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By James Rhodes
As I write this column, it is ANZAC Day.
Well, actually it’s no longer ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, where it’s already April 26, but here on the East Coast of the United States it’s still April 25.
Today is a day of national remembrance in Australia and New Zealand for the fallen soldiers slain in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign during the First World War. At dawn on April 25, 1915, the ANZAC Corps along with several British and French divisions made amphibious landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The high command in Britain believed this campaign would knock Turkey out of the war, open up the straits into the Black Sea to succor Russia and divert enemy forces away from the stalemated Western Front in France. Unhappily the planners were overoptimistic as to German and Turkish defenses. The Turks and their German allies were well dug in on the high ground above the beaches. After a few weeks of ferocious fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, the battlefront settled into a stalemate with desultory fighting and insufferable extremes of weather through the summer and into the winter.
There was also a good deal of heavy fighting – albeit with fewer casualties, unless you count the figurative heads that rolled within the cabinet and high command – in the halls of government in London. Eventually, the decision was made to withdraw, and the evacuation began in late December. Actually, the evacuation with very few casualties under the enemy guns was probably the only success of the entire affair. The last troops boarded their ships January 9, 2016.
The Allied forces lost 165,000 on Gallipoli. A large portion of them were ANZACs. To be sure, in the Big Picture, this was only a fraction of those who perished in the orchestrated butchery in the trenches of the Eastern and Western Fronts in Europe. But ANZAC Day remains something very special and sacred, especially in Australia, where it is celebrated with elaborate fanfare and ceremony across the continent.
ANZAC Day starts inevitably with a solemn dawn service, followed by parades, speeches, commemorative wreath laying, hymns and finally the sounding of the Last Post and a minute’s silence. You can bet that in just about every public square (and more than a few public houses) across Australia listeners will wipe tears from their eyes at the traditional recitation of the “Ode to the Fallen”:
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.
You may be interested to know that Alec William Campbell, the last ANZAC veteran, died of pneumonia on May 16, 2002. He was 103.