Today I predicted a heavy dose of homesickness. With the 100th anniversary of ANZAC day falling in 2015 while I was overseas – I expected to feel about as far away from home as I actually am; 18,324km.
ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corp) Day is an extremely special day for both New Zealand and Australia; it commemorates all New Zealanders and Australians killed in war and honours returned servicemen and women.
April 25th marks the anniversary of the landing of New Zealand and Australian soldiers – the Anzacs – on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey in 1915 during World War One. Tragically, thousands of men lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign; 87,000 Turks, 8,500 Australians and 2,779 New Zealanders. Although New Zealand’s loss looks small in comparison, the 2,779 men were about a fifth of the Kiwi soldiers who served in Gallipoli – a huge number of young men from such a small nation with such a big heart – it hit us hard.
We didn’t win the battle, however our mens efforts did help win the war. But for many New Zealanders this battle means a lot more than that. The Gallipoli landings are still to this day perceived as the beginning of something more than our part in helping win of the war – it’s more about the feeling that came with it; that New Zealand had a role as a distinct, strong nation who could stand on their own two feet even as it fought all the way over on the other side of the world under the British Empire.
Anzac Day was first marked in 1916 – the first anniversary of the tragic battle and since then the day has grown and grown in popularity in both New Zealand and Australia. It’s more like our national day than any other day on the yearly calendar. Ceremonies are held at war memorials at dawn around both countries and are extremely special. I have been attending ANZAC dawn services since I was a little girl with my dad and my Gran – whose father (my great Grandfather) served our country and fought in the battle. These ceremonies remain rich in tradition and ritual and are similar to that of a military funeral.
Although I am over 18,000 km away from home, this morning was no different to any other April 25th. Tink and I rose at 3am to catch a night bus to Hyde Park corner – our fellow early morning bus passengers were either drunk Brits, or Kiwi’s and Aussie’s dressed smartly, many in national sporting or traditional attire – wearing red poppies in remembrance. I got goosebumps even then, before we had arrived at the Wellington Arch for the service, where the New Zealand War Memorial.
The line to get in was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe the number of New Zealand and Australian ex-pats attending this special service in London. Being among thousands of fellow ANZACS, on the other side of the world, hearing stories, letters, readings, prayers, our anthems and the last post was beyond special. It was moving and I had constant goosebumps – that for once weren’t from the cold!
It didn’t matter that I was away from home – if anything, it felt more special. To be surrounded by so many others who felt as strong, passionate and patriotic about ANZAC day and our nations was incredible. I struggle to imagine any other countries who could draw a crowds the size of the one in today, all the way on the other side of the world, in memorial of something that happened 100 years ago. ANZACS are pretty amazing people; it didn’t matter that it was a Friday night/Saturday morning, that it was freezing cold, that it was raining and the tube, trains or normal busses weren’t running at that time of night/morning – we turned out in our thousands. The median age was something that shouldn’t go un-noticed either, I’d say it was approximately around 25 – 35, meaning most of us don’t have immediate family, or knew family members who fought or lost their lives in this battle, yet we were all still there for the same thing – remembering and thanking the men who fought for our nations and our freedom – so that we can live the lives we are lucky enough to live today.
I expected to be homesick, but I didn’t. I felt the complete opposite.
Today I couldn’t have been more proud be a New Zealander but also, to be an ANZAC.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
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.