Today marks the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli by Australian and New Zealand troops as part of a larger allied invasion force.
The strategy was simple: have troops land at a number of points along the Gallipoli Peninsula; the invasion would force Turkey out of the war, and so secure the waterway for Great Britain and France to get supplies through to Russia, to fight on the eastern front.
But our countries first experience of World War I on 25 April 1915 was a ‘baptism of fire,’ so wrote one soldier in his diary to describe their landing. The Turkish defense was so ferocious it held the ANZAC forces to a front of just 1.5 km’s long and barely 500 m’s wide.
It could be said that Gallipoli was also a ‘baptism of blood.’ It was costly.
Australia suffered 28,150 casualties, of which 8,709 were killed in action, died of wounds, or succumbed to disease; nine Victorian Crosses were awarded for exceptional bravery.
New Zealand suffered 7,473 casualties; of which 2,721 died; one Victorian Cross was awarded.
The ‘simple strategy’ failed to achieve any of its initial objectives. The Australian and New Zealand troops clung to a number of positions on the peninsula until December 1915 when it was decided that, with no hope of victory, the best option was to pull all troops out and move them to other theatres of war.
What was meant to be a simply strategy turned out to be a catastrophe.
So if Gallipoli was such an apparent defeat, what is there to commemorate today?
It’s fair to say most Australians recognize ANZAC Day as our national day. ANZAC Day celebrates our country’s national unity and what it means to be Australian.
Historians have noted that our involvement at Gallipoli gained us the right be treated as an independent nation on the world stage. We were no longer simply ‘part of the British Empire.’
Charles Bean, the official war historian of WWI was the first to use the term ‘the spirit of the ANZAC.’ He said, ‘It stands for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat.’
These qualities are celebrated every ANZAC Day. It is right for us to honour and remember those who fought, and the many who even died, consistent with this ANZAC spirit.
It’s not just the men on those Turkish cliffs 100 years ago we remember. Today we remember the men and women who have served our nation beginning with the Boer War, World Wars I and II, the wars in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and various peacekeeping missions throughout the world.
Today we pause and remember those who served the cause of freedom.
We also remember that freedom is never won without cost. Freedom is ours because of costly sacrifice. ANZAC Day is important for Australia and New Zealand because it is a reminder of the fragile nature of life in a broken world. It is a reminder of the finality of death, and the value of life. It is a statement that life and freedom are worth the cost.
This is true in the matters of eternity as well – except, the price for eternal life and freedom was not paid by soldiers fighting for a nation, but by the Son of God who fought and died for the world.
As will be sung of the Son of God at ANZAC Services, as is written on the graves and memorials of soldiers across all the world today – in the words of the hymn Abide With Me:
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ brings freedom from death for all who abide with him.
As Jesus said, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not die, but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)
Freedom is never won without cost.
‘Lest we forget,’ and I pray we use our freedom to serve God and to serve others!
In Christ, Tory Cayzer.
(ANZAC Day talk delivered at Walgett, Collarenebri, and Come By Chance 2015.)