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Thursday, April 24, 2008

War! (Wo!.. Good God! Huh!) What is it good for...

April 25th is ANZAC day in Australia and represents our national day of remembrance of those who fought in the various conflicts to which Australia has committed troops.
The date chosen commemorates the landing of Australian troops at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915 . The Gallipoli campaign is infamous for its poor planning and execution, which saw Australian troops land on a beach only to be faced with towering cliffs which they had to scale under heavy machine gun fire from entrenched Turkish forces. After approximately nine months of throwing men "over the top", heavy casualties on both sides, and very little territorial gain, the Allied forces conceded defeat and retreated in what was perhaps ironically the greatest tactical manoeuvre of the whole campaign. Given the terrain, and weather conditions, large causalities were expected in the evacuation. However, through the using of self-firing rifles, (which worked by dripping water into a tin connected to the trigger so that rifles would fire sporadically and give the impression that the Allied troops were still in their trenches) the evacutation was carried out without the loss of a single life.

The battle of Gallipoli was significant for both sides, being widely regarded as the birthplace of the national consciousness in Australia (After Gallipoli, Australian forces demanded to fight under the command of Australia Generals rather than British ones - a significant mental step in our ongoing transition from British colony to independent nation), while at the same time laying the foundations for the Turkish Republic and the rise of its first president Atatürk, who was a military commander in the campaign.

At the dawn service at ANZAC Cove that occurs on the 25th of April every year, it has become a tradition to read the following words written by Atatürk to the mothers of the Allied dead:
"Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well."

The Ode, a stanza from English poet Laurence Binyon's For The Fallen, is also read out, after which there is the playing of the Last Post:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The last Australian Anzac, Alec Campbell, died in 2002, aged 103.
This slide show recently appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and shows another side to the war we usually commemorate. Click on the above image to check it out.

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