26 April 2009
Yesterday was ANZAC Day, a holiday in Australia and New Zealand that commemorates the members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) who fought in the Great War (World War I). The landed at Gallipoli, Turkey, at dawn on 25 April 1915 and many were slaughtered. The ANZAC soldiers came to be known as ‘Anzacs’.
I happened to be in Australia for the 75th anniversary of that landing, 1990, and, as I recall, it was a moment when ANZAC Day received a new momentum, the young generation in particular, taking a fresh look at what had happened. The Australian government arranged for all veterans of Gallipoli who were well enough to travel to go to Gallipoli again. As far as I know, many Australians now visit Gallipoli on 25 April each year.
I don’t know what influence Peter Weir’s movie of 1981, Gallipoli, has had on Australians. It stars Mel Gibson. I first saw it in Toronto, where I was doing a year’s study, and it is one of the greatest movies I have ever seen, ever single scene a gem, with a magnificent and moving sound-track and the minor characters remaining in my memory.
ABC TV of Australia produced a documentary that I watched yesterday and today, Lost in Flanders, that shows how the remains of three Australian soldiers found in recent years in Belgium were identified through DNA tests. The programme reminds us that it wasn’t only in Gallipoli that Australian soldiers died in that awful war but also on the Western Front. One of the Belgians who discovered the remains was moved to tears when he saw that one of the soldiers had clearly been buried with special reverence, his arms crossed on his breast and his eyes, as it were, looking at you. It turned out that he had been buried by his older brother who survived the war.
I’m familiar with the area in Flanders featured in this documentary and located the grave of my great-uncle Corporal Larry Dowd who was killed near Ieper on the feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August, 1917, not long before the deaths of the five Australians featured in this programme.
Scottish songwriter Eric Bogle wrote The Band Played Waltzing Matilda in 1971. It evokes the terrible scars of war on some of those who survive. It's sung here by Irish singer Liam Clancy.