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Understanding what the spirit of anzac is all about

Larger text size Very large text size We stand united today in reverence for the selfless feats a century ago of tens of thousands of volunteers — fathers, mates and teens, all sons of a nation too young to realise the enormity of its sacrifice. We gather at memorials across the country and at holy sites 10,000 miles away where the Anzacs lie in peace. Not one World War I veteran remains in body, but every single one and all who have served for us before and since, remain in spirit.

Understanding the Anzac spirit

Paul Harris Not one World War I veteran remains in body, but every single one and all who have served for us before and since, remain in spirit.

To them and their loved ones, we owe so much more than anyone on April 25, 2015, can understand. Michael Mucci Advertisement We are grateful to those Australians serving today across the globe and at home, drawing on the Anzac spirit in times of need.

We acknowledge those, too, who have never been thanked enough — the indigenous Australians, the women. And we applaud efforts by citizens of all those nations that have worked hard to reconcile past disagreements, and which have embraced our understanding that war is futile. We recognise those of our one-time foes who fought bravely — most with honour and dignity and respect for their fellow humans.

And we remind ourselves today of the words of the leader of the Turks at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: 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.

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After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well. They spawned, in the words of pre-eminent war correspondent Charles Bean, the character of Anzac: To mark the 50th anniversary in 1965, the Herald's editorial reminded readers how Australia during World War I "lived under the mantle of a great and powerful Britain … Asia lay quiescent; China seemed moribund.

The world's affairs were ordered in capitals ten thousand miles away.

The enduring spirit of Anzac: a century on

There were long periods, it must be said, during which internal conflicts about Australia's reverence for an ill-fated battle under orders of a much-diminished British Empire seemed to have beaten the Anzacs. Just a few days before the Herald's editorial marking April 25, 1965, the newspaper ran a feature under the heading "Can Anzac Survive? Even on the day of that 50th anniversary editorial, the Herald published on the same page, an account from eminent historian Ken Inglis who was in the Dardanelles on board the Karadeniz — a Turkish ship the RSL had chartered for the commemorations at Gallipoli.

  • Many of those men were from Caulfield;
  • General Birdwood told the writer that he couldn't sufficiently praise the courage, endurance and the soldierly qualities of the Colonials The Australians were happy because they had been tried for the first time and not found wanting;
  • The world's affairs were ordered in capitals ten thousand miles away;
  • Some would say nothing because we've got computers, we've got modern communications, there was nothing back then;
  • When the Australian and New Zealand men and women returned from the war they brought back with them a passion that this part of the world would grow differently to Europe and the rest of the world;
  • It is that mythical thing they call the Anzac spirit.

He was travelling with many of the original Anzacs on their pilgrimage back to Anzac Cove. There was to have been a British contingent too, he reported, "but the plan fell through because not enough could be found to fill a ship". Inglis recognised how Australia had been treating Anzac Day as a holy rite of passage — as what he would later call a civil religion in an increasingly secular society.

Yet he finished his account in the Herald with this reflection on a nation not yet fully at ease with how Anzac fitted into a modern Australia: How far, on this Anzac Day, they are representative of their countrymen at home is perhaps easier to judge in Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra than on the pilgrim ship.

The custodians of the Anzac tradition were fighting among themselves and trying to exclude others. Military recruits sought to leverage from Anzac, politicians sought to be elected by it, and commercial interests were seeking to profit from it. Even historians argued if April 25 should remain elevated above the Western Front and the Kokoda Track. That Australians could not agree on the relevance of Anzac or how to honour it, never reflected a lack of empathy for those who had sacrificed before and after Gallipoli.

Anzac spirit

Rather, it was recognition of what Australians have fought for: Yes, we have repeated some of those mistakes. And no doubt we shall repeat more. But for a day at least, we have come to put behind us the divisions that have marked a century of Anzac Days.

Thus it is on April 25, 2015, that tens of thousands of pilgrims have travelled to commemorate the centenary at Gallipoli. Millions around Australia will be drawn to memorials in small towns and great cities.

As Inglis wrote later, the Anzacs who perished at Gallipoli "were all buried close to where they died, so every monument in their homeland had to serve both as a statement about the soldiers and as a substitute for their graves — a cenotaph, an empty tomb.

Empty of the Australian spirt? So we gather to pay our respects today.

The Sydney Morning Herald

We hear the kookaburras welcome the dawn, and feel the tears well up as the local school trumpeter plays the Last Post. And we wait, in silent contemplation … for Reveille.

And we walk away touched deeply by the enduring spirit of those who have gone before, and for whose sacrifice we owe so much. We will remember them: