They shall grow not old, as we that 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.
On 25 April 1915, Australian and New Zealand troops under British command stormed the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Turkish forces held the high ground and rained shells down on them. It was a slaughter, a futile, wasteful, horrible slaughter. “Nine months after landing, the allies withdrew after incurring over 250,000 casualties, including over 46,000 dead.” They never made it off the beaches in that time.
The Gallipoli campaign is popularly seen as a crucial moment in the development of both New Zealand and Australia, as a catalyst for increased separation from Britain and the development of a more independent nationhood. The courage of the soldiers, despite poor command decisions and bad intelligence and horrible conditions, has become part of the national mythology here. Gallipoli is a site of pilgrimage for young New Zealanders and Australians – thousands travel to turkey every year to attend the ANZAC day memorial services. And the dawn services in New Zealand have become more and more significant and well-attended, even as the last of the WW1 soldiers have died. They offer a chance to remember the men who fought in both world wars, so far from home.
Travis and I travelled round France and Italy in spring 2004 – the 60th anniversary of the D Day landings in France and the storming of Monte Cassino in Italy. New Zealand soldiers played a significant part in freeing Monte Cassino and we stumbled on a parade and services when we were there. I found the old soldiers with their poppies and their New Zealand accents incredibly moving. They could have been my grandfather (he served in North Africa) and there they were matter-of-factly revisiting old battles and making jokes. Ordinary people who were called on to do extraordinary things.
WWI was a terrible mistake and one that we’re still paying for. Many of the troubled places in the world today were caused by the way the western allies divided up the spoils of victory in 1918. And WWII occurred as a direct result of the mistakes made in WWI. Travis and I saw the remnants of the WWI trenches in northern France – the combatants were within shouting distance of each other and thousands upon thousands of people died to gain or lose a few miles of farmland. The brutal stupidity of it is etched into the fields. But the bravery of our grandfathers and great grandfathers, of the people caught up in the wars, touches me. I don’t think I could do what they did. And the Ode of Remembrance (that’s the last verse of it above) makes me cry.