We Australians (and New Zealanders) have the unusual habit of honouring a day and time of great national loss, when we celebrate our national day, Anzac Day, on 25 April. Most other nations celebrate a victory on these occasions.
But this year our honouring of that day is a little different.
It’s 105 years since Australian and New Zealand troops swarmed the Gallipoli Peninsula by land on April 25, as part of the military campaign to block German and Turkish supply routes to Europe.
It turned into a disaster quickly. The Turks fought a fierce defence and the Gallipoli campaign was to last many more painful months. Although The Allies ultimately won the war, this campaign was to go down in military history as an epic failure.
60,000 Australians fought at Gallipoli, and there were 26,000 casualties with 7,594 killed. But the Gallipoli losses are a symbol of the greater losses of World War One.
“For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner,” says the Australian War Memorial.
As time has passed it has become more important to Australians to honour this event, rather than to forget it. That’s because we look back and marvel more and more at what a sacrifice all those young men made. And we also realise it was a defining moment when we ‘grew up’ as a country.
So each year our Anzac celebrations get bigger and bigger. There are marches in our main streets and at the dawn we cluster at war memorials to light a candle and honour those who died.
Except not this year because of Covid-19.
But we won’t be outsmarted, not by a bug.
This year the Returned Services League (RSL) NSW is urging everyone to stand on their balconies or driveways at 6am, to ‘Light up the Dawn’
It will live stream its service from: http://www.rslnsw.org.au/anzac-spirit
The service will include the Ode, the Last Post, a minute’s silence and the Reveille. It can be accessed from your computer or mobile phone and also from the radio.
So instead of commemorating at the usual service, conducted at the war memorial of every town in the country, small or large, with swarms of people present, we will still be able to honour our Anzacs.
And in a strange way, it makes sense. We’re a culture that usually prefers to live in the happy space but Covid-19 has brought the fragility of our collective mortality closer.
And as one wit said recently, all we have to do to combat this current enemy is stay at home on the couch, unlike our forebears who had to fight in muddy trenches and die in foreign lands.
To find out where World War One memorials are though-out Australia go to: https://placesofpride.awm.gov.au/
For a reflection on World War One in the current Covid-19 crisis, go to: https://good-grief.com.au/lessons-from-world-war-i/https://good-grief.com.au/lessons-from-world-war-i/