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Anzac Day – 25 April

Celebrated every year on 25 April in Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day is a public holiday. Holy Faith Sisters in both countries welcomed the day off school or work but what is being celebrated? The clue lies in the anagram or initials of Anzac which stand for Australia New Zealand Army Corps, so it is something to do with military forces but contrary to what you might expect, the day does not mark a great military victory.

In World War One, on 25 April 1915, army corps from Australia and New Zealand landed on what is now Anzac Cove, a beach on the Gallipoli peninsula, in Turkey. The Anzacs were part of an allied attempt to take the Dardanelles. Faced with determined resistance from the Ottoman troops led by Mustafa Kemal, they incurred heavy losses, and after eight months of fighting, the Anzacs were evacuated. They were not victorious in this campaign but they were courageous, steadfast and many were called to make the supreme sacrifice: around 8,700 Australians and 2,700 New Zealanders lost their lives.

Nowadays the commemorative ceremonies of Anzac Day customarily begin with a dawn service held in small towns all over the two countries as well as in the larger cities. In recent decades, the bravery of the armed forces deployed in World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War of 1990-1991, and the peace-keepers of both armies and police forces are remembered. Many young Australians and New Zealanders visit Anzac Cove on 25 April to take part in the dawn service on Turkish soil,

The Turkish commander, Mustafa Kema, later called Atatürk and the first president of the modern state of Turkey, is remembered for his brave leadership and observance of the rules of war. He, with all the combatants, are honoured in a memorial erected opposite the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the capital of Australia. He is the only enemy commander in any war to be so honoured in Australia.

The inscription on the Canberra memorial, attributed to Atatürk, is surely thought provoking. Of the Anzacs who are buried in Turkey, it is written,

‘you are now lying 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 far away 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.’