Why we should all remember ANZAC Day
Steve Kyritsis, President of the Hellenic RSL Sub-Branch in Melbourne Victoria, gives his opinion on the importance of ANZAC Day
On this 97th anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps troops at Gallipoli, we commemorate the event with special sadness because for the first time, the men who made that faithful landing on April 25, 1915 are no longer with us.
It is important, therefore, that we revisit the reasons why we commemorate ANZAC DAY, and exactly what it means to us all as a nation and as individuals.
It is often said that Australia came of age on that fateful morning some 13 years after Federation.
This may be true and perhaps that is why we hold the day in such high regard in our national calendar. It certainly is not to celebrate a great military victory, because the landing and subsequent battle at Gallipoli was not that. The ANZAC Force was landed at the wrong place after setting out at 3:30 am from the fleet of ships anchored off shore, on a night so dark not even the shoreline was visible. They initially encountered fairly light fire from the Turkish defenders, but the Turkish positions were quickly reinforced, and by mid morning the Australians and the New Zealanders were faced with withering riffle and machine gun fire from above. At the end of that first day 2,000 Men lay dead for the gain of about six square kilometres and any advance of scarcely one kilometre inland, where they clung desperately to a small foothold.
It was a military disaster from any viewpoint, except for the well planned and successful evacuation which followed some eight months later.
The final count of the Allies killed in the Gallipoli campaign was 250,000, of which 10,000 were ANZAC troops.
But of course it is just not Gallipoli we remember on this day, nor is it even the First World War. This is a day set aside for us all to collectively give thanks to all those men and women, who have put their lives at risk, and in many cases paid the supreme price. We also acknowledge the losses and sacrifices of their families.
These men and women did not start the wars in which they were involved, that was the decision of the Government of the day and our Government is the agent of the people of Australia.
The sailors, soldiers and airmen and women therefore, were fighting for all the people of Australia.
What they did was to offer their very existence when they were told that their country needed them. I say their country, but it many cases, particularly in the First World War, they were doing so for a Country which was not theirs by birth or even citizenship, for many of them had been born overseas and were Australian by immigration.
ANZAC Day is therefore a day for all Australians, regardless of religion, racial background or even place of birth. It is a day to commemorate the bravery and self-sacrifice of past and present generations. It is a day to acknowledge the selflessness of all those who have been prepared to lay down their lives for Australia so that it can be a place of freedom for all. On this ANZAC day, we thank and recognize those who served in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and other peace keeping areas our forces operate in.
ANZAC Day is not a day for honouring war, for war is not something to be honoured. War is something which is used as a last resort when diplomacy has failed and is used by a nation to safeguard its sovereignty.
We do, however, on ANZAC Day, honour the people of Australia who have undertaken warfare to protect that Sovereignty, no matter how distasteful it may have been to them personally and in spite of risk of losing their lives.
ANZAC Day is not merely a date, or some remote campaign, but rather a spirit. It is a time to reflect on the qualities of past generations of Australians who in hardship displayed courage, discipline, self sacrifice, self reliance, resourcefulness and friendship.
Even as the numbers of ex-servicemen and women grow smaller, the spirit of ANZAC Day, which was bequeathed to us from battlefields long ago, will live on in our lives as a reflection of the very heart of our nation.
History shows that, for a peace loving people, we have been a formidable adversary, when stirred to action and also remarkably successful at the business of war.
On every occasion when Australians have been called upon to protect freedom, they have done so generously, effectively and efficiently.
Gallipoli of course stands out on ANZAC Day. At the conclusion of the War a quarter of a million Australians from a nation of only five million had been casualties, and sixty thousand Australians had been killed, a tragic average of one person for every seventeen in our population, either dead or injured as a result of War.
ANZAC Day is more than a National Holiday, but rather a fundamental Australian tradition.
Wherever Australians or New Zealanders are to be found today, it is likely that an ANZAC Day service of some description is taking place. Such is the feeling that Australians have for 25 of April.
The ANZAC spirit exists in each of us so therefore let us be guided by the ANZAC spirit in facing the national and personal challenges ahead, and let us strive to be worthy of their sacrifice. LEST WE FORGET.
* Steve Kyritsis is the President of the Hellenic RSL Sub-Branch in Melbourne Victoria.
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