Remembering the Anzacs
Every morning I pass my district’s four-sided war memorial. On three sides the names of those who served in World War I are etched in stone. The fourth side lists the names of those who never returned. It’s painful to read through the list and see people with the same surname, side by side. Were these brothers? Fathers and sons? Cousins? The memorial doesn’t say. But what is clear is that in what was at the time of the war a little town on the edge of the world, World War I exacted a horrific price.
My district is not atypical. From a population of only five million at the time, more than 400,000 Australians served in the “Great War”. Almost 156,000 were taken prisoner, gassed or wounded, and more than 60,000 died. Of a population of a million New Zealanders, more than 100,000 served, over 16,500 were killed and 42,000 were wounded. The scale of the commitment and loss to our young countries is almost unimaginable.
And yet, although most of us can quickly recite the rationale behind World War II, or any of the subsequent conflicts in which our region has been involved, we may struggle to summarise what World War I had to do with our nations, why it was fought, and what was accomplished—beyond inflicting human misery on an industrial scale. It is almost unbelievable to us now that all these Australians and New Zealanders suffered and died because a student assassinated an Austrian archduke in Sarajevo.
And yet, as a result of a string of almost impossibly unlikely events, the Anzacs found themselves on that rocky Turkish peninsula roughly 14,000 kilometres from home. And at Gallipoli thousands of Aussies and Kiwis made the ultimate, and ultimately futile, sacrifice. Maybe it is that futility that makes their sacrifice all the more poignant.
Years after the end of World War I, Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal), who led the Turkish forces in defence of Gallipoli, spoke with affection about the Anzac troops who died there:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... 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 now 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. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”
It’s a beautifully moving statement of reconciliation between combatants, but it raises questions. If Turks could speak with such affection of our troops, why were we fighting in the first place? What was accomplished? What tough questions should have been asked before the nations of the world fell into this cataclysmic conflict?
It’s seldom popular to question wars at their outset. After all, everyone wants to be a patriot. And, for men particularly, there’s a natural machismo that accompanies wars. But the people who actually experience war are often the most cautious. US Civil War general William Sherman put it this way: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” The first US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Omar Bradley, defined war as “wretched debasement of all the pretences of civilisation”. It’s a sentiment echoed by many returning servicemen and women.
As Christians, we’re called to be peace-makers. This doesn’t mean we’re wimps, utopian dreamers or dangerously out of touch with reality. It does mean that we should be a voice for reason; a voice designed to put the brakes on precipitous rushes to war. It means we should look for common ground and recognise that our enemies are just as human as our families. It means we should, as Ellen White put it, always keep in mind that the devil “delights in war... it is his object to incite the nations to war against one another”.
The Anzacs were promised that World War I was the “war to end all wars”. The most profound way we can honour their sacrifice is to make that promise a reality.
James Standish is communication director for the South Pacific Division.