25 April 2007

Anzac Day: Lest We Forget

It's Anzac Day in Australia now, a national day of remembrance of those brave Australians and Kiwis who fought and died in the First World War at Gallipoli. A brief description of the holiday and its significance can be found at the Australian War Memorial site. (I know many people here know nothing about this whole campaign...and I only knew about it through the Mel Gibson/Peter Weir movie prior to visiting Oz firsthand...but I highly recommend history buffs check out the many links here to get a full story. The history of Gallipoli is a very important part of the history of the Australian and New Zealand peoples.)

From the interior of the ANZAC Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney. The inscription details the different stages of the Gallipoli ANZAC campaign and reads: Gallipoli, The Landing, Krithia, Lone Pine, Sari Bair, Hill 60, The Evacuation". January 2006.

While I've never been to a Sunrise Service in Australia yet, or yet even seen a full parade of veterans in full uniform march in downtown Sydney, it was about four years ago I did make it to the Sunset Service that was held at Martin Place. It was very somber, very traditional, and very respectful. For the (mostly) Aussies and (few) Kiwis observing it with me, though, it was also a bit unintentionally funny: near the end people from the crowd were called up to sing and yours truly...tone deaf and jet lagged, but proudly wearing my newly acquired rosemary...was asked to lead with a verse of "God Save the Queen". To the natives' amusement and embarrassment, this DAR family member knew absolutely nothing of the lyrics. God bless the soldiers and organizers, I suppose, because they refused to let me retire away quietly...one dear older lady from Penrith even busily wrote out the words for me on the back of the program so I could follow along. It didn't help matters that they knew the American theme, while I butchered the chorus of the Old Empire's every time I tried. Whatever else may said about them, you can't say the Aussies are not patient when it comes to trying to educate (and help) their American visitors.

To my amazement afterwards, many fellow attendees came up and thanked me for attending and being respectful for their service. When I left, I got many goodbye hugs and handshakes and even some more rosemary for my jacket's lapel. (I've read many different things about the importance of rosemary to the ANZACs, but the reason I was told that day was that the soldiers kept it to keep their clothes smelling a bit fresher between washings. At the time, I was concerned my jacket had picked up some foul odor via 16 hours+ on a plane across the Pacific; later on, waiting for a ferry at Circular Quay I learned that rosemary is worn by everyone on ANZAC Day as a sign of respect and remembrance.) The hugs and my awful performance may fade into memory, but the rosemary pin has carefully resided in a glass container since my return.

My respect and the rosemary...and that wonderful service of remembrance...forever live on. As well it should be...lest we forget.

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