:: spirit of the anzacs ::

Anzac Day is the anniversary of the day that Australian and New Zealand troops (known collectively as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZACs) made landfall at dawn on April 25 1915 at what is now known as Anzac Cove near Gallipoli, Turkey, in an effort to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) and open up the Dardanelles to Allied forces. It was the first major military campaign for both Australia and New Zealand. Their landing at this particular spot, a whole mile north of where they had intended to land, was due to a grave navigational error on the part of the British. At the end of this ultimately failed campaign in January 1916, more than eight thousand Australians along with more than two thousand New Zealanders had lost their lives. Since 1920 April 25 has been officially commemorated as Anzac Day (though unofficially since 1916), and remains a day of national remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders. All of Australia's capital cities and most regional towns and cities hold dawn services, with dawn services also held at Anzac Cove and (since 2008) at Villers-Bretonneux in France.

This fic, written in April 2015 to commemorate one hundred years since the beginning of the Battle of Gallipoli, is my way of honouring those Australian soldiers who have served or are currently serving in my country's armed forces, and of remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

From a grateful Australian, thank you.

“We do not know this Australian’s name, and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. He may have been one of those who believed the Great War would be an adventure too grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for Australia. We’ve lost more than a hundred thousand lives but we’ve gained a legend, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.”

-- Excerpt from the eulogy given for the Unknown Australian Soldier by former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, November 11 1993.

“Fuck me it’s cold…

I burrowed deeper into my hoodie as Taylor’s left arm snaked around my shoulders, drawing me a little closer to his side. I couldn’t remember being so cold before. Were I at home in Australia, I would be able to turn on the heater or hop into a warm shower. But here at Anzac Cove, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of my fellow Australians (along with a few thousand New Zealanders), all I could really do was curse myself for not bringing enough of my warm clothes with me from the hotel the afternoon before. I wore my warmest hoodie, a scarf I’d borrowed from Taylor and wound around my neck and the lower half of my face, my favourite beanie and my gloves, and yet I could feel the cold slicing straight through me.

“This was your idea, don’t forget,” Taylor teased me softly. “You’re the one who watched last year’s dawn service on the TV and decided coming to bloody Turkey would be – what did you call it?”

“The adventure of a lifetime,” I mumbled through my scarf. “And it is, but does it have to be so fucking cold?

Taylor’s only response to this was a chuckle. I scowled at him and fumbled for my phone, tapping the home button so I could check the time – half past five in the morning on April twenty-fifth. The dawn service would be starting soon. The sooner the better, it’s fucking cold out here, I thought as I put my phone away. I knew I should have been more respectful, even though I wasn’t speaking aloud – this was sacred ground, after all – but I couldn’t help it.

As the second hand on Taylor’s watch swept past the twelve, not a minute after I checked my phone, the low hum of voices that had been present all night went silent, and I looked toward the Cenotaph. It was time for the dawn service to begin.

“Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning,” the officiant of the dawn service said to begin the morning’s proceedings. “My name is Major General Mark Kelly, the Repatriation Commissioner at the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and it is my distinct privilege to be your master of ceremonies for this morning’s dawn service to commemorate the centenary of Anzac and the landings at Gallipoli.”

Major General Kelly then recited the list of those dignitaries and other officials who had come to the dawn service, the long list of names rolling over the silent crowd. It was so quiet, aside from the sound of waves in the cove and Major General Kelly’s voice, that I could probably have heard a pin drop.

“I welcome you as we gather at this special place on the Gallipoli Peninsula, to remember all those who served here one hundred years ago, and to acknowledge that those who were once our adversaries are now our firm friends,” he continued once the list was complete. “Our service this morning begins with the mounting of the catafalque party.”

Here I turned to face the centre aisle, the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders surrounding me doing the same, just in time to see a group of soldiers assembling – the four that would form the catafalque party, two drummers and a seventh who I figured was their commanding officer – before slowly marching toward the Cenotaph. As they mounted the Cenotaph the drumming stopped, their commanding officer gave a command – “Catafalque party, outward turn!” – and they moved into position, half of the group facing those of us in the crowd and the other half facing Anzac Cove. At a second command – “Catafalque party, rest!” – the members of the catafalque party slowly lowered their rifles so that the barrels rested on the ground, and bowed their heads. Once the catafalque party had mounted, Major General Kelly spoke again.

“I now invite Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC, the Australian Chief of Defence Force, to deliver the Call to Remembrance.”

As Air Chief Marshal Binskin read the Call to Remembrance I listened, feeling almost transfixed. There was a whole century of history in his words.

“We gather here at this time, on this now quiet beach, to remember and to honour those who came from across the world to take their place on this battlefield. One hundred years ago today, the quiet stillness of dawn and the gentle sound of the waves of this beach gave way to the flash and roar of gunfire over the painful cries of the wounded. For so many, the rising sun that day would be their last.

“Each man who landed on these shores harboured his own fears and apprehensions. They worried how they would perform when they confronted the enemy and hoped that, when the time came, they would not let their mates down. Thoughts also turned to home and the loved ones that they hoped to return to.

“Lance Corporal Mitchell, a member of the 3rd Brigade Australian Imperial Force, was one man amongst the first group of Anzacs to land here on the Peninsula. As his boat neared the shore, Lance Corporal Mitchell recorded the moment.

“‘Keen biting breeze sprang up in our faces, and we were cold. My breath came deep. I tried to analyse my feelings but could not. I think that every emotion was mixed, exultation predominating. We came from the new world for the conquest of the old. The price of failure we knew to be annihilation, victory might mean life. But even so whispered jests passed round and I remember turning to poor old Peter and asking him how he felt. ‘Good’ was his reply.’

“The optimism did not last. The boats had never even reached the shore before the Turkish defenders opened fire. Lance Corporal Mitchell continued, ‘The lead came in squalls, whispering when it came close and whistling when not, smashing into the woodwork of the boats and splashing into the water. The key was being turned in the lock of the lid of hell. The Anzacs stormed the ridges behind you in a hail of fire. Those who could continued upwards towards the guns, which did not cease again for eight long months, but for a brief truce to bury the dead.’

“Lance Corporal Mitchell survived Gallipoli, but many of his mates did not. Today we honour all those Australians and New Zealand soldiers who landed at Gallipoli, especially those who gave their lives in the service of our countries. We remember that all those who served in the Great War left behind a life and a family, setting aside their fears to answer the nation’s call to arms. It’s our promise to remember them always and it is right that we do it at this time, on this day, at this place.

“This is where the Anzac legend was born at great cost. Here, the reality of war was revealed. Here, so many dreams, dreams that died with them. Here, they lie in sacred soil. Here, we honour their spirit, the spirit of Anzac which lives amongst us. And here, we will remember them.”

The Call to Remembrance was followed by an address by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key. One part of his speech, I knew, would stay with me for a long time to come.

“Usually at these commemorations, we conclude by saying ‘lest we forget’,” he said. “But today, witnessed by all of you who have gathered out of respect and remembrance, I will not say ‘lest we forget’, because after one hundred years we can say on this day, April the twenty-fifth 2015, we remember.”

The next part of the dawn service, a reading of a letter written by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was given first in rapid Turkish by a Turkish Army officer, followed by the same speech in English.

“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 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.”

This part of the service was followed by the hymn God Of Our Fathers, which I sang along with somewhat half-heartedly – not being particularly religious, the words didn’t hold much meaning for me – and a speech by the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. As he made his way onstage, I caught Taylor giving the stage the finger behind the backs of the people sitting in front of us. I elbowed him hard in the ribs, and he looked over at me. “What?” he asked, sounding wounded.

“Don’t be disrespectful,” I hissed at him.

“Oh come off it Rue, you do it all the time at home!” he said in a stage whisper. As he said this I thought I could see heads in the rows in front of us turning to see who was talking over the Prime Minister’s speech. “He’s a fuckwit!”

“That’s different and you bloody well know it. And yeah he’s a fuckwit but we’re not at home right now, so can you please show a bit of respect?”

“Okay, okay, fine,” Taylor grumbled. “You’re such a killjoy sometimes, Ruby.”

“You love me though,” I said sweetly.

“Yes, yes I do…”

At the conclusion of the wreath-laying ceremony, once the Prime Minister and Prince Charles had finished their addresses and the official prayers had been read out, the time came for the Ode of Remembrance to be recited. Lieutenant General Tim Keating from the New Zealand Defence Force had been charged with this responsibility this morning.

“They went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted. They fell with their faces to the foe.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

“We will remember them,” the gathered crowd responded, followed by, “Lest we forget.”

At the conclusion of the Ode a bugler from the Australian Army played the Last Post, followed by a minute’s silence that was filled with the sounds of the waves on the beach in the cove below us. I bowed my head and thought of all those who had served in the Australian and New Zealand armed forces over the last hundred years, particularly those who had given their lives in service of their nations. Beside me, I knew that Taylor was remembering his great-grandfather, who had served in New Guinea during World War Two, and his mother’s great-uncle, a rifleman on the Western Front during World War One. Both of them had given their lives in defence of their homeland.

At the end of the minute’s silence, Reveille was played by a New Zealand Defence Force bugler as the flags of Australia and New Zealand were raised from half-mast. Turkey’s flag was raised from half-mast during the Turkish national anthem, which was followed by the national anthems of Australia and New Zealand, Advance Australia Fair and God Defend New Zealand. I sang my national anthem along with the Army choir and the thousands of my fellow Australians gathered for the dawn service, never feeling more proud to be Australian than I did in this moment.

After the Final Blessing had been given the catafalque party dismounted the Cenotaph, followed by Major General Kelly’s closing remarks.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our dawn service at Gallipoli to commemorate the centenary of Anzac. Thank you.”

I stayed quiet as the dawn service ended and the crowd began to disperse to different parts of the Anzac Cove precinct. The sun had risen by now, and I unwound my scarf to let the spring sunshine fall on my face. A hundred years ago, this peninsula had been a battlefield that had seen thousands of Australians and New Zealanders losing their lives. Now it was a national park, a sacred and peaceful place that would hopefully never again know the horrors of war.

“Thank you, Ruby.”

I looked over to my right. Taylor was looking out at the distant horizon, knees drawn up under his chin and arms crossed. There was no need for me to ask why he had said those words. Instead, I shifted closer to him and put an arm around his shoulders, just as he had done for me before the commencement of the dawn service. My fingers brushed against the sprig of rosemary he had pinned to the front of his hoodie, a twin for the rosemary sprig pinned to my own clothing.

“You’re welcome, Tay,” I said quietly. “I know how important this was for you.” He smiled at this. “Hey, you want to go and walk on the beach for a little bit? Still a little while until we can head up to Lone Pine.”

Taylor seemed to think about this for a little while. “Yeah, okay.” He uncurled himself and stood up, extending a hand down to help me to my feet. I stumbled a little, my knees protesting at the movement, and I steadied myself with my walking stick so that I didn’t go falling on my backside again.

It didn’t take us long to pack up all the gear we had brought with us. Once our backpacks were zipped and hoisted onto our backs we started to make our way down the hill toward the beach, weaving between small groups of people who were still sitting on the ground, talking amongst themselves or even just contemplating the significance of this day and this place. And not for the first time, I felt privileged that I had been able to attend this morning’s dawn service – it was an experience that I knew would stay with me for the rest of my life.

He’s all of them
He’s one of us
Born beneath the Southern Cross
Side by side, we say with pride
He is all of them
She is all of them
They are one of us

~ fin ~

Title and lyric credit:

Spirit Of The Anzacs – Lee Kernaghan, Guy Sebastian, Sheppard, Jon Stevens, Jessica Mauboy, Shannon Noll and Megan Washington

+ The dawn service in this story is quoted directly from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's television broadcast of the 2015 Gallipoli Dawn Service, aired live on April 25 2015, and from the Order of Service for the 2015 Gallipoli Dawn Service published by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Canberra.