24 April 2013


I have returned to my hotel and have had a shower. I have rinsed myself of the dust of Delhi. I was covered in it. From head to foot. In every crevice of my skin. Delhi is very dry and dusty at the moment. It is the hot season. It is extremely warm and windy. The dust is everywhere.

The monsoon rains will arrive in Delhi in July. It will rain constantly from then until almost the end of August. 

Then there will be mud.

Tomorrow is Anzac Day. The twenty fifth of April. I almost forgot. Which is somewhat ironic as the catch cry for Anzac Day is "Lest we forget". Thank goodness for the Internet. Otherwise I wouldn't have remembered.

ANZAC day is only for Australians and New Zealanders. ANZAC is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Anzac day is designated as being a time for remembrance of all of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who have lost their lives in conflict. It is a public holiday in both countries.

The English refer to a public holiday as a Bank holiday. I have suggested to them that the Australian "Public Holiday" is a much more appropriate description. I have told them that a Bank Holiday implies that only Bank employees get a holiday. I have told the English that I thought that the term is stupid. The ones to whom I have spoken about this take the position that it simply means that all Banks are closed. I have rebutted with the statement that it is a public holiday. 

Everything is closed.

ANZAC day celebrates what is supposedly the spirit and nature of Australia - and to a much lesser extent - New Zealand. Australians refer to New Zealanders as Kiwis. A Kiwi is an unattractive and flightless New Zealand bird. It is the New Zealand national emblem. We Australians consider kiwis much as we considered our little brothers when we were growing up. Mostly insignificant and occasionally a little annoying.

The Australian spirit that is celebrated on ANZAC day is strongly associated with the concept of mateship. Mateship is absolute friendship delivered in a blokey and no-fuss sort of a way. It is an Australian invention. Mateship is beyond camaraderie. It was discovered in warfare. By the ANZACs. It was conceived in suffering and fear and grew in heroic battles for survival. It was fighting and dying for ones mates. On a beach in a place called Gallipoli in Turkey. It was during the First World war.  

It was there that an Australian identity was consummated. 

Nearly ten thousand Australian and New Zealand soldiers were killed in Gallipoli. Many of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers were still teenagers. Few were over the age of twenty five. They were babies. They were massacred.

The entire Gallipoli campaign was a monumental cock up by the British. Militarily and morally. War historians have written books on it and Hollywood films have been made on the subject. The English Military Officers are portrayed very poorly. They made dreadful and deadly and reckless decisions on the battlefields of Gallipoli. Wave after wave of men were ordered to their certain death trying to take impossible positions.

I remember talking to my English mate Dave about Galipolli last ANZAC day and he reminded me that more than twenty five thousand British soldiers lost their lives at Gallipoli too. Much more than the ANZAC's. He told me that they were all very young men as well. They were kids. I told Dave that I already knew this. My Dad was in the Army all of his life and was an expert on Australian military history. He taught the subject at the Military Staff college in the old fort in Queenscliff up until he retired.

Dave agrees that the British Army command did fuck up though. At Gallipoli. Militarily and morally. He doesn't dispute this. Dave has read the books and seen the film. Dave told me that he doesn't get why we have a Bank Holiday for it though in Australia. I told Dave that I am not really sure why we do either.

Don't get me wrong. Anyone dying deserves grief. The concept of Remembrance is a noble one. Remembering and honoring the dead is a good thing. Perhaps the act of remembrance should be extended a bit though. We should remember that the people we are remembering died in wars. You kill and you get killed. That's what happens in wars. Those are the rules. It is a stupid and dangerous game with no winners. 

We should remember this.

There are some groups in Australian society who argue that ANZAC Day is in some way glorifying the act of war. I don't necessarily disagree with them. I recall seeing footage on TV years ago of violent protests on ANZAC day marches by people in Australia who believe this. I remember also seeing women's groups being very upset at Remembrance Day events and protesting for the women who were raped in war. There have been many women violently raped in conflicts. 

We should remember this.

The ANZAC Day Bank Holiday commences with a Dawn Service at War memorials. These are conducted all over the country. Retired soldiers and war veterans and their families lay wreaths before the Memorials. Medals are worn. War memorials are stone monuments carved with the names of the dead on them. Soldiers killed in battle. At the Dawn Service everyone stands and there is one minute of silence. To remember.

I remember driving through little country towns in the bush when we were kids and seeing many of these war memorials. They were usually in a little park on the main street. I remember seeing some lists of names on the memorials where two and sometimes three brothers had all been killed in the trenches of Europe. In the First World war. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a child in a war. To lose a child at all. I can't fathom the grief that must have been endured. That is still endured. There are still a lot of wars going on. 

We should remember this.

Often a bugle will play the Last Post at the Dawn services. More than twenty five years ago I remember a long and dusty drive across Turkey in a minivan full of long haired and out of control Kiwis and Aussie backpackers. We were all just traveling around and on a whim decided to make our way to Gallipoli from Istanbul. Just for the ANZAC Day Dawn service. Those were the days. The road wasn't sealed then. It was bumpy and rough. I remember arriving at Anzac cove late at night on the twenty fourth of April and seeing a sea of people camping on the beach and in the hills. All waiting for the morning dawn. It was freezing cold and not many people slept that night. It was a bit of a party.

I recall very clearly watching the sun come up over the straits of the Dardanelles in the morning and hearing the bugle play the Last Post. Every one sobered up and woke up and shut up in an instant. It was silent except for the bugle. With the backdrop of waves breaking from the Aegean sea. It was a haunting and magical and very beautiful moment. It gave me goosebumps. It gives me goosebumps still. Remembering it. It was rare and raw and special. 


It was very moving.

The term 'lest we forget' is not actually a part of the "Ode of Remembrance". Most people think it is. It is said as sort of an 'Amen' after the Ode has been read. At the Dawn Service. On ANZAC day. Remember my Dad was an expert in Australian Military history. He taught me this sort of stuff.

The Ode to Remembrance was written in 1914 by an English poet named Laurence Binyon. His ode was called "For the Fallen'. It was a war poem. Laurence Binyon was from Lancashire. He was a Northerner. Ay Oop.

Most Australians will know the last verse of the poem. It is:

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.

Than people say "Lest we forget". But it isn't part of the poem.

It never was. 

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