25th of April is marked in Australia and New Zealand as ANZAC Day. It's a public holiday and is always marked on the actual date, unlike some public holidays in other countries which move to the nearest Monday. ANZAC Day commemorates the anniversary of the first military action fought by Australian and New Zealand armed forces at Gallipoli from 1915-1916 during WW1. It wasn't a success, in fact it was an enormous cock up for the Allies, with massive loss of life on both sides. But a special bond was forged on those bloody shores and the Anzac spirit was born.
Australian deaths - 7,594 wounded - 20,000
New Zealand deaths - 2,701 wounded - 4,546
Ottoman Empire deaths - 55,801 wounded 140,000
(British, French and Indian soldiers also fought at Gallipoli. India lost over a thousand men, French losses have been put at 10,000 with 17,000 wounded and 21,000 British soldiers lost their lives, with over 52,000 wounded.)
Traditionally Anzac Day commemorations start with dawn services all around Australia. There's also a service at Gallipoli. There are marches in all the major cities as well as regional areas. Ex soldiers walk side by side under their old regiment banners, often joined by relatives wearing the medals of those who have sinced passed away. And it's not Anzac Day without a game of Two Up and copious amounts of drinking. My favourite part, however, is watching the old diggers gathering for a chat and a beer or two. It's their day.
"Those heroes that 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 the Mehmets 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. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well." Mustafa Kemal
This quote never fails to move me. It's the true spirit of reconcilitation. Wars are started by men and women in power. The little men and women go off to fight them. Theirs not to reason why, theirs just to do or die. That's fine if you sign up voluntarily (well, it's not fine but we won't go there today) but think back to those men who were conscripted. Young men, boys in some cases. Shipped off to foreign lands to fight in wars they had no say in. Following orders they didn't agree with, and, in the case of Gallipoli, following orders that led to certain death for so many. Wars are fought by people who have no say and pay the ultimate price.
I don't believe in glorifying war. But I do believe in respecting those who fought. I believe in thanking old boys who put on uniforms years ago and went out to 'do their bit'. That's why tomorrow morning I'll be going to the dawn service. To remember.