“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.”
This is the staunch reality for the 416 809 who went to war between the years of 1914 and 1918. This mere number was around one tenth of Australia’s population at the time. 60 000 of those enlisted died; 156 000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner and of those that returned, many would suffer from the effects for the rest of their lives. World War 1 remains the most deadly and costly battles for Australians thus far. 18 000 New Zealand soldiers also lost their lives.
Like a large number of the population, one of those enlisted was a relative of mine, Abraham Pearce. Private Pearce fell to his death on August 6th 1915 at the murderous battle of Lone Pine. He would have been my great great uncle. Today I got up at 4am to attend my local dawn service. I didn’t just go to commemorate my fallen relative, I attended the service to pay my respects to all those who have served in the wars from World War 1 right through to the current peace keeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Private Abraham Pearce
For many Australians and New Zealanders, ANZAC day marks one of the most significant days in the calendar year. Millions of Australians have flocked to remember the service men and women for one hundred years. The first ANZAC service took place on April 25th, 1916, one year after troops landed on the wrong side of the Gallipoli peninsula awaiting their deadly fate.
Diaries from those who served in the war reveal that those on the frontline, along with the medics who were largely responsible for the foundation of ANZAC day, went to great efforts to commemorate those who had fallen in the last 12 months since their fateful landing at Gallipoli. The diaries reveal that the day began with a mass at dawn and was followed by a commemorative service that took place mid-morning. After lunch there were organised sports activities including two-up with all profits from gambling going to Battalion funds. Elsewhere in London more than 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers marched through the streets and they became known as the ‘Knights of Gallipoli’. In Australia, marches were held whereby wounded soldiers accompanied by nurses took part.
100 years on there is still that same ANZAC spirit that is commemorated by Australians and New Zealanders of all ages. At the particular service I attended there were newborns all the way through to the elderly with one important thing bringing them together- remembrance. From the time the catafalque party mounts to the moment they dismount; through the laying of the wreaths; through the ode of remembrance, the last post and the minute silence and the singing of our nations anthem, we are united as one, remembering those that fought to make our country the fair, beautiful and rich land that it now is.
ANZAC day means different things to everyone but to me it means that I can remember my relative that I never met and thank him for giving his life for his country. ANZAC day also means that I can learn about the lives of those that fought, many of which were not much older than me, in fact many were several years younger. I learn about the horrible conditions that they were faced with on a daily basis for months or even years and cannot even begin to fathom how those that lived even survived these conditions. But above all ANZAC day means I can become a part of the other near 25 million Australians that are joined together by this occasion, which makes me proud to be an Australian.
While many fear for the future of ANZAC day, I believe that as long as we keep these commemorative services alive, the spirit will forever live on.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, now the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget”