life. Although my Grandfather never spoke of the war, there is multiple records and accounts of his personal action(s) that although read as very brave or in extremely stressful situations, these actions were things that most of the soldiers considered to be “just doing my job” actions. It has often been said that the generations who went to war often did not see their actions as brave but just what they needed to do. Often very extraordinary things in very extraordinary times.

I have just finished a book on the Kokoda track battle in Papua New Guinea which although has been identified in the past as a major battle, is becoming more and more appreciated as a defining point in Australians war history of almost as critical importance as Gallipoli.

If you get a chance then you should read about this as there have been recently a number of books on the PNG battles that, as you read, raises the hackles on the back of your neck. There is a classic story of the 300 odd men, the last line of defense basically to stop the Japanese invasion of Australia (with hindsight) who were informed that there is no going back and the Japanese must be held. These men (who have walked in and been there for 5 weeks with minimal supplies) are sitting in their trenches after 5 days of continual battle, full of malaria, dysentery and often already wounded, listening to the enemy 100m away going about their orders to assault their positions and knowing that in 3 minutes there will be a force of 3000 coming their way. Many have said that it was comforting when the attack occurred as they no longer had to think – there was no time. The biggest impediment was that they mainly used bolt action rifles that could not be loaded/fired/reloaded fast enough (even though they were able to fire about every 2 seconds) to repel the number of enemy (but they did). And they apparently never really complained – they had a job to do!!

Could I do that? I only hope that it is not something that I will ever need to deal with.

Now – looking back at what I have just written possibly explaing the increase in popularity - increased knowledge. It is only in the last 20 years that the events are being documented more and people like me who have direct links to events that were never discussed are now researching their families history. Maybe I have answered my rhetorical question??

Anyway, keep up the good work


Warren Cooper said...

Hi John

It just occured to me (after reading that you have spent so much time in NZ) that many of your bloggers have never experienced the Haka!!

I played Rugby Union at a high level for many years and if there is ever a show of intimidation and lack of fear then the Haka is it. That Maori belief in themselves as warriors is so real. I would challange anyone to have more commitment. (I worked a a geologist in the gold mines in Western Australia where many Kiwi's existed to make their money to go home to retire, and the rugby as a result was so brutal)

I was so bashed by mad Kiwis on the field it is no wonder that we in the antipodies get on so well.

To be on the recieving end of one before a major game has the effect that it is designed for. Do not ever think that the game is just that. For NZ'ers it is just like war.

No wonder duing the wars that the Aussies and Kiwi's were revered.


Warren Cooper said...

Hi John

After talking about the Haka i thought it would be good to post a vidio.

Forgive the youtube thing but it is a good show.

If this does not work then just Youtubing with "all blacks haka" to get the shots.

The one mentioned above was special in that it was the throat sliting haka that caused much media furore over here. It is very much alligned to the fierce comatitness between NZ and Australia, but I think that if we ever had to rely on someone we would pick each other without hesitation.

The point is that the focus by the team to achieve the goal is very obvious and passionate. People do not show such emotion often without being so commited. It was a technique that my Psyc used to teach me to empty the head. As he said, once the ability to focus is learnt and inherent, then that ability can be used to disrupt the busyness.

I will say that the Haka has failed the NZ team at times in that as much as they show the passion, it has driven the opposition even more to beat them. Still you have to love the commitment.