We woke in the darkness before dawn and drove through the rarely quiet streets of Accra this morning to Christiansborg War Cemetery to attend an ANZAC day dawn service. Like thousands of others in Australia, New Zealand and around the world, to remember. Our simple offering of a morning without sleep as a mark of respect to those who out of duty, obligation or adventure, died in the service of their country. We remembered the families whose lives were shattered by war.
There was no rosemary for remembrance this year. But the palm trees between the graves reminded us of the battlefields of north Africa. The Ode of Remembrance was repeated by the Australian government representatives, as it is at services around the world. The Turkish Ambassador quoted Ataturk’s response to those who died at Gallipoli. And, as always, I felt tears prickling my eyes as the Last Post was played, this time by members of the Ghanaian military.
Those heroes that 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 now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
I have no new words for remembrance. Every year I am struck by the simple truth of how brave they all were, and how terribly sad it all still is. Reflecting this morning that if World War III broke out today my husband would probably be too old to serve, I was relieved. But in a few years my children would be old enough. Surely that alone is a plea to remember. A plea that it should never happen to anyone’s child.
But it seems we have forgotten. From Syria, to Ukraine, the Central African Republic, Boko Haram of Nigeria, people continue to die in wars. Millions of lives are touched by war everyday. The nature of war may have changed, there are fewer lines in the sand, the front line is now a fluid concept, but the dying remains the same. Is fighting such a fundamental part of the human condition that we cannot really remember? The spirit of Ataturk’s quote, which seems so powerful in peacetime, is so easily forgotten in times of conflict.
I worry sometimes that our children know so little of Australian history, missing out on years of school projects on Gallipoli, colonialism, World War II and Vietnam. But today, as we wandered past the graves of Ghanaians, Canadians, British, Americans and one Australian, all lying in African soil, I hoped they recognised the terrible impact of war on the world. It is not just a day for Australians and New Zealanders to remember. We all need to remember.