On Wednesday, April 25, this week was the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist. That day coincides with Anzac Day, an annual commemoration for Australians and New Zealanders marking the landing on April 25, 1915, of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) on the beach at Gallipoli, Turkey, as part of the planned invasion to capture the Dardanelles and cut off the Ottoman Turks (who had allied with the Germans). It was the first and only time Australians and New Zealanders went to war as a united force. As the only Australian or New Zealand cleric in town as it were I get involved each year in the New York commemorations: a service on the nearest Sunday in the Anzac Memorial Garden atop the British Pavilion at the Rockefeller Center; and a Dawn Service at the Vietnam War Memorial in Water St. in Lower Manhattan on the actual day (the 1915 landing took place at dawn). The reality is that the whole Turkish expedition by the Allied Forces was a disaster leading to the resignation of Winston Churchill, the minister responsible. After an 8 months campaign in which nearly 150,000 men died the Allied Forces departed never to return. Why celebrate such an ignoble defeat? Some of you will remember the film, Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson, which powerfully brought the story into the popular domain. It was the first time either Australia and New Zealand, both new nations, had fought and died in an “international” war. It was the “blooding” of both nations. For that and related reasons Anzac Day has become not only a memorial day for the war dead but also a day marking the achievement of nationhood.
I have visited the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey twice. The whole Peninsula is now a Turkish National War Memorial with many memorials to the 86,000 Turkish war dead (conservative estimate) as well as Allied memorials and war cemeteries to the 48,000 Allied dead (of which 8,000 were Australians and New Zealanders). Each year at our New York commemorations the Turkish Ambassador to the UN and the Turkish Consul-General are in attendance with one or other reading the words of Kemal Ataturk (the commander of the Turkish forces at Gallipoli and Founder of Modern Turkey) which are on a memorial at Anzac Cove (where the Anzacs landed).
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…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 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.” — Ataturk, 1934