Today, I experienced one of the most moving events I’ve had abroad. April 25th is The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps holiday, or ANZAC day. One of their most important holidays, it is comparable to Memorial Day in the US. Originally it began as a means of commemorating the forces who landed and fought with the British in Gallipoli, Turkey during WWI on April 25, 1915. This was the first major action of war for Australia and felled more than 8,000 of their troops.
Since then, ANZAC Day has evolved to honor those who have served in all capacities. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m on assignment in Australia. All week I had my head down buried in data and meetings. Despite that, six different people suggested I attend the ANZAC dawn memorial service. In a way that most people never share in a business environment with a stranger, I was related stories of how personal and poignant this ceremony is to Australians. One, a receptionist, shared with me that while she and her family are actually South African, she still wears her fathers colors to honor him and attends every year. Another told me about his uncle and father who served. Likewise, I shared my experience of taking my grandfather to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Following their suggestions, I found myself walking to the ceremony at 5:30am this morning. According to www.shrine.org.au, “Each dawn and dusk, the most favourable times for attack, soldiers were called to ‘stand to’ and manned their posts in full kit, ready to repulse enemy attacks or launch their own.” Out of respect for those men and women who have to ‘stand to,’ there are memorial dawn services all over Australia, one of which is in Melbourne, just a 20 minute walk from my hotel. As I approached, tired and sleepwalking, I was among 40,000 folks streaming towards The Shrine of Remembrance.
The Shrine itself is set on 13 hectares of land known as The Shrine Reserve which also contains several memorial gardens, statuary, and an unknown soldier tomb. While still dark, The Last Post was played, stirring speeches were made, a young girl recited In Flanders Fields, and an Afghanistan veteran spoke about the spirit of ANZAC. All around me was a well of emotion, palpable and raw. Then, when sun began to peak out and the dawn break, the flag was raised and tears spilled over.
It felt wholly inappropriate to take pictures, so I’ve taken the liberty of using others from around the web, hopefully they give you a sense of what a moving experience it was.
– Australian troops are known as ‘Diggers’ and New Zealand troops are ‘Kiwis.’ They lived, fought and died alongside each other creating a bond that still exists today between the two nations.
– Poppies are traditional to place as remembrances on graves and plaques.
– Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia on ANZAC Day 1999 said it well: “ANZAC is not merely about loss. It is about courage, and endurance, and duty, and love of country, and mateship, and good humour and the survival of a sense of self-worth and decency in the face of dreadful odds.”
– Is open 10am – 5pm daily and guided tours are available from 11 – 2.
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