You’ll notice it’s not Sunday, and there’s a reason for this. I’m choosing to post on Saturday this week because today is a significant day in New Zealand and Australian history.
On the 25th of April 1915, in the midst of World War One, the Gallipoli Campaign began. Allied soldiers landed on the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula, territory that was then under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Amongst these troops were many members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), who fought bravely in a battle that was half a world away from home. The goal of the Gallipoli Campain – to seize control of the Dardanelles Strait – was a failure. After nine months, the Allies were forced to abandon Gallipoli and pulled the surviving soldiers out of the battle. Almost 3,000 New Zealanders lost their lives in this military campaign – a campaign which did not end in victory, and ultimately played little part in the outcome of the first world war.
So why acknowledge this (relatively) insignificant military blunder? ANZAC Day is, of course, about the Gallipoli Campaign and the many New Zealand and Australian soldiers who lost their lives over those months. But it’s about much more than that. On April 25th, New Zealanders and Australians commemorate not only the ANZAC soldiers that fought at Gallipoli, but all New Zealanders and Australians who have laid down their lives in any wars since, so that we might enjoy the peace we do today. ANZAC Day is observed as a national holiday, and dawn services are held all over the country. And this anniversary is especially important. This ANZAC Day marks one hundred years exactly since the Allied soldiers landed at Gallipoli.
War is a terrible thing. It affects all those who enter directly into conflict, all their loved ones and many more besides. Safe in this little, (relatively) peaceful corner of the world, it’s often hard to remember that for so many people in a number of countries, war is still very much an everyday reality. Though this sentiment has been expressed countless times before, I feel it is no less important, and on this day especially I have to wonder: why, as human beings, are we so prone to violence?
Maybe we’ll never figure out a way to co-exist peacefully. Maybe there’s some deeprooted biological drive that leads us to want to tear each other down on points of difference, differences which are often circumstantial (such as race, sexuality or even religious background) and which we couldn’t change even if we wanted to.
This is a day to remember not only the tragedy of wars fought in the past (while World War I was a horrific war with lasting consequences, its events are now a century old and it is hard to feel closely connected to the impact it had), but also the reality of the present. War has not gone away, and we would do well to remember this. Because with today’s technology, a third world war would do far more damage than either of its predecessors, which is saying quite a lot. Put it another way: we’d all be fucked.
This ANZAC Day, I will remember all those young, terrified men who went to war for this country. I will remember all those who died for New Zealand and for the Allied Forces, and I will remember all those who came back to be haunted by memories of the war for the rest of their lives. And I will also think about those people living in parts of the world that are still at war. I will think of those countries for whom our distant memory is their nightmarish reality.
Maybe there’s not much that I, one young New Zealander, can do to end current wars and prevent future ones. But one small thing that I can do is join my nation in commemorating the past today. Despite some (unfortunate) commercialisation of this day, at its heart is still a sombre and important message: when nations go to war against one another, the price is severe and can last for a century and more.
This morning Kate and I woke up at 4.15am to attend the dawn service. It was held, for the first time, at the newly opened New Zealand National War Memorial.
The service began at 5.30am and was absolutely packed: we arrived at 5.10 and were so far back we couldn’t see anything directly. Fortunately for us, the service was also shown on big screens for the many many people who arrived too late to get a good spot. The crowd also extended so far behind me that I couldn’t see its end.
The dawn service ended at 6.30, by which time the sky was just starting to get light. Despite there being so so many people there, it was the best ANZAC Day service I’ve been to. Having a service in the dark at such an early hour was a slightly surreal experience. To me it felt like the best way to honour all those who have served for this country. Standing there and listening to the speeches and hymns, it also hit me that one hundred years ago today, all of those young soldiers would have been waiting in the darkness to storm the beaches of Gallipoli. I can only imagine what that must have felt like, and feel so grateful that because of their sacrifice I don’t have to experience anything like it today.