Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand. It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I. Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.
At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations, engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:
We are the ANZAC Army
We cannot shoot, we don’t salute
What bloody good are we ?
And when we get to Ber – Lin
The Kaiser, he will say
Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !
What a bloody odd lot
to get six bob a day.
By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs. At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price. Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II. American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.
The last of the Allied troops were withdrawn from Gallipoli on January 8, 1916. The first observations of Anzac Day occurred in Australia and New Zealand on April 25 of that year. In Australia and New Zealand were largely organized by troops recovering from wounds, schoolchildren and the families of men who had fallen in the Dardanelles. 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through London, the papers designating them Knights of Gallipoli. Front line units of Anzac troops in France did their best to solemnize the day.
This reaction was truly remarkable. It is not unusual to recall fondly a battle where a nation wins. Doing so for a campaign which was an utter failure is truly remarkable. However, the peoples of New Zealand and Australia show wisdom in having this commemoration each year. Wars and battles, come and go as the years pass, and the issues surrounding them become the province of historians when the veterans of the conflict are no longer in this Vale of Tears. However, the legacy of their courage, ingenuity and good cheer in adversity remain to the descendants of those who fought. It is an old truism that war brings out the very worst and the very best in men. On Anzac Day two nations recall the very best that their men a century ago had to give, and that is something worth remembering.