I didn’t make it to the ANZAC Day dawn service in Melbourne today – crowds stated to build up there from 4-30am to reach perhaps 30,000 – but I did attend the march that began at 8-50 am. It was a deeply moving but very happy occasion. Clear blue skies and cold Melbourne weather – it was only 6 degrees at 6.00 am.
It was great to see the veterans greeting old friends. For the first time this year, the 91st anniversary of the ill-fated ANZAC landing at Gallipoli, Australia marks the occasion without a single living World War 1 combat veteran – the last of the 330,000 Australians to see action in WWI, former sailor William Evan Crawford Allan, died in Melbourne six months ago. Over 8,000 ANZACs were killed at Gallipoli and none of the survivors now survive.
To watch the march I got a great vantage point between St Paul’s Cathedral and the pub that used to be called Young and Jackson’s and which had the delectable Chloe. (I have always wanted a reason to post that link and this is that).
What impressed in watching the march was the wide range of people attending. There were bikies in the crowd drinking beer. A lot were ex-Vietnam vets. There were many very old vets being limousined around. Also lots of 15-30 year olds. The march itself was very impressive.
The surge in interest in ANZAC Day over the past 10 years I think has surprised many people for demographic if not for other reasons. You can speculate about the reasons for this – I am sure this commemorative occasion gives people a chance to think about the meaning of war – but, for whatever reasons, it is becoming the most important public holiday for most Australians each year. The surging interest among Australians in visiting Gallipoli itself is also interesting.
Note also that while Gallipoli was previously largely ignored by the Turks, it is now visited by over 2 million Turks each year. To quote The Australian today on ANZAC Day: ‘More than 86,000 Turks died at Gallipoli, yet Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish commander and founder of modern Turkey, pledged that the Australians who died at Anzac Cove would lie there in honour. It remains, quite simply, the one day of the year.’
Addendum: In a provocative piece yesterday Stephen Barton argues that El Alamein was a great strategic turning point, in the Second World War whereas Kokoda was not. He argues that had the Japanese driven south to Port Moresby it would have been a grim setback, but not a decisive blow since the Japanese forces in New Guinea had pretty well had it anyway. The claim that Kokoda was a decisive battle that saved Australia was, he claimed, Labor Party mythology. This has been strongly rejected by Kim Beazley and the RSL – discussion continues at John Quiggin’s blog. Like John I find it hard to believe that Labor politicians fostered the myth of Kokoda because I learnet about Kokoda when Labor hadn’t held office in Australia for a long-time. I suppose it is a legitimate historical question but making what sounded like party-political claims the day before ANZAC Day seems a bit off to me. Larvatus Prodeo survey interesting blogposts on ANZAC Day here. Most Australian newspapers had ANZAC Day specials – I thought those in The Australian interesting and the editorial useful for putting the events of war and our current situation in perspective.