ANZAC Day – 25th April 2020

An original image of one of the landings at ANZAC Cove, this one at 8AM on April 25 1915. (Image Credit – Australian War Memorial Archives)

By Anton Lang ~ PA Pundits – International

Why is ANZAC Day so important in Australia?

At 4.15AM on Sunday the 25th April 1915 an untried Corps of Australian soldiers waded ashore from the longboats that had brought them there from the large troopships further out to sea. As they came ashore in the dawn’s half light they were mowed down in droves by the Turkish soldiers who had the high ground.

The place was an insignificant little Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula, part of Turkey, near a small place known as Ari Burnu, now forever known as ANZAC Cove, a small piece of Australian Sacred Ground on a foreign shore.

The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

Forces from New Zealand were also part of this campaign, hence the acronym includes New Zealand, who, while part of this campaign, were under the command of their own fellow New Zealanders. This was a combined effort, and this day is also recognised just as reverently in New Zealand as it is here in Australia.

So, why is this one day so revered by Australians, when the 8 Month campaign that followed was considered in the main overall scheme of the War as a failure, considering that Australia has been part of so many famous victories on fields of battle in War since that time.

This was when Australian troops, commanded by Australians fought for the first time for each other as fellow Australians.

(Image) The original Badge of the Australian Army, worn on the hats of every Australian soldier. This is known as The Rising Sun Badge.

Those coming ashore who survived this original murderous onslaught regrouped and started to fight back. This campaign lasted for eight and a half months. In that time, Australian soldiers announced to the World that they were now no longer an untried group of colonials, but a magnificent fighting force in their own right, and one to be reckoned with.

During those 8 Months, nine Australians were awarded The Victoria Cross for valour, the highest award for bravery that there is. (This is the equivalent of the Medal of Honor in the U.S.) In fact, seven of those medals were awarded in just one  three day period. This was at Lone Pine, in August, where the Australians engaged in what was a diversionary feint to disguise the massed landing by the British further up the Coast at Suvla Bay. This Lone Pine engagement was some of the most savage hand to hand combat in close quarters of the whole 8 Month period at Gallipoli.

During that 8 Month period of this Gallipoli Campaign, 8,709 Australian soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

Each year from then forward, Australia has recognised that day of the first landing as the most solemn of days on our Calendar, when we, as a nation, pay reverent homage, not only to those brave men who fought and died at Gallipoli, but to all our Australian Military forces who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in times of all Wars, and for all our current serving men and women in Australia’s military forces.

Dawn Services are held across the Country timed for 4.15AM local time at memorials in the large Capital cities, and across cities and towns all over Australia, literally at thousands of such places. While still early morning at that time, these services are always attended by masses of people all across Australia.

Later that same morning, marches are held in many of these places as well. Those marches in the Capital cities have literally thousands of men and women marching, with only veterans and current serving members from the three armed forces, and some marches may only have a handful of men marching, as numbers now thin out with the passing of years.

While those people march, many thousands line the length of the march and pay solemn tribute to those old men who fought so that we actually could line those streets to salute them, and to also pay silent tribute to those who did not come home.

ANZAC Day April 25th 2020

This year, Australia (as is also the case in the wider World as a whole) is undergoing a drastic lockdown situation with respect to the COVID-19 Worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Because of that, there are no Dawn Services that will be attended by the large crowds who usually attend these solemn services, although in the State Capitals, there will be a televised service at the main Memorial for the public to watch on TV, and these services will be attended only by a very few dignitaries. The main televised service will be from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Later that morning, all marches in all cities and towns across the whole of Australia have also been cancelled as well. In lieu of the lack of services at Memorials all across the Country, people have been asked to stand at the end of the driveway at their homes, hold a lit candle, and observe a minute’s silence at 6.00AM, in what has been dubbed the ‘Light Up The Dawn’ memorial. Those services at Gallipoli, Lone Pine, and in France have also been cancelled for this year as well.

In 1916, only one year after that landing at Gallipoli, a decision was made to recognise that one day, April 25th, as a day to remember what happened at Gallipoli, with special services timed at 4.15AM, the time of that original landing, and later in the day to have marches where people could honour those men who paid the ultimate price during that landing and the following campaign. In 1916, there were only a small number of places where this happened. This form of Commemoration gained strength even in those early years, and quite soon, the Dawn Service and then the March later in the morning became an established tradition. It was thought that it might fade away, but it has come back strongly, and now those services timed at 4.15AM are attended by crowds larger than ever before, and increasing in attendance with each passing year. One of the best attended of all the Dawn Services in Australia is the one held at the War Memorial in our National Capital, Canberra. Across recent years, perhaps one of the best attended Services at 4.15AM local time is the one held at ANZAC Cove on that Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, where many thousands travel from Australia to gather for the Service at 4.15AM on the same soil where those brave men came ashore in 1915. It has almost become one of the things to do in life, as young people flock to this one place to be part of this tradition. The Service at Gallipoli is followed later in the day by a Service at the Lone Pine Memorial. There are also a large number of Services held in France as the Australian Force was instrumental in the War in that area. In fact, quite a large number of schools in that area have an image of that Australian Rising Sun Badge (shown above) in a highly visible place and under each Badge are the words ‘Never Forget Australia’. One of the best attended Services in France is at a small village called Villers-Bretonneux. The link below to my own Post from 2009 about General Sir John Monash explains why this area is also so important to Australia.

In Australia, the numbers of veterans actually marching diminishes each year as those ranks of veterans thin out, but the numbers of those lining the streets to watch increases with each passing year. For a long time now, there has been no First Great War Veterans left to march, and even those veterans from the Second World War are now thinning dramatically. Australia still has many veterans from other fields of conflict, like Korea and Vietnam, and, most recent among them, young men who served Australia with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the marches are well attended by current serving members from every branch of the Australian Military.

This link details a very comprehensive coverage of all the news of the Services and commemorations held across Australia. There are a number of images and short videos showing all that was done across all the States here in Australia. The idea of individuals making a private commemoration at the end of their driveways was evidently a huge success, and the article at the link shows just that.

A Personal Observation

I served as a member of the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) for 25 years, and during that time, I attended a number of Dawn Services and also marched during the Marches that followed later that morning. It always was a source of immense pride, especially during the march as we all were in our uniforms marching as a large group, to hear and feel the appreciation of the crowds lining the streets of Newcastle. Sometimes, some of the men would grumble a little about having to rise at 2.30AM, dress in our uniforms, form up, be issued with our Rifles, and then take the buses to the early Services and then later to the marches. Later in life, I often wondered about that, and then ‘tried’ to even imagine what it would have been like back in 1915 when that first landing took place at Gallipoli.

Imagine as a 20 year old, thousands of miles from home, standing on a troop ship in a woollen uniform, with a heavy pack on your back and a loaded rifle in your hands. It’s just past Midnight, and it’s pitch black, and the ships have no lights. You look around and in the dim half light, you see hundreds of men just like you, some of them friends. Occasionally, an Officer or Senior NCO would wander past and speak encouraging words, how you’ve trained for just this, and how you are ready, and how the people back home are depending on you, and they know you’ll do what is expected of you.

In your own mind, you think private thoughts, of home, of Mum and Dad, girlfriends or wives, what you did before becoming a soldier. You look off into the distance and can just make out the dark hills in the distance of the land where you are soon to go ashore. You know that in a short time, they will throw rope nets across the sides of the ship, and you will have to climb down them with all your gear, and into longboats with around thirty or so other men. Three of these longboats will be towed by a small motorised Tender, and when a few hundred yards from shore, the tow ropes will get cast off and hands will man the oars to row the rest of the way in, now subject to the currents. As you crunch up against the rocks of the shore, you will look out and see the hill in front of you, now approaching the first light of dawn. You know that unseen in those hills, on the high ground, other men will be shooting at you with rifles and machine guns, with real bullets, and lots of them. You won’t see them, and you will be virtually helpless on that beach, running for your life, hoping against hope that nothing hits you.

Something like that is almost impossible to even imagine, let alone to actually do it. Nowadays, we have no concept of what those men did. That’s why ANZAC Day carries such importance here in Australia, that these men did this selflessly, and without question.

This morning, I was up early, and after putting on my medals, I walked out to the end of the driveway entrance to our apartment building in the Dawn’s half light. Of the 21 Apartments in our complex, other than me, there was only one other group there, a young man with his wife and their baby in the stroller with them. We exchanged greetings and then stood waiting for 6.00AM to come around. I looked up and down the long street we live on, and in my field of vision, I could see about 6 other homes where people were also standing at the end of their driveways. I have no doubt there were more people up and down our street. At that 6.00AM time, one of the groups on the other side of our street turned on the Phone App specially produced for today, and the traditional Last Post played on a bugle, enough for us to hear on our side of the street. I had an idea that something like this would go over quite well, and going on later news reports, it was evidently just that, a huge success.

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