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Unraveling the ‘Anzac spirit’
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 01 May 2011 Sun 10:55 am

Unraveling the ‘Anzac spirit’

01 May 2011, Sunday / NURDAN TABAK

Anzac Cove fell completely silent on the eve of Anzac Day despite the presence of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who had come to honor their nation’s forefathers.
 

The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) lost many men on the Western front during

World War I, making the Gallipoli Campaign a turning point in the history of the two countries. A milestone also in the dawn of their national consciousness. April 25, which marks Anzac Day, is a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand.  Every year, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders flock to the Gallipoli Peninsula and generally camp out on the eve of Anzac Day for the dawn service, which takes place at Anzac

Cove -- the initial place of landing of the ANZAC troops. This year was no exception. Approximately 5,000 Australians and New Zealanders of various ages meet at Anzac Cove hours before the dawn service commenced. 

Coming to Gallipoli, attending the dawn service and contemplating the hardships faced by the troops have been seen as a rite of passage for many Australians and New Zealanders for the past 96 years.

It is noteworthy that almost 100 years after the battle Australians and New Zealanders continue to show the utmost dedication to attending the dawn services both at home and on the Gallipoli Peninsula. It is worth questioning why this dedication and commitment have remained so strong throughout the years. Why do Australians and New Zealanders see the day as important in their definition of their national identity? Why is it that the Gallipoli Campaign is of such importance for Australians and New Zealanders, while the history of Gallipoli has been neglected by many other nations that were involved in the battle?

The Gallipoli Campaign took place on the Gallipoli Peninsula from April 1915 to January 1916 during World War I. A joint British and French operation was mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of İstanbul and secure a sea route to Russia. The ANZAC forces contributed 200,000 men to the British army, which landed at Gallipoli. The attempt to penetrate further inland failed, with heavy casualties on both sides. The battle is considered a defining moment in the history of the Turkish people as well. The struggle laid the groundwork for the Turkish War of Independence and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, himself a commander at Gallipoli.

Australians and New Zealanders in general view the Gallipoli Campaign as one of the most important battles in which they have participated during their short history. Gallipoli is embedded into the Australian and New Zealand consciousness through education on the course of the war and the campaign, which starts in primary school. It was the first war after the establishment of the Federation of Australia in 1901, after Australia declared itself independent from British colonial power.

The atmosphere of Anzac Cove on the eve of Anzac Day showed an interesting mix of both melancholy and celebration. A silent atmosphere prevailed throughout the night, and a presentation consisting of images, footage and interviews (called the Reflective Program by the organizers) commemorating the 96th anniversary of the first Australian and New Zealand landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula was shown.

Some of the attendees expressed feelings of resentment and anger about what they felt were the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands troops in Gallipoli nearly a century ago. Rod Margots, a retired Australian military officer, said he thought if the commanders had pursued wiser strategies, the death toll could have been a lot lower. Yet others felt closer to the troops who died on the battlefield 96 years ago.

A young Australian university student who was camping out for the dawn service said, “We should celebrate this day and reflect on the bravery shown by the troops.” Australians and New Zealanders explained the level of pride they felt coming to these battlefields in remembrance of soldiers who so bravely fought on the soil that they were on. Another university student stated that “being in this specific location, where people have fought and troops have lost their lives makes one feel so much more attached to the event and makes one feel a lot more emotional than usual.” A young man who was on his fourth Gallipoli visit stated that coming to Gallipoli “is a rite of passage for both Australians and New Zealanders because you witness what they actually felt, witness the actual conditions, such as the cold weather, and lie on the soil where soldiers have fought and died. … [It] makes it a whole lot more special than attending dawn services back home.”

Two elderly women from Melbourne stated that this moment for them was “very moving, very special and a very emotional moment.” They also stated that they had been dreaming of this moment for their entire lives and that it will be one that they will never forget.

Symbols play a fundamental part in the attachment to the Gallipoli Campaign shown by Australians and New Zealanders. Ian Biggs, the Australian ambassador to Turkey, explained how Lone Pine, where the Australian commemorative services were held, was a powerful symbol as he noted that there were 9,000 Australian casualties in the first few days of the war.

Popular stories told by Australians and New Zealanders tend to emphasize the bravery shown by Australians and New Zealanders who fought in the campaign. A common example is the story of Simpson and the Donkey, which is taught in elementary school and is about a stretcher bearer who risked his life trying to save the wounded by carrying them on his donkey. The story conveys a message of courage and self-sacrifice. Throughout all the commemoration services participants tapped into a large reserve of stories, letters and diary entries which were read out, thus personifying the event and re-emphasizing the soldiers’ courage and self-sacrifice and the suffering they endured.

The “Anzac spirit” is a common term used by members of both nations to identify the spirit of those troops who lost their lives in the campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Visiting Australians and New Zealanders here say the term Anzac spirit to them is a reflection of “mateship,” which emphasizes humanity even in the most extreme of circumstances, that is, in war. Asking two young women from Melbourne what the Anzac spirit meant to them, they responded with the immediate answer of “mateship.”

Ian Campbell, the secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, stated that “great bonds of friendship were an underlying feature of the war.” He added that it was “mates who prevented horror and relieved despair.”

The tour guides for the Fanatics, an Australian-based tour group that comes to Turkey for Anzac Day, suggested that the Anzac spirit is a reflection in particular of the Australian identity, which developed on the battlefields of Gallipoli. İstanbul Sunday’s Zaman

 

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