I like an ANZAC Day parade. I like clapping as our war heroes march past, chests laden with shiny medals. I like the feel of goose bumps when the Last Post is played by a lone bugler. I like the nationalistic pride that washes over me when ‘Advance Australia Fair’ resounds across a still and silent crowd. And, I like it when I attend a ceremony where ‘God Defend New Zealand’ rings out in both Maori and English.
I like the one minute silence where I get time to reflect on our brave diggers from the Boer War to Afghanistan and all wars in between, as well as the valiant work of our peace keepers. Yes, our Australian and New Zealand Army Corps well and truly deserve their One Day of the Year each April 25th.
But this year, there were no parades, no dawn services, no diggers to see our smiles of gratitude, no kids jostling to get a bird’s eye view at the front of the crowd, no little flags being waved by little hands, no riot of blood red Flanders Field poppies bringing together a nation of people steeped in the ANZAC tradition. Borne on the inhospitable cliffs of Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, our ANZACs disembarked to a deadly dance with a patriotic Johnny Turk defending his country and a callous British commander ordering our troops into an impossible situation. The ANZAC spirit of courage, mateship and never throwing in the towel forever became the pillars to which we have clung since.
The torrid Covid 19 with its strict social distancing heralded a different ANZAC Day this year. Australians answered the atypical call to walk to the end of their driveways carrying candles in the early morn. On TV we witnessed PM Scott Morrison and his wife cut lonely figures laying a wreath in our national capital’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And throughout the day, we were not blessed with the usual sight of diggers at their RSL clubs enjoying ANZAC biscuits washed down with rum and milk, playing rousing games of two up, meeting up and exchanging stories with their mates. ANZAC Day 2020 was a strangely solitary remembrance.
I spent the days after, flicking through photos and remembering some experiences I’ve had both in Australia and overseas. This blog then is my ANZAC Day 2020 trip down memory lane, in no particular chronological order.
Most Australian towns no matter how small, boast a war memorial. Built after World War I when our population was barely 5 million, a town’s memorial spelt out the sad story which was that most households had lost a father, brother, son, uncle, nephew, grandson in the four year madness. This photo is of the war memorial in Esk, a tiny town in Queensland and my husband’s hometown.
When my family moved to New Guinea in the late 60s, I spent a number of ANZAC Days here at Bomana War Cemetery honouring our diggers as well as those from NG who gave their all on the Kokoda Trail defeating the Japanese.
At Gallipoli Turkey, I found the landscape achingly familiar – row upon row of tombstones etched with heartrending epitaphs. These photos were taken at Lone Pine.
The war site which had the most profound effect on me was The Somme. Navigating the sheer number and size of the WWI grave yards rendered all those text book statistics insignificant. Tombstones by the thousands spoke volumes about the senseless waste and futility of war.
In Flanders fields, the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row/ That mark our place ..
L’Ecole Victoria is the tiny school in Villers Bretonneux rebuilt by Victorians after being destroyed in a 1918 German attack. Australians saved the town and children from 1918 brought up their children and their children’s children to remember this brave deed.
On one trip to Vietnam, I visited the famed 17th parallel dividing North and South Vietnam. The DMZ (demilitarised zone) along the Ben Hai River served its purpose as no man’s land in a bitter civil war that inevitably spilt over into something much bigger.
Nearby is Khe Sanh Museum which tells yet another sad war story. Australians will be familiar with Cold Chisel’s song which ensured this location earned its place in Australian memories.
Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore is where we found ourselves in 2002 for the 60th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.
Hell Fire Pass along the infamous Thai Burma Rail gave us the chance to learn a bit more about this WWII event and stoic men like Weary Dunlop.
In Iran, we were at Cyrus the Great’s Tomb near Shiraz where we saw the brightest poppies flowering right on cue on ANZAC Day 2018.
We will remember them. Lest we forget.