Memorial Days

 

ANZAC Day

In the early hours of the 25th April 1915, forces of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZACs) landed at a small cove called Ari Burnu (soon renamed Anzac Cove) on the rugged slopes of Turkey's Gallipoli Peninsula. The first wave comprised some 1,500 Australians with an additional 2,500 following to begin the push inland. The remaining 25,000 ANZACs subsequently came ashore to bolster the vanguard efforts.

Turkey, Germany's ally, controlled the Dardanelles Strait, blocking off much needed supplies for the hard-pressed Russian forces on the Eastern Front. If this narrow seaway could be controlled, allied ships could sail from the Mediterranean through to the Russian Black Sea ports.

Seizing the high ground and guns defending the Dardanelles offered the best hope of achieving the Allied objective. Taken to its conclusion, the strategy might result in the capitulation of the Turkish capital, Constantinople, effectively putting Turkey out of the war.

An earlier naval bombardment had failed to secure the area but had instead alerted the defenders to allied intentions. Thus when the ANZACs landed on that fateful morning they were cut down by skilled Turkish snipers and machine guns nestled in the cliffs and gullies towering over ANZAC Cove.

Troops from Great Britain, others from her extensive Empire, and the French, landed elsewhere, and they, like their ANZAC comrades, suffered heavily. The battle continued until the following December when the entire force was evacuated without achieving the planned outcome, SEE: The Gallipoli Campaign - Australia. Department of Veteran Affairs

Australia had lost 8,709 of her men, and New Zealand 2,701. While just one of many tragic battles the ANZAC forces were to participate in during the First World War, some incurring far greater losses, the fact remains that this was the first major campaign the young nation had fought in. Ideals of "mateship", the concept of the "Digger" (Australian soldier), and standards of courage for subsequent conflicts were firmly established.

Each April 25th, ANZAC Day, returned servicemen and women march though the streets of small towns and large capital cities alike. A sad but moving Dawn Service precedes the ANZAC Day March, which in turn is followed by reunions that cement the comradeship among the survivors, and respect for the dead from all the wars fought up until present times. One of the most moving ceremonies takes place at Gallipoli itself, where the former foe joins with visiting Australians to show respect for the dead of both nations.

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is the day Australians, like so many others around the world, pause to reflect upon those who gave their lives during times of conflict.

Originally known as "Armistice Day", the commemoration sees participants pause for a period of silence to remember those who died in all wars. Much off the tradition and symbolism is directly associated with World War One, when at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918) the great guns that for four years wrought havoc among a whole generation of young men, fell silent.

In the following year, prior to the first anniversary of the Armistice, a Melbourne journalist and war veteran living in London, Edward George Honey, wrote a letter to the Evening News suggesting a period of silence be adopted as an act of respect and remembrance. Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a South African, wrote a letter to King George V suggesting a similar observance, based upon a tradition that had developed in Cape Town during the course of the War to honour that country's war dead.

Like minds obviously had an impact, for on the 6th November 1919, His Majesty asked that the people of the Commonwealth observe "a complete suspension of all our normal activities" for two minutes on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month so that "in perfect stillness the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the Glorious Dead"

In the 4 years of War approximately 416,809 Australian had volunteered and of these 324,000 had served overseas. 61,720 deaths were incurred on active service, with another 155,000 wounded (Australian War Memorial Figures). In reality, some two thirds of this remarkable force were either killed or wounded.

Seventeen Australians lost their lives on the final day of hostilities, and Mr Rodney Noonan from the National Archives Defence Service Records Team has authored an article entitled:   ARMISTICE FATALITIES: Australian service personnel who died on 11 November 1918

This great sacrifice, made along with comrades from like-minded nations, which many had hoped in vain would be the "war to end wars", left deep marks on the national psyche. For those who had lost a son, brother, or friend, the solemn ceremonies and War Memorials provided a comforting substitute for the funeral service they had been unable to attend, the grave marker they had been unable to visit.

Far from being an end to war, the First World War was a prelude to numerous conflicts fought throughout the 20th Century. Armistice Day became Remembrance Day, an occasion to pay homage to all those who paid with their lives so that peace and freedom might prevail for those near and dear to them.

Remembrance Day Service 2001 - Balmain (PDF)

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