Anzac Day by Angela Caldin

25 April is Anzac Day here in New Zealand and a public holiday. The date was chosen because at dawn on 25 April 1915, eight months into the First World War, Allied soldiers landed on the shores of the Gallipoli peninsula. This was Turkish territory allied with Germany and the plan was to open the Dardanelles Strait to the Allied fleets, enabling them to threaten Constantinople (now Istanbul) and achieve a Turkish surrender. But the Allied forces encountered unexpectedly tough resistance from the Turks, and both sides suffered enormous loss of life.  The campaign dragged on and was ultimately a costly failure for the Allies, who after nine months abandoned it and evacuated their surviving troops. Not surprisingly, this became a triumphant defining moment in Turkish history.

Troops from New Zealand and Australia, fighting so far from home as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), played an important part in the Gallipoli campaign. New Zealand was proud that 11,000 of its soldiers were engaged in this war on the world stage, distinguishing themselves with great courage; but by the end, more than two thousand of the New Zealanders taking part had been killed and the communities they came from were devastated. It was a huge sacrifice for a campaign which did not have any significant influence on the outcome of the war.

Great suffering was caused to a small country by the loss of so many of its young men, though in the national consciousness, the troops were seen as displaying attributes of bravery, tenacity and loyalty which helped New Zealand define itself as a nation even though they were fighting on the other side of the world in the name of the British Empire. The consensus is that after Gallipoli, New Zealand had a greater confidence in its distinct identity and a greater sense of the international contribution it could make.

Anzac dayDay of Remembrance

Anzac Day has been a public holiday in New Zealand since 1921, a day to acknowledge the sacrifices made, not only of those at Gallipoli, but of all those who have died in warfare, and the contribution and suffering of all who have served. During the Second World War there was increased interest and a heightened sense of the relevance of Anzac Day while in the 1960s and 70s it was sometimes used as a platform for anti-war and other social protest. The number of New Zealanders attending Anzac Day dawn services in New Zealand, around the world, and at Gallipoli, has been increasing in recent years.  2015 will see the 100th anniversary of the landings in what is now called Anzac Cove; there is such a huge amount of interest in attending the services that a ballot is needed for attendance tickets.

Day of Peace

The Turkish battlefields are now part of the Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park, or the Peace Park as it is known. In all of this, it’s the word ‘peace’ that stands out for me and the need to emphasise the futility of war, not to glory in it. Those who died were mostly young, barely out of their teens, beloved sons and future husbands mown down before their lives had really begun. Recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen a steady stream of deaths and lives blighted by loss of limbs and terrible injuries. Is it enough simply to remember and give thanks for their sacrifice?  Shouldn’t we clamour loudly for no more war?

The convention is to wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance and for the proceeds to go to injured service personnel and their families in need. There is another option: the white poppy worn as an alternative to, or complement to, the red poppy. Those who choose the white poppy want to put the emphasis on the need for peace rather than war and the money raised goes towards White Poppy Peace Scholarships for tertiary students. The white poppy is a poignant symbol of peace, but perhaps it is not appropriate to sell white poppies at the same time as red ones; a better idea would be to have a specific day dedicated entirely to peace when white poppies could be sold without appearing to set themselves up in competition with their red counterparts.

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