ANZAC Day. I am in favour of it.
I realise that it is not fashionable to say this, but I confess I am NOT “all Gallipoli’d out” as many people claim to be….
I read in ‘The Australian’ today that famous story about how, after repulsing yet another bloody Turkish attack on the ANZAC Gallipoli trenches, an Aussie trooper called out to the retreating enemy: “Play you again next Saturday!”. I have heard it a hundred times and it still makes me smile.
I read Kamal Ataturk’s inscription on the memorial to the fallen Anzacs: “Those heroes… after having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.” It is a generosity of spirit unrivalled in memorials to war. (It saddens me that the current head of the Turkish government is re-moulding Gallipoli into a West vs Islam conflict.)
Being the proud owner of a well-worn complete set of Charles Bean’s “Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918″, (courtesy Elizabeth’s Bookshops) and a cheap reprint of Murdoch’s letter that got the British General in charge of the Dardanelles campaign the sack, I indulge myself in reading and re-reading the material (before watching AFL on the telly). I also understand Bean’s Official History worked within the confines of censorship and that his Diaries offer a less ‘gung-ho’ and more realistic picture of the ANZAC role in WWI, but together they form a fascinating complementary picture.
My sons’ maternal great-great-grandfather fought at Gallipoli and the Western Front. More recent generations of the family lived through, or died, in the New Guinea campaign, as resistance heroes in Europe and in a Nazi concentration camp. I am immensely proud of them, and so are my children.
Yes, so Woolworths commercialises Anzac Day and yes, some men’s magazine has to pull its cover of a bikini bird holding a poppy. So what ? (I bet the bloke who called out a footy joke across the Gallipoli trenches would have been all in favour of the bikini bird.)
Yes, at Elizabeth’s Bookshops we have an ‘Australians at War’ display and, yes – on the edge of crassness – I have put on sale some shrapnel Battlefield Relics that I acquired, dug up from the battlefield of Passchendaele. We are a bookshop, we are in retail. We need to pay wages and rent.
Yes, this June I will be in Belgium at the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Just imagine the wonderfully kitsch souvenirs for sale there! (I so want the one showing Napoleon on the loo.)
I am the first generation of my family not to have suffered through a war. (My ballot did not come up for Vietnam.) I am overwhelmingly grateful for that.
However, with a very, very modest claim to being a historian, I applaud the Anzac Day interest in Gallipoli. Not to glorify war, but to glorify the human spirit.