anzac day

today is anzac day.

a summary of the day from nz ministry of culture and heritage (te manatu taonga) is below:

Anzac Day occurs on 25 April. It commemorates all New Zealanders killed in war and also honours returned servicemen and women.

The date itself marks the anniversary of the landing of New Zealand and Australian soldiers – the Anzacs – on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. The aim was to capture the Dardanelles, the gateway to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. At the end of the campaign, Gallipoli was still held by its Turkish defenders.

Thousands lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign: 87,000 Turks, 44,000 men from France and the British Empire, including 8500 Australians. To this day, Australia also marks the events of 25 April. Among the dead were 2721 New Zealanders, almost one in four of those who served on Gallipoli.

It may have led to a military defeat, but for many New Zealanders then and since, the Gallipoli landings meant the beginning of something else – a feeling that New Zealand had a role as a distinct nation, even as it fought on the other side of the world in the name of the British Empire.

Anzac Day was first marked in 1916. The day has gone through many changes since then. The ceremonies that are held at war memorials up and down New Zealand, or in places overseas where New Zealanders gather, remain rich in tradition and ritual befitting a military funeral.

we got up early at 0500 (not early enough as we’ll see later) and headed into town for the dawn service. we took the car thinking how hard could it be to find a spot at 0500 in the morning? big mistake. firstly most of the spots are occupied by overnight parkers (parking is free from 6pm to 6am) and we totally underestimated the size of the crowd for the service. as we started getting closer the sidewalks started filling up with people heading to the event. families with little ones. couples in the their 20’s. keep in mind that it is pitch black and a crisp fall morning. and there are hundreds of folks walking in the darkness towards the service at the cenotaph.

well – after some significant parking stress we finally abandoned the car nearly on the far side of town and started walking as fast as we could. sadly we arrived just at the service was ending – but we did get to see the servicemen march off through the huge crowd.

next year i’ll have my full motorcycle license and we’ll be able to scoot in with jackie on back and avoid the whole parking fiasco.

(Click to Play)

the dawn crowd at the base of the cenotaph with the aussie, uk and nz flags.

there were large crowds in cities across the country including over 20,000 in auckland for the dawn service

white the crowd is the 10’s of thousands at anzac cove in turkey.

this leads to the the second, perhaps equally inspiring, part of the anzac story. as the summary mentioned above the anzacs were part of an force intent on invading turkey and in the process killing thousands of turks. despite their efforts they were soundly defeated by the turks, who were led in part by mustafa kemal atatürk, who served as a divisional commander at gallipoli and went on to become the first president of modern turkey.

in 1934 atatürk recited the following at the opening of the memorial along the shores of gallipoli:

Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.

further in 1984 turkey renamed ari burnu to anzac cove. in response new zealand created ataturk park and the ataturk memorial. australia did the same in canberra.

i can’t think of another example where a country has established a memorial honoring a defeated invader, allowed thousands of it’s citizens to camp out on it’s shores each year in remembrance, and renamed a part of their coast after the invading forces.

at midday we climbed up to the anaturk memorial for the midday service.

there was a slightly awkward moment when everyone (including the grammar school age kids behind us) sung the nz national anthem and we stood there silently. reminded me of what happens whenever a canadian baseball team in in town and they play the canadian anthem. nothing like 35,000 fans belting out “oh, canada!, hmm hmm la da hmm hmm…”

we vowed that we learn the words for next time.

event number 3 for the day was a trip to wright’s hill reserve to tour the wwii fortress.

built during wwii as one of several outposts to defect wellington harbour, the fortress is a large underground complex providing support for large 10″ guns. the fortress was closed after the war and abandoned until the late 80s when the local lions club took began the long restoration process. it is now open to the public 4 times a year (waitangi day, anzac day, queen’s birthday & labour day).

the gunners in gun pit #1 had a great view of the city.

last scheduled event for the day was the “we’ll meet again” concert at town hall but unfortunately we were worn out by now and opted instead for a takeaway from the island bay malaysian restaurant.

something to look forward to for next year.

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