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.
This spoke to me today. My daughter growing up in Australia will know very little of our Canadian history and participation in the wars. That makes me a little sad, but she is learning of Anzac, though it is not “our” history, and yesterday laid a wreath with her Cub Scout group. Memories and tributes to brave soldiers need not be geographically bound, and I think should not be. Lives lost by both allies and enemies are equally tragic. Every soldier has a grieving family.
I am struck every year by how incredibly kind and polite the Turkish people are about Australians and New Zealanders visiting Turkey to commemorate our unsuccessful attempt to invade them. Ataturk’s words always bring a tear to my eye too, along with the last post and the poems and hymns. I remember my ANZAC service at school in Year 11 very clearly. I was looking around and thinking that if I was unlucky enough to be born somewhere else or in another time many of my friends would soon have been dead, wounded or facing horrible hardships. And like you watching the ANZAC services yesterday got me thinking about the many places now where people are suffering terribly from war,civil war and other forms of terror or are frightened by the prospect of its return sometime soon. And perhaps someday soon we will be able to treat such people who manage to make it to Australia more kindly.
There is, of course, another side to ANZAC Day which I find really difficult. I don’t understand the celebratory side to it. The pubs near where I live in Australia are always bursting at the seams with drunken revellers and it is nothing like the sombre acts of remembrance that occur in other parts of the world. My great grandfather returned from Galipoli and like so many of his fellow soldiers refused to march on ANZAC Day finding nothing worth celebrating or remembering of the absolute futility of war. There is irony too that on ANZAC Day, Australians flock to Turkey to remember and forgive the men who killed our young men at Galipoli, as the event that shaped our history, but what about the battle for this continent waged against the first Australians? How should we commemorate that one? On the whole I prefer the quiet reflection of Remembrance Day in November, but we do need to talk about ANZAC Day and its place in 21st century Australia. Thanks for the post.