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ANZAC Day 2014

ANZAC DAY SERVICE 2014 – ROCKEFELLER CENTRE

Address by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

27 April 2014

 

This year is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. This began the most violent forty years in human history: around 100 million dead in two world wars.

 

World Wars One and Two totally shaped the generations of our parents and their parents. World War One absorbed half of all the young men of New Zealand and Australia, and almost two-thirds of these were killed or wounded.

 

In World War I, one-tenth of New Zealand’s population of just over a million served overseas. One in two Australian men between the ages of 18 and 42 served. One in five were killed. Of those who lived, more than half were wounded.

 

In World War II, Australia was a nation of 7 million people – men, women, kids, the elderly, the fit and unfit. One million of these 7 million served in uniform.

 

The Gallipoli campaign – 100 years ago next year – was ultimately in the scheme of things a minor one, and a defeat. But its strategic purpose was sharp. War in Western Europe had reached a lethal and self-destructive stalemate in the trenches where millions died. The aim was to occupy Turkey’s capital Constantinople – just hours from Gallipoli – and force Turkey, which was Germany’s ally, out of the war.

 

On 25 April, 16 000 New Zealanders and Australians surged ashore. That day 2000 Australians – landing first – were killed or wounded. The campaign was planned to last eight hours; it lasted eight months.  Over that eight months, 60,000 ANZACs fought at Gallipoli alongside larger British and French forces.  And troops from India, Ireland, Canada, and what are now Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.  When the last of the allied forces were withdrawn in December 1915, eleven and a half thousand New Zealanders and Australians were dead.  Britain and France lost almost three times that number.  Turkey lost twice all the allied deaths.

 

Terrible numbers – but the situation was far worse on the Western Front in France and Belgium.  There, in 1916 and 1917, three battles over weeks – at Fromelles, Pozieres and Passchendaele – produced more ANZAC dead and wounded than in the eight months of Gallipoli.  On a single day on 12 October 1917 at Passchendaele more New Zealanders and Australians died than at any other time in our histories.  Over a third of all Australians and New Zealanders who have died in war died on the Western Front. This included so many who had survived Gallipoli and were transferred to that front.

 

So – why has Gallipoli assumed such a defining importance to contemporary Australians and New Zealanders? Whatever the myths, and there are many; whatever the exaggerated facts, and there are many, the fact is, that Gallipoli – in military terms, a defeat – has come to be seen as an heroic failure and a primordial event in our young histories.

 

Our two countries were the youngest in the world at the time of Gallipoli. Gallipoli did not create our nationhood. For Australia, that happened on 1 January 1901 when our six separate British colonies federated into one country. But World War One – and Gallipoli most formatively – did give us a truer sense for the first time of national identity.

 

The ANZACs were serving overseas in the name of our new nations for the first time. And for the first time Australians felt we were the citizens of a united country which was mourning the deaths of Australians – from every part of Australia, not from six separate colonies – who were fighting for all of us overseas. And fighting together with New Zealand – thereby forging an unparalleled relationship between our two countries, the closest and most comparable societies on the planet.

 

Beyond this is, I think, a much deeper significance to ANZAC Day.

 

It is not only the original ANZACs we commemorate, but all of our citizens who have died in war or as a result since then: in both world wars; in Korea; Malaya; Borneo; Vietnam; the Gulf; East Timor; Afghanistan. And in over 50 UN peacekeeping missions. A pre-eminent history in the defence of freedom and of our own values which define it.

 

In his ANZAC Day message to Australians, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the presence of so many Australians at ANZAC Day events – in Australia and overseas – showed that we are a nation of memory, not just of memorials.

 

Anthropologists and sociologists have long recorded that it is collective memory that gives a community coherence, confidence, belief. And that all communities feel the need to reaffirm regularly the collective ideas – and sentiments – that give them unity and personality.

 

For Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC Day is our day. A day of gratitude to those who have preserved our freedom. Not triumphalist, but reflective. A day about courage; duty; and mateship. About not only endurance, but ingenuity. And good humour – even cheekiness – against terrible odds. We saw this at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. We saw it again on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea; among the 15 000 Australians imprisoned at Changi; on the Burma-Thai Railway.

 

ANZAC Day renews the faith and loyalty that sustain our values as a unique community. It gives us a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be an Australian, to be a New Zealander.

 

A former Australian Governor-General – Bill Hayden – commented that three countries emerged at Gallipoli: Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey. The Turkish commander was Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, who arose from Gallipoli to found the modern Turkish state on the ashes of over 600 years of Ottoman Empire.

 

The Gallipoli troops on both sides quickly developed remarkable respect for each other. They gave themselves informal truces, not only to bury the dead and retrieve the wounded, but to meet each other to share water, tea, and a cigarette.

 

Modern Turkey fought alongside the ANZACs in the Korean War in the 1950s. It served with us in the United Nations peacekeeping operations in East Timor. We have been together in Afghanistan. And Turkey serves with Australia today with the UN in South Sudan.

 

Ataturk’s famous words commemorating the dead at Gallipoli – to be read in a few minutes by Turkey’s Consul-General – were written by him personally, and first read at Gallipoli in 1934. They stand as a translucent statement of reconciliation and generosity. We teach them in our schools.

 

LEST WE FORGET.

 

 

(With inspiration from Les Carlyon’s books Gallipoli and The Great War.)

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