Wednesday, April 25, 2007

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old

Today is Anzac Day in Australia, commemorating the ill conceived and ill timed assault on Turkey by Australia, New Zealand, and England on April 25 1915 at Gallipoli.

In Melbourne, we commemorate it with an enormous dawn service at our Shrine of Remembrance, followed by a march of returned service people through the city to the Shrine, and then a traditional (since 1997) football match between Essendon and Collingwood. I've just heard that 30,000 people attended the dawn service, and the football is sold out with over 100,000 people. The dawn service is followed by a gunfire breakfast, and drinking rum and milk seems to be compulsory.

I didn't go to the main dawn service - I've done it a couple of times, and it is just a logistical nightmare. It is more of a challenge than I can deal with at 5.30 in the morning to to find people in dark parkland. As usual, I went to a small suburban service with my siblings. We went to a different place this year. Normally, the service we go to is held on the bowling green out the front of the RSL, and it is eerily quiet, with the people around you just being moving shapes in the fog. They do an amazing job involving all of the attendees, giving us poppies to throw into the memorial bowl in front of the flame. They normally get about 200 people there, and have the local member and at least one local councillor. They weren't having a service this year - it is harder to keep the small branches going as our returned servicemen age. This years service was a multi location effort. The first part was at the WWI memorial on the median strip at the intersection of two major roads, and most of the service was there, before we all moved up the road a bit to the WWII memorial outside the town hall.

The hush and reflection that normally accompanies these services was absent this year for me. I suspect it was hard to have the hush when we were surrounded by traffic lights making their peculiar tappity tappity noises, trucks and cars passing on both sides of the road, flashing lights from police cars to protect us from traffic and close to 1000 people. I found myself people watching - the young family with toddlers and a very small baby, the older men, with their quiet dignity in their suits with their medals, the early to mid teens, some flying solo, some with their parents, the older ladies with their walking frames being escorted by their grandsons. I was also hugely entertained when the national anthem begun, and then continued into the rarely used second verse. There was a lot of la-ing going on. Thank you to my head full of frequently useless information for helping me out there.

I think the number of people surprised everybody there. I know it surprised the organisers who were worried that they would not have enough food, drink, tea and coffee for everyone if they came back to the RSL.

Over coffee afterwards, we were trying to decide whether Anzac Day is becoming more of a national day than Australia Day? I suspect it is, especially amongst those of us who are in our 20's and 30's. We are further removed from the conflict over Vietnam, and the negativity towards members of our armed forces. I suspect that regardless of how we feel about our minimal involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, lots of us recognise that these people are doing, and have done a hard job, away from their family and friends. As I write this, a member of my family is at the Dawn Service in Hyde Park London, and friends are still at Gallipoli for this year's services. It is very Australian though, to have a public holiday to celebrate a loss.

One thing I do know, is that every time I hear this, I still tear up.

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


jellyhead said...

Beautiful post, thisisme. I love those words, too.

I didn't attend any services today, but watched on TV. Even that brought tears to my eyes.

Hope you enjoyed the rest of your day :)

thisisme said...

The one I saw on TV had a real highlight - they were waiting to release doves of peace, but the doves wouldn't leave there cage. The leader of the service just asked if anyone had a weapon. Slight hysteria :)

velvet girl said...

Beautiful post. How touching to hear that people actually get together to remember those who were lost. I think that Memorial Day is supposed to be like that here, but it's celebrated by picnics and retail sales. It's a shame, really.

Princess Banter said...

Happy ANZAC day! I'm learning more and more about this holiday (frankly, I don't really know much about Australia but I'd really like that to change :) )... and I'm also discovering just how influential this day must've been. Quite powerful and inspirational. I'm glad I've learned about it... and I'm glad I have blogs like yours to read so I can learn more about it :)

Jordan said...

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