Posted by: scribe9 | April 25, 2010

Anzac Day

April 25, 2010 is the ninety-fifth anniversary of the beginning of the World War I battle of Gallipoli, when New Zealand, Australian and British troops invaded Turkey at a nameless cove on the Aegean Sea to open up an eastern front and free up Russian shipping. The invasion was a failure—the troops were pulled out after eight months of heavy casualties—but it still looms large in the national psyches of New Zealand and Australia.

April 25—called Anzac Day (for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”; New Zealanders frequently don’t uppercase acronyms)—is a much bigger holiday than November 11, which commemorates the end of World War I on the Western Front. Anzac Day became a holiday in 1916. All over both countries, the day starts with memorial services (dawn is the traditional time, as that’s when the invasion started) and parades. (When we were in Perth—a city of about a million—in 1997, the parade lasted over four hours.) Not much else happens in the morning; the store closing law is in effect until 1 pm. (The only other holidays it applies to are Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter.) After the 6 am service in Auckland, the Museum (which was built as the War Memorial Museum) will open for musical presentations, children’s activities, and guided tours of the war memorial galleries, with talks given on the three big wars (the Boer War and World Wars I and II), animals at war, women in war, and the like.

We’re in the far north this weekend, and the closest observance started at the RSA (Returned and Services Association) Hall at 5:30, for a parade to the town cenotaph (a memorial to the absent fallen; Wellington and Auckland have huge ones) where the service was held at 6 am. I slept in, but of course Anzac Day was mentioned in church. The text for the sermon, I Samuel 30, is about Wadi Besor —not a common topic, as it’s not in the lectionary.

In the major national weekly magazine, the television listings for the day don’t mention the day of the week or the date, as the other listings do; the heading just says “Anzac Day.” The History Channel and the Maori channel  air related shows all day long. Google New Zealand has a special logo for today (Poppies are to remind people of Flanders fields, where unprecedented numbers of troops died in World War I. Paper poppies are sold on April 23, with the proceeds helping veterans and their families. All through the church service, there was a picture of a poppy on the lower left of the screen with hymn lyrics. )

There’s a big business in arranging trips to Anzac Cove (the Turkish government made the name official in 1985). Obviously, there aren’t any veterans left, but lots of young people go.

So why is Anzac Day such a big deal down here? Because it’s more than just a memorial day; it’s also a day to celebrate the nations’ coming of age. Australian and New Zealand troops had first fought for the British in the Boer War. (No Maoris allowed; it was, by British decree, a white man’s war.) Australia, upon federation in 1901, offered statehood to New Zealand. The Kiwis declined, as they had developed enough of a national identity (in part from fighting better than the British in South Africa) that they wanted to remain separate. (A recent poll showed that a sizable minority of Kiwis are now willing to at least consider the idea of becoming part of Australia.)

When World War I started, Australians and New Zealanders went to war for Britain again, and trained together in Egypt for the Gallipoli campaign. After withdrawal from Turkey, it was on to the trenches of the Western Front. New Zealand fought on the same side but also sought to distinguish itself from both Mother Britain and big brother Australia. As one historian put it, “The First World War reinforced the New Zealand stereotype of the natural gentleman, who contrasted with the larrikin Australian heir of the bush legend, as well as the chinless, urban British soldier cartoon figure.”*

Of course New Zealanders and Australians fought with the Allies in World War II, to protect the Empire and civilization, even though it became clear that Britain couldn’t come to their aid if needed. The US did, and both Australia and New Zealand sent troops to support the US in Vietnam. In the 1980s, New Zealand pulled out of the ANZUS Treaty with the US and Australia because of its stand against nuclear weapons, to the chagrin of the Australians. But both New Zealand and Australia sent troops to Afghanistan (where a few New Zealand troops remain, and there’s handwringing every time they get shot at—it is a war zone, after all). While Australia sent thousands of troops to Iraq, only a few Kiwis went for reconstruction and humanitarian, not combat, roles. They may be siblings, but the two countries have different attitudes toward war.

Anzac Day commemorates soldiers from every war. Australia tends to emphasize the glory of soldiering (Australia shows the movie “Gallipoli” on TV, and here’s a link to a protest of the Aussies’ glorification of war: http://blog.sojo.net/2010/04/21/fight-or-die-how-to-loose-friends-and-irritate-people/ ), while New Zealand is more mournful. I read of one Kiwi veteran of World War II who never went to an Anzac Day service because he remembered his dead friends every day.

Most observances on both sides of the Tasman now include the countries’ respective national anthems rather than the British “God Save the Queen.” The monarchists rail that this change in tradition is part of the slippery slope that will no doubt end with jettisoning the English language and the rule of law, since the British brought those, too. They should feel that the Queen, even without being sung to, will probably remain the Head of State for both countries for years yet, since neither one is remotely close to a consensus on how to change to a republic.

Both the New Zealand and Australian governments have trademarked Anzac, except for use with biscuits. My observance was just baking and eating Anzac Biscuits, which are cookies made without eggs so they wouldn’t go stale on the long boat trip to Europe. Probably an adaptation of Scottish oatcakes, they were sent in the millions to the battlefields of Europe, but didn’t get named Anzac until the twenties. I made mine with coconut before I found out that that didn’t get added to the recipe until the thirties, so mine aren’t authentic. If you’re going to make a batch, you’ll probably have to do some conversions from an on-line recipe. Instead of golden syrup, which is practically impossible to get in the US, use half light corn syrup and half molasses. And while you eat them, pray for peace.

* Phillipa Mein Smith, “The Tasman World,” The New Oxford History of New Zealand, p. 315.

 

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