Apr 25, 2011

ANZAC DAY - 2011

"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"

By Matt Khoury, CNN

For many Australians in 2011, nothing is more sacred than April 25.

If it fell on Good Friday, it would probably supersede any religious commemoration.

Easter Monday is fitting: thousands of young Australians died at the battle Gallipoli -- which started on April 25, 1915 -- and it is widely regarded as marking the birth of a nation.

Its annual rememberance has evolved beyond the anti-war protests of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was perceived as a celebration of war.

“It’s not a day to support war,” says Nick Feltch, curator of the World War I galleries at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. “It’s a day of commemoration.”

“Those who have experienced war are never pro-war,” Feltch says. “They often return and wonder what it was all about. Australia’s currently committed to a conflict overseas [in Afghanistan] –- and it’s a day for the nation to reflect and consider.”

During services, people from all walks of life will come together and hear the stirring sound of a bugler playing “The Last Post.”

Almost everybody who can takes the day off. Lonely pensioners can be found sitting at bars and wearing their medals -– and for a day at least -– their service is remembered. They receive free beer from publicans and patrons.

April 25 is a day of drinking in pubs and playing "two-up" -– the coin-flipping game is legal in all licensed establishments on this day.

Australia Day -– the only other truly national holiday –- still divides the community about the righteousness of British colonization, and the Aborigines' plight.

But ANZAC Day’s a little different. Australians look at each other, remember people past and present less fortunate and think, “You know, we really are a lucky bunch of bastards.”

The Gallipoli campaign was a disaster from the very beginning. On a calm night, under a half moon on the Aegean Sea, Australians and New Zealanders were woken at 1 a.m. Three hours later, 20,000 troops attacked a beach beneath a towering cliff.

The “Sydney Morning Herald” reported their bravado: “The Australians rose to the occasion. Not waiting for orders, or for boats to reach the beach, they sprang into the sea, and, forming a sort of rough line, rushed at the enemy’s trenches.”

Soldiers of the 9th Regiment, only 100 meters from Turkish positions on 'The Nek.'That day, 2,000 were lost to relentless machine gun fire from Turkish soldiers dug in on the clifftop.

Less supportive media stories would later surface from dispatches. Indeed, historian C.E.W. Bean, writing about the West Australian Regiment, commented that the flower of youth would pass that day.

Within the Australian psyche, it was the first time the nation had proven itself. And it was approaching the last time that Australia would offer itself to foreign –- albeit Imperial -– command.

A month into the campaign, which was to last until the following January, a ceasefire was declared to clear the stinking, decaying corpses from “no mans land” in between Australian and Turkish trenches. Soldiers from opposing sides exchanged photos and swapped drinks, and then the fighting continued.

ANZAC Day is not a celebration of a military victory. By the time the bloody failure dragged to a close, the nation had lost 8,709 men, with another 19,441 wounded. Some 2,721 New Zealanders died, and 4,752 were wounded. Of Allied and Ottoman forces, 130,784 lives were lost in the campaign -– and double that number wounded.

Returned soldiers

Soldiers of the 4th Field Ambulance outside their post, known as "Rosebud Villa," on the Gallipoli Peninsula.“War operates in silly ways,” says Bob Crosthwaite, Vice President of the New South Wales Returned and Services League (NSW RSL). “That soldiers meet in the middle and exchange drinks, and then talk, epitomizes government fighting government.”

“There’s never a right side. The actions of insurgents are rarely right. But it’s a commitment by these people to achieve an outcome.”

Crosthwaite's father fought with the celebrated Desert Rats in north Africa in World War II, while he served in Malaysia and later Vietnam. He highlights the more recent recent actions of Australian peacekeeping forces in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Returned soldiers' support for their own is solid, but they rarely support war as much as politicians.

“It’d be a better world without war -- It’s a futile activity,” Crosthwaite says. “Even in rational economics, the money spent on the front line is ridiculous.”
He said peace activists, “Acknowledge what is before them. But they also acknowledge the past.”

Ken Frank, an 85-year-old New Zealand veteran of World War II and Korea, now lives in Australia. He’s partially blind. “War is an horrific thing,” he says. “But for me, it’s 'two-bob each-way' -– it’s horrible, but you don’t want your country to get overrun.”

Divisions within battalions

Four days after the ANZAC landing, soldiers of the 1st Field Ambulance are given a briefing. When soldiers returned from Vietnam, “Guys were getting blood thrown at them, and everything,” says Andy Forsdike, who coordinates the NSW Vietnam Veterans' Association with his wife, Pam.

“We were told not to wear our uniforms when we went home [to Australia],” he says. “Some of them felt guilty, and most didn’t march on ANZAC Day...treated us really bad,” he says. “They didn’t acknowledge our war -– they said it wasn’t real. But if you were there it was real.”

There was a turning point, he says, in the 1988 “Welcome Home Parade.” After years of politics, both the Australian public and the RSL acknowledged the suffering of Vietnam veterans.

Of 50,000 who served in the Vietnam War –- the last time an Australian Government sent a full Australian force to war -- about 10 per cent still don’t march, he says.

“I march, but I don’t march because I support war –- I don’t support any war these days,” Forsdike says. “We just seem to be following the Americans into battle.”

“But on ANZAC Day, we don’t even talk about war anymore,” he says. “It’s just a chance to catch up with mates and talk about kids and grandkids.”

When Australia entered the Iraq War, hundreds of thousands protested across the country against the country’s involvement. The flag was lowered -- and troops withdrawn in mid-2008 -- after John Howard lost office.

The forgotten war, Afghanistan, remains the nation's primary foreign engadgement. But today, ANZAC Day stands as a commemoration of war and a desire for peace.
Read more: ANZAC Day in Sydney | CNNGo.com http://www.cnngo.com/sydney/life/anzac-tradition-092982?hpt=C2#ixzz1KXJPdl7M

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