O.K. so it’s April 25th, which means it’s ANZAC Day here. This is one of the days when New Zealanders and Australians remember their war dead and specifically, the boys who died on the beaches of Gallipoli April 25th 1915. The purpose of the joint British and French campaign was to capture the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, then still referred to as Constantinople, and secure a sea route to Russia. But it was a disastrous idea and the losses were catastrophic, 21,000 British, 10,000 French, 8,500 Australian and 2,700 New Zealanders. Interestingly, there were also 1,358 from British India and 49 from Newfoundland. The Turkish losses were much higher, 86,700. And the wounded numbered 260,000 from all sides. Many others died of disease because the conditions were so unsanitary.
So much for the statistics. I went to the Dawn Service this morning in Cambridge and people were there in numbers, old, young, families, veterans. It was moving, as such services always are. I wore my Dad’s medals for the first time. He and I used to go to the ANZAC Dawn service at the cenotaph in front of the War Memorial Museum in Auckland when I was growing up, it was our private tradition.
As I was driving there in the dark, and I knew every other car on the road was going to the same place, I was thinking about the names of people who went to war and didn’t come back. My Great Uncle Jock, Mum’s uncle, Great Uncle Arthur, Dad’s uncle, Dickie Bullen who was Dad’s best friend and who he watched die in the Spitfire beside him during their first engagement with the enemy over Northern France, Irwin Ballie who died in the Middle East, Ian Reid who flew bombers, so many of the men in the photo of War Course Number 4 in 1939.
My Great Uncle Jock died about 10 days before Armistice Day in 1918. He enlisted in 1914 and survived Gallipoli and the Somme. He was 5 foot 5 inches tall, his Army records describe his teeth as ‘fair’, he loved to ride horses and (according to the letter written home to his Mother) he had a wicked sense of humour that got him into trouble sometimes, but he was a favourite of his unit. My Grandmother loved her older brother dearly and his death must have caused her much distress. He is buried in Northern France with 18 other New Zealanders and one man from Kent. They were on patrol and they came across a machine gun nest. The Germans surrendered and then, when they saw it was just a patrol, they put down their arms, picked up their gun and killed their foe.
What did they die for, all of these men? To preserve the freedom of the Western World. Freedom to do what? To be an individual, freedom to worship if and where you choose, freedom to vote, freedom to criticise, to say what you think of politicians without fear of imprisonment, freedom to write letters to the paper and sign your name, freedom to express an opinion on royalty, freedom to make choices, the freedom to be alive if you were born less than perfect.
Is war wrong, of course it is. It is such a waste of precious lives, men and women who never fulfil their potential. But if our way of life is threatened, we will fight to protect it. That is the way it has always been and that is the way it will always be. It’s ridiculous to imagine that there aren’t wars been waged against the powers of evil every day across the world. I guess your definition of ‘evil’ depends on where you live. But today, of all days, I feel very grateful that I’ve always had the opportunity to live my life the way I want to and that when that was threatened there were men and women of courage and selflessness who went to war to ensure that my freedom was preserved. The least we can do is remember them.