Figures moved like wraiths through the thick morning fog. Wraiths clad in hoodies and fleece jackets, streaming towards the Dawn Service commemorating ANZAC Day in Warwick, Queensland.
I held tightly to Bear’s warm hand as we joined stragglers gathered at the gates to the War Memorial, the sound of singing mingling with some particularly rowdy birds in the chilly pre-dawn.
The billowing fog, eerie light from nearby lampposts and the brooding darkness that comes just before daybreak was a moving setting for the songs and tributes that echoed out into the park. I haven’t heard “In Flander’s Fields” since I was a girl in Canada – another Commonwealth country – drawing pictures of poppies for the annual nationwide competition.
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Before I came to Australia I’d never heard of the ANZACS and didn’t know what ANZAC Day was. I’ve since learned a few things.
ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
April 25th is ANZAC Day and marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by the ANZACS during the First World War at a place called Gallipoli.
To say the action was a mess would be putting it mildly. That it was not an all out catastrophe is due only to the incredible heroism and bravery of the ANZACS. It is best not to mention the British at this point. Their willingness to use the Aussies and Kiwis as cannon fodder was a habit that took decades to break, and is still deeply resented by many.
In spite of devastating losses and eventual retreat, the Gallipoli Campaign is often considered to have marked the birth of national consciousness in both Australia and New Zealand. England may have birthed them, but they would quickly stand on their own feet and develop their own unique culture, history, and accents.
The 25th of April was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916, and developed from a commemoration of the 60,000 Australians who lost their lives in WWI to include those lost in WWII and subsequent military operations.
ANZAC Day is a national day of remembrance. The Dawn Service reflects the feelings of comradeship soldiers felt in the quiet, peaceful moments before dawn, before the battle began anew. Over time it has grown to commemorate the dawn landings at Gallipoli as well. Original Dawn Services were limited to veterans, but nowadays families and other supporters are welcomed.
The Dawn Service in Warwick included moments reflected in services throughout Australia: bugler playing Reveille, moments of silence, hymns, prayers, tributes and readings.
I am not Australian, but I still choked back tears as I stood in the darkness with hundreds of others. I saw women standing alone, teenage couples huddling for warmth, soldiers, scouts, and police officers, elderly women in hats and long coats, veteran soldiers in uniform. I wondered why so many would wake at 4 a.m. as we did, creeping through fog so thick you could hardly see ten feet in front of the car, shivering in the cold and darkness. I thought of my brothers fighting in Afghanistan, my grandfather guarding a POW camp in Denmark after WWII, my Danish and Norwegian relatives fighting in the Resistance, and I knew why I was there.
To say thank you.
To renew my commitment to live peacefully and kindly and honorably.
I hate war. I hate that soldiers die, no matter what side they’re on. I hate the separation of families, lovers and friends, the devastation of cities and homes, the gutting loss of life. I hate that powerful people use the lives of soldiers and civilians as pawns in their quest for more power. I wish it would never, ever happen again.
But I am deeply grateful to those who fight and have fought on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves. To those who suffer deprivation and loneliness and untold horrors just so I can be safe and do all those little things that seem so insignificant when compared to their sacrifice.
I am grateful that in remembering those who have fought, we renew our desire for peace.
“There can be no peace if there is social injustice and suppression of human rights, because external and internal peace are inseparable. Peace is not just the absence of mass destruction, but a positive internal and external condition in which people are free so that they can grow to their full potential.” – Petra Karin Kelly (1947-1992)