Anzac Day

Apr. 28th, 2009 09:41 pm
juliet: (australia - kata tjuta)
Last Saturday was Anzac Day, which is very roughly speaking the Australia/New Zealand version of Remembrance Day. I went down to the Cenotaph on Martin Place in Sydney for the dawn service.

The idea of a dawn service was the first difference I noticed - I'm used to Remembrance Day services being around 11:00 (for known reasons). Not that it was actually dawn (4:15 - 5:00, and sunrise was maybe 6:00). There were a surprisingly large number of people down there, given the hour -- Cityrail put on special trains from the far suburbs to get people there on time. Also a noticable number of people in uniforms -- I'm told Sydney has a fair concentration of service-people. (Although having said that, I've never been to the central London service at the Cenotaph to compare.)

The service itself was much the same as I'm familiar with. Flag parties, hymns, a brief address, a reading of For the Fallen (3rd and 4th stanzas both, though, rather than just the 4th). I was slightly surprised when we got the UK national anthem[0] at the end, though (written on the programme as the 'Royal Hymn', without the words printed), before the NZ and Australian anthems (words printed, which was good as it meant I could join in!).

When I talked to [personal profile] damned_colonial and [personal profile] chrisf afterwards, both of them felt that Anzac Day has a stronger feeling of memorial than it does of glory. (I have complicated issues around the ideas of glorification of war that I feel do tend to make part of Remembrance Day at home, although I also feel very strongly that the memorial part is very important.) I'm not sure how much that came across in the service itself: possibly a little. But I'm not sure that it's *possible* to take that aspect out of a fundamentally military service.

There's also the idea of Anzac Day as a sort of birth of the Australian nation, which perhaps encourages some idea of glorification? (The ideals of mateship and a 'fair go' are the ones that I've seen referred to.)

It's very hard for me to comment on the extent to which the general Australian awareness of / attitude to Anzac Day is the one that's reflected in, say, "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda". Both my sample Aussies :) were certainly very aware of the 'total hideous mess' aspect of Gallipoli (apparently the soldiers had the bullets removed from their bayonets before going over the top, in case they accidentally shot each other in the back. Presumably in the handful of seconds before the Turks shot them in the front), and also the colonialism aspects.

(It occurs to me that I'm not sure to what extent the 'hideous mess' aspects of the Europe part of WWI are general knowledge at home. I mean, the carnage, yes, but *is* it general knowledge just how unbelievably, criminally ignorant and incompetent those[1] in charge were? Or is it seen as a tragedy without direct responsibility, or with more complicated responsibility?)

I think perhaps the dawn aspect of the service lends itself to slightly more contemplation than does a daytime service, and that did make things feel slightly different. More about memorial, and empathy, and fellow-feeling; less about the uniforms and militarisation. (Despite the presence of uniforms and flag parties and so on.) And that is something that I find far preferable.

I'm afraid this is a slightly rambly post. This is an issue I have confused feelings about (possibly more so since Pete's and my visit to Flanders last year), and I don't think I've gotten much further with sorting out those feelings. (I probably wouldn't have gotten around to posting this at all, except that I promised [personal profile] damned_colonial I would. On which note, see her post on the subject.)

One final thing: on Anzac Day it is legal to gamble on the game two-up pretty much anywhere you want to, where normally gambling of any sort is strictly limited[2]. This is because two-up (it's a coin game) was played a lot by the Anzac soldiers. I find this - faintly peculiar, as a memorial!

[0] Which I actually sang, for the first time in *years*: as an atheist republican I have Issues with it, but I kind of felt that as one of the presumably reasonably few Brits present I should show willing, or hm, something. I dislike the word 'patriotism' but it *is* my country.
[1] Gender-neutral language note: I wanted to say the *men* in charge, because hey, it *was*, but I don't think I want to have that particular debate as I'm not at all comfortable with the 'women would have handled it better' argument.
[2] On a side-note: which are the games that are listed on that thing that hangs in UK pubs as legitimate to gamble on? Cribbage, shove-ha'penny, bar billiards, dominoes... I thought there were 7? I think it's now supposed to be 'games of skill', but I'm sure there used to be a List.

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