This was submitted to The Border Watch as this week’s pastor’s article, but was not published in today’s edition.
The darkness clings as we gather at the ANZAC Dawn Service, the trees in Vansittart Park further shrouding us. We are a silhouette of shadow, movements are few, voices hushed. It is only as the minutes pass and the sun’s emerging light dispels the gloom that individual form and features emerge.
Though we come as one, individual motives draw us to this place of reflection.
Some come having served; remembering comrades-in-arms both present and absent. Those who remained at home give thanks for safe return or grieve their loss.
Others have only experienced the effect of the conflict at the space of generations. They remember grandfathers and fathers who would not speak of their experiences; grandmothers and mothers who welcomed returning husbands far different from those they had farewelled. Still other families carried these realities more lightly. Some wear medals not their own in respect and love.
Each year as I see more and more people gather, and reflect on the various motivations that bring us together, I wonder if the young Australians who died at Gallipoli would recognise themselves in the image that our nation uses to represent them. So many. So young. So diverse in backgrounds. So mixed in motivations to serve. These many, now covered by a blanket characterisation of mateship and sacrifice, as if everything about them can be boiled down to a simple sentence.
It is true that these Australians were lost in the pursuit of both distant and parochial political agendas. They were lost because, in immaturity and innocence, a new nation yearned to experience for itself the form of conflict that marked the history of those nations older than itself; as if sharing that experience would legitimise their place in the world. They were lost because the men themselves, perhaps, were seduced by a promised romance of adventure; one that soon gave way to the reality of carnage that would forever mark the minds of those who survived.
I wonder if it was their example that shaped our nation’s character, or whether it was the shock and grief of the extraordinary loss of a generation that had the larger impact on our identity.
They went for many reasons, we gather through varied motivations.
The fact their battle was futile does not make our observance meaningless.
We gather to remember, to give thanks, to grieve, to support one another.
And to affirm that war is not noble or uplifting, but is a terrible and awful state that should always be avoided until the last.
I find solace and purpose in the words of Jesus ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’. Jesus is a friend to all those whom he died to save.
An echo of this truth is found in the affinity we feel for the ANZACs; and in the way that our relationship with them brings us together as a people, to remember, give thanks, and look for a peace that will endure.