It’s bucketing rain today. I woke up early, almost early enough to go to the Dawn Service, got up to check we weren’t being flooded, and was greeted by a shower of cold water on my still-sleepy head. It was raining inside the house.
That still wasn’t enough motivation to get me out into the weather for the first service. I might go later. Last year, for the first time, I wore my great-grandfather’s ribbon bar. Trooper Horsfield was a stretcher bearer and medical orderly in the South African War, and then in Palestine and Flanders. I never knew him, never even knew about his war service until recently, as he was gassed and died later of complications when Dad was still young.
When Dad heard I was writing about World War One ambulance drivers (a few years ago now) and had also started collecting medals, he gave me the ribbon bar and silver Wound Badge.
Anzac Day has always meant a lot to me, even though it was not supposed to if you were on the Left in Australia in the ’80s and ’90s. We’ve always been in two minds: the other side of Dad’s family were leading anti-conscription campaigners during the War To End All Wars. And on the other hand, I’m obsessed with military history. I find now that it all fits together perfectly easily in my head. How? I’ll explain another time.
But Anzac Day means a great deal more since I’ve been to Turkey and understood more deeply what the conflict meant to the Turkish people – and since I stood in the little graveyard near Anzac Cove and stared up at the impenetrable hills.
Nearby stands the monument on which is inscribed one of the most moving and generous statements on any war memorial. It’s from Ataturk’s 1934 speech – the words of the man who was by then the leader of the country but who in 1915 was a young commander in the defending forces.
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives: You are now living 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 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.
Two thousand years before, across the blue Aegean from the Dardanelles, someone else who knew how to stir up the emotions, wrote something more abstract but equally fitting:
Each one, man for man, has won imperishable praise, each has gained a glorious grave – not that sepulchre of earth wherein they lie, but the living tomb of everlasting remembrance wherein their glory is enshrined.
For the whole earth is the sepulchre of heroes; monuments may rise and tablets be set up to them in their own land, but on the far-off shores there is an abiding memorial that no pen or chisel has traced; this is graven not on stone or brass, but on the living heart of humanity.
Take these men as your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can only be for the free; that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.