Saturday, April 25, 2015

Happy ANZAC® Day!

FFS - Gallipoli teddy bears?!!!
From Australia Post catalogue

I'm going to burn in hell for this!

This is a personal post about the 100th anniversary commemorations of the 1915 Gallipoli landings. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but I do want to express a little contrariness on this day of secular worship. If I had family directly involved in the campaign I might feel differently, but I don't so only have the perspective of an observer.

The further removed we are from the event, the seemingly more we are turning it into a day of jingoism, especially in this 100th year. While it is important to remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who landed and fought on the Dardenelles as the first blooding of the new nation's army in the War to End All Wars, I believe that too much is invested in this one event. Too many myths have grown up around the event which make investigating the reality all the more difficult as correcting the myths is tantamount to heresy. The fact that the Gallipoli campaign was an unmitigated disaster in an invasion of another sovereign country, and that we were one of several nations involved (and not the biggest player in the event) all seem to be forgotten in the jingoistic remembrance-fest.

I'm not sure how the event is being observed by our NZ cousins, but the way that the event has been commercialised here has also stuck in my throat. The picture above is from a catalogue of tat from the Australia Post catalogue. At least these have the redeeming feature of a certain percentage of the proceedings going to Legacy. Supermarket chain Woolworths got into all sorts of bother with their branded "Fresh in our Memories" campaign , which not only had their logo emblazoned on the images, but riffed on their advertising campaign as the "Fresh Food People". I can't express how strongly I feel that commercialism of this event is plain wrong. I can't understand why you'd want to shell out for this kind of thing in the first place, but obviously there's a market for it. I think it's an extremely cynical cashing in on the emotion that has been manipulated by the whole event.

The remembrance of Gallipoli campaign overshadows the much more significant involvement of the ANZACS on the Western Front, especially in the 1918 counter-attack around Villers-Brettoneux and the Battle of Hamel  which followed.

As a catch all day for remembering the fallen, it dwarfs Remembrance Day but seems to me to lessen the importance of all other wars and the sacrifices of those who served in them. I really think that Remembrance Day is a much more appropriate day and certainly does not have the baggage of jingoistic nationalism that ANZAC Day has accumulated.

I think a much more appropriate way of commemorating the sacrifice of those who served in our name would have been to dedicate a lot more spending to helping the veterans of recent wars than blowing $300 million on the centenary, especially when compared to the $95 million spent on veterans' mental health in the four years up to 2014.

Rant over.

Lest we forget the veterans of all wars and their sacrifice.


  1. Excellent points Johnny. Looks like they did an excellent job on the Teddy Bear.

  2. Sir, I respect your modelling ability and your right to hold an opinion at odds, I believe, with the vast majority. I do however think that this is an entirely inappropriate platform to air those views. I for one am delighted to see the event grow every year as witnessed by the ever increasing crowds that now attend, including a large contingent of youngsters proudly wearing their great grandfathers medals. To call that jingoism is frankly, a bit unfounded. I'm afraid you may have poked a stick into a wasp nest with your post.

  3. Thank you for your measured response, Ogilvie, especially when it's so clear you disagree with me

    I can't speak for how the lead up to the commemoration was handled in NZ, but here it was fairly over the top, which was my point. I have no issue with commemorating service and sacrifice. I am uneasy with the nature of commemorating this one event over all else. After writing this post I read this article which is much more erudite in expressing what I tried to here:

    I beg to differ with you on the appropriateness of this blog for expressing my opinions. I try not to let politics get in the way, but on some issues I feel I need express myself and this is the most appropriate vehicle for expressing my opinions.

  4. Johnny - I think your post was also measured, and entirely fair - you aren't alone in your concerns. And I'd say a blog written and read by military historians and wargamers is as an informed and appropriate forum for discussion as any.

    As an ex-pat Brit, I'm more used to the somehow more somber and reflective tone that we seem to have around Remembrance Day, and am also left uncomfortable with some of what seems to crawl out around the edges of Anzac Day, especially this year.

    Perhaps that's partly because I've always just found it a bit odd that the two countries have felt it necessary to have their "own" commemoration at all, especially as it is of such a specific (and controversial) campaign, rather than simply remember gratefully - as all other countries involved on both sides now do, with common sorrow - the final end of an awful war on 11/11.

    I appreciate the perception out here that Gallipolli was a pivotal event in the evolution of nationhood, but I fear that fact alone may compromise the commemoration and exposes Anzac Day to the risks of accusations (and possibly realities) of bias or jingoism. Surely the direct connection of any such event to national identity is always going to be problematic? For example, it does seem that the involvement and suffering of larger numbers of French and Turkish troops has been (at best) rather overlooked, at least in the TV coverage I've seen here in NZ.

    Sadly, you're not alone in having commemorations impacted by commercial concerns - the infamous Sainsbury "Christmas Truce" TV advert in the UK at the end of last year provoked a storm of controversy.

  5. I applaud you for a measured and thoughtful post. It seems to me that young nations and former colonies need stories of how maturity and independence were purchased in sacrifice. Here in Canada Vimy Ridge has a similar role in our foundation myth. It doesn't demean the service and bravery of young Australians who went to Galipoli and never returned to critique the exploitation of memorial events by marketing and commercial interests, the currency of our era. And I feel your blog is an appropriate place to air your concerns.

  6. I enjoyed your piece and thought it appropriate to draw the distinction between commemoration and celebration.

    I am a Brit but I have been aware of ANZAC day since I first owned a diary for the 25th April is also my birthday. For the last 7 years I have been living in Nigeria and now in India and most years because of the job that I do I have been invited to the commemoration service at dawn and found it very moving, perhaps more so than Remembrance Day services in the UK.

    In Abuja it was always a joint event including the Canadians, the Brits and the Turks. I think it is similarly done here in India now.

    This year because of the centenary invites were a little scarce and I did not wish to gate crash the ceremony held at the CWGC cemetery here in Delhi because security would be tight.

    This 25th being my 60th my wife and I had booked a trip by steam train and told friends that they were welcome to come share the party. We had quite a group. A NZ friend had arranged it all, she is a travel agent, and as one of the original party had dropped out another NZ lady had taken up the ticket. She became very much a part of the group, but was a little embarrassed that she had not realised the nature of the jaunt. That evening she presented me with an envelope and said that she hoped I would accept the small gift inside and that she thought I might appreciate it it. I did - for inside was her Centenary Order of Service and her poppy, which I shall wear with pride on 11/11


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

My Shelfari Bookshelf