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ANZAC DAY – a national memory by Steven Farrar

The words of the Greek Historian of the 5th century BC, Herodotus Book 7 chapter 45:

And now as he looked and saw the whole Hellespont covered with the vessels of his fleet and all the shore and every plain about Abydos as full as possible of men, Xerxes congratulated himself upon his good fortune; but after a little while he wept.


Anzac Day, April 25, has become the day Australia commemorates its war dead.

The date recalls an event in 1915 which occurred in Gallipoli (the Turks call it Gelibolu), when the Anzacs (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) landed at Anzac Cove, a narrow pebble beach, on the Gallipoli peninsula.

Many battles have been fought in some of the most beautiful, tranquil places on earth.

Anzac Cove is located in a region in which there are beautiful beaches, and the Aegean Sea is an unbelievable blue. It has been said that the view from Chunuk Bair, is perhaps the grandest spectacle of the whole Mediterranean. It was also a place full of history and the romantic land of Greek legend; the world of the Argonauts and the city of Troy and its heroes. Now the heroic feats of the Anzacs would join its ranks.

Due to an unpredicted current which had pushed the boats further north than their objective, the Anzacs landed at the wrong beach. It was 25 degrees that day and it was a Sunday.

Charles Bean the Australian war correspondent wrote:

“It was eighteen minutes past four on the morning of Sunday, 25th April, when the first boat grounded. So far not a shot had been fired by the enemy. The men leapt into the water, and the first of them had just reached the beach when fire was opened on them from the trenches on the foothills which rise immediately from the beach. 

The Australian historian Manning Clark described it as “a sad sabbath morn” and of the whole experience, as “something too deep for words.”

The words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel of the first century resonate with the loss of innocent darlings on that day; Matthew chapter two verse 18: a voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they were no more.

The Anzacs would evacuate on 20 December of the same year. During that campaign 8,709 Australians were killed, 19,000 wounded and 2,701 New Zealanders lost their lives. The population of Australia was 4.5 million.

Those killed were all to be buried on foreign soil. Unlike now, people could not afford to travel and so the relatives of the fallen could only weep at a distance, rather than at the graveside of a loved one.

Overall, during the Great War of 1914-1918 some 61,000 Australians were killed and 213,000 wounded. Around 80% of soldiers were single. 

Parents and siblings would grieve their loss. Words of lament especially from parents rang out: “Gone and the light of my life gone with him”. As the years flow by many still have connections and feelings.

The American philosopher Josiah Royce (1855-1916) wrote: A community requires for its existence a history and is greatly aided in its consciousness by a shared memory.

On Anzac Day the memory is shared by a nation. 

We rightly pause to remember, to respect, and to give place of honour for the lives of relatives and fellow Australians, who perished/ fought on our behalf, in war zones.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them – lest we forget –