Today in Australia we are celebrating ANZAC Day.
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the 25th of April is the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the first world war.
On this day in 1915 Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the beach of Gallipoli. They were part of a movement that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the navies of the allies, with the objective being to capture the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), an ally of Germany.
Unfortunately, due to the fierce resistance of the Turkish defenders, it quickly became a stalemate and the campaign dragged on for eight months. By the time the allied forces were evacuated both sides had suffered through great hardships and suffered heavy casualties.
Many stories of bravery and heroism have been told of the troops involved in the campaign, and the ANZAC legend is something that endures in Australia to this day.
One of the most famous stories of the battles at Gallipoli is that of Simpson and his Donkey.
John Simpson Kirkpatrick (born 6th July 1892) was a Private in the Australian Army Medical Corps and became famous for his work as a stretcher-bearer.
Donkeys were used to bring water to the troops and Simpson obtained one of them to help him recover the wounded.
Day and night he and the donkey (he used a few different ones) bravely carried wounded men from the front line, often under fire.
Simpson is often described as an enigmatic figure. I expect this means that he was independent and not good at taking orders. Nevertheless, the story of Simpson and his donkey has become an enduring symbol of courage and persistence during a terrible time.
Simpson was killed by machine-gun fire only weeks after his arrival, on the 19th of May, while carrying two wounded men, and was buried on the beach at Hell Spit.
Celebrating this day and showing our respect for those that fell at Gallipoli has become something that all Australians are aware of. Over time ANZAC day has become a day where we honour all of those who sacrificed themselves in wars around the world.
Aussies are known for their love of public holidays and we really don’t care what they represent, we just love ’em. ANZAC day is probably the only one I can think of where people actually care why we have that day. Every year it seems to be becoming more popular to go to a local dawn service or commemorative march.
To be standing around a cenotaph in the dim light of dawn hearing the melancholy notes of the Last Post and the recitation of The Ode sends shivers up your spine. You have likely heard The Ode, but not known where it came from. It is the fourth stanza of a poem called For The Fallen written by Laurence Binyon in 1914.
They shall not grow old, as we are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
If you would like to know more about ANZACs and Gallipoli have a look at http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/ . It has video, photos, audio and just about anything you could want.
The Australian War Memorial website http://www.awm.gov.au/ has great information too (and is where I found the ‘why’ of the Gallipoli invasion).