Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lest We Forget

Down here in New Zealand and Australia, and for others all around the world who have links to our two nations, the 25th of April is a very special, and sombre day; ANZAC Day. It is a day when we pause and remember the soldiers, sailors, and others who have served (and are still serving) our countries in wars and conflicts all over the world.

Ninety-eight years ago to this very day, our two nations first fought side by side under the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) banner – our soldiers landing together at dawn on a desolate beach on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. It was a military bungle by the British commanders - but the attitudes, actions, and courage of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers both at Gallipoli and over the many battles and years since, stoked a burgeoning sense of independent identity and nationhood.

Despite being so far away from the conflict, and in no direct danger ourselves, more than 100,000 New Zealand troops and nurses served overseas during the First World War, from a population of just over one million. 42% of men of military age served. And over the past century, Australia and New Zealand have contributed greatly on the world stage in many ways and in many diverse areas, generally 'punching far above our weight' given our geographic isolation and small populations - and in some ways this can be traced back to the values associated with 'the ANZAC tradition'.

This time two years ago, I was huddled against the cold on the Gallipoli peninsula, awaiting the dawn, amongst thousands of New Zealanders and Australians who'd made the pilgrimage. It was a surreal and special experience, and it affected me far more, and differently, than I expected. Amongst many realisations on what was a very special trip to Turkey was this: ANZAC Day is really about three countries, not just two.

Every year the Turkish people open up their arms and hearts to the descendants and fellow countrymen of an invading force that landed on their shores with the express intent of over-running them, of beating them down and back (if, in our eyes, for a very good cause). How special a place is Turkey? How many countries would host, create, and maintain a memorial for people who came trying to kill their fellow countrymen? War is a horrible, horrible thing, for whatever reason it is fought. How many commanders would, years later, say this of the men who he fought against:
Heroes who 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 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.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
Turkey is a very special place, for many, many reasons. It is full of history, from Greek and Roman times, Biblical times, the Ottoman Empire, and much more. Of course, it is a place many New Zealanders and Australians feel some connection to, too, for more recent history.

Outside of my writing about crime fiction and crime writers, I also write other articles for a number of publications. In the past few years I've been fortunate enough to get to write a couple of features about the Anzac tradition and Anzac Day, including one about my trip there last year. If you get a chance today, please click on the links below and give them a read (especially the second one):

1 comment:

  1. Craig: Thank you for a fine post. The comments of Ataturk are powerful words of reconciliation. I had not read them previously.