‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.’
Today is Anzac Day in Australia. We are not a very religious country but you could argue that this day, 25 April, is close to a sacred day for all Australians. This was the day in 1915 that the ANZACs landed in Gallipoli Cove for the disastrous invasion of the Dardanelles. The campaign, which lasted till January 1916, had no effect on the war either way. There were 8,159 ANZAC deaths and over 26,000 casualties. It is remembered for the dogged determination and heroism shown, not for the ultimate campaign failure. ‘Lest we forget’ is the major call of this day. All wars in which the ANZACS fought are commemorated.
Normally this is a huge day for celebration, the taking out of family medals, the dawn services followed by crowded parades, formal speeches and the laying of wreathes to remember the fallen. It is noteworthy that every city and tiny town in Australia has a memorial to the war dead – to the war that was meant to end all wars. Australia suffered a huge number of deaths in the First WW relative to its population.
‘When you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’
(John Maxwell Edmonds)
My family did not fight as Australians but we bear the stories of young men killed senselessly in war. My great-uncle, Leonard Brereton, was a 21-year-old engineer with the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment and was shot and killed by a Turkish sniper in April 1917 in the Second Battle of Gaza. He is buried in Cairo.
My uncle, Wilfred Reginald Smithyman, also 21 years old, was a pilot in the Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command, flying Typhoon planes. He was killed in the wasteful and failed Dieppe Raid in August 1942. He is buried in Abbeville, France.
This Anzac Day, 105 years since the Gallipoli landing, was like no other. It has been called the “People’s Anzac Day” as thousands rose before dawn to stand on their driveways holding candles and poppies: old men and women dressed in uniforms with polished medals, young kids bearing their family medals and holding faded photographs of those who served and those who died. There was a drive-by honouring a 98-year-old veteran sitting on the kerbside. There was music and poetry too: from backyard buglers and people in the street speaking the famous lines, ‘We will remember them’.
One old veteran, standing tall in the early light, was asked what his thoughts were. He said, ‘sadness and reflection’.
There are no glories in war, only the sadness of those left to mourn through the generations. And I feel that this year, with the overhanging threat of a pandemic, Australians have devised humble memorials to the senseless loss of their young men and women that are more poignant than the marching crowds and noisy bands.
‘They shall grow not 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.’ (Laurence Binyon.)