Thursday, April 25, 2013


This day is a special one for Australia and New Zealand. April 25—ANZAC Day—broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.” More particularly this is the anniversary of the amphibious landing at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles on 25 April, 1915, of the combined Australia and New Zealand Army Corps under the command of General William Birdwood. The ANZAC contingent formed part of a combined British Imperial and French Mediterranean Expeditionary Force” consisting of approximately 78,000 men. The assault was fiercely and, as it turned out, successfully resisted by Ottoman forces so that allied troops were evacuated to Egypt at the end of 1915. Even if one had no relations who fought and died there (as we do), the Gallipoli campaign has assumed a powerful symbolism for both Commonwealth countries, even though far more British troops were killed there. When I was small, the focus of commemoration in Melbourne was somewhat divided between ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, which still marks the signing of the armistice in Marshal Foch’s railway carriage at Compiègne at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, which brought the Great War to an end. The symbolism of poppies and of Flanders’ Fields was still powerful. However, over recent decades I have sensed that ANZAC Day has gradually assumed greater and broader significance south of the equator. In the United States even Remembrance Day passes each year without too much fuss—it is known here as “Veterans’ Day.” It is a very different story in Britain. Each November millions of red poppies slip into buttonholes ahead of the solemn observances at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and elsewhere. Obviously, however, stateside ANZAC Day is completely invisible. I find this slightly melancholy. In two years’ time we shall observe the centenary of ANZAC, and this span of years strikes me as remarkable, for I will then be fifty-one. Three of my grandfather Borthwick’s own brothers fought at Gallipoli. One was killed; another grievously wounded (he lost an arm), however a third survived relatively intact. My grandfather volunteered but could not serve because he had “a dicky ticker”—which is how people then referred to a heart condition, in his case a pretty serious one. He died in middle age as a direct consequence of it, so, alas, I never knew him.

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