Here in the United States, we tend to reflect on history as it pertains to us. We look back at the tragedy of war through a specifically American perspective, and with good reason. Our holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day aren’t intended to simply celebrate the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women that served our country, they’re meant to be reminders of the cost of freedom and our very way of life, but just as the United States often heads into battle alongside brothers and sisters in arms from other nations, we should take a moment to consider the price they’ve paid along with us, as not all of the blood of patriots and heroes that has been spilled in the fight against tyranny was our own.
April 25th of each year is a just such an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made by our allies, as people all over Australia and New Zealand celebrate their own iteration of Veterans or Memorial Day, Anzac Day.
Anzac Day derives its name and date from a brave group of soldiers sent from the newly federated Australia and its neighboring nation of New Zealand who were tasked with joining a World War I allied expedition to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies and ultimately capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps tasked with the operation soon found their name shortened simply to Anzac, a title they wore proudly.
The Anzac fighters landed on Gallipoli at dawn on April 25th, 1915, intent on quickly defeating the Ottoman Turks and paving the way for Allied advances. Unfortunately, they found themselves amidst a brutal fight, and soon their offensive operation had reached a stale mate.
By the end of the year, the Allied troops were forced to leave Gallipoli. Heavy losses permeated both sides of the fighting and more than 8,000 Australians died in the clash, but for many in Australia and New Zealand, the ultimate failure of the operation was not the most important thing to come of the months-long struggle, but rather it was the indomitable will and heroism demonstrated by the Anzac forces that carried on in memory. Soon, the “Anzac Legend” began to take hold, as the actions of the soldiers from Australia and New Zealand formed a powerful legacy back home. That legend continues to be an important part of both nations’ identities to this day.
Today, Anzac Day is celebrated through a combination of somber remembrance, national pride, and as a way to honor the men and women that have given up their lives in the fight against tyranny and oppression all over the world. Service members from Australia and New Zealand continue to embody that Anzac Legend to this day as they continue to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good in the fight against terrorism the world over.
Although the United States may seem like a world away from its allies in New Zealand and Australia, it’s important to remember that, when it comes to what really matters, we’ve stood side by side – willing to fight, struggle, and sacrifice right next to one another for the sake of each of our nations and the world as a whole.
Anzac Day gives people in Australia and New Zealand the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices they’ve made for the sake of a better world, but it isn’t up to them to celebrate alone. All of us in the free world should join our brothers and sisters in those nations in raising a glass in thanks and commemoration for their role in countless conflicts, starting in the first World War, and continuing today.
In order to gain a better appreciation for Anzac Day, here is a portion of a poem often read at Anzac Day celebrations, originally penned by Clyde Hamilton. It serves a powerful reminder of the price our allies have paid alongside us, and of how alike we all are in mourning.
The ANZAC Day march was over – the old Digger had done his best.
His body ached from marching – it was time to sit and rest.
He made his way to a park bench and sat with lowered head.
A young boy passing saw him – approached and politely said,
“Please sir do you mind if I ask you what the medals you wear are for?
Did you get them for being a hero, when fighting in a war?”
Startled, the old Digger moved over and beckoned the boy to sit.
Eagerly the lad accepted – he had not expected this!
“First of all I was not a hero,” said the old Digger in solemn tone,
“But I served with many heroes, the ones that never came home.
So when you talk of heroes, it’s important to understand,
The greatest of all heroes gave their lives defending this land.”
Image courtesy of Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours