Am I the only guinea pig in Australia who thinks that ANZAC Day has taken on rather dark undertones in recent years? For my non-Australian and non-Kiwi readers ANZAC Day is supposed to be a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in past and indeed in ongoing military engagements. ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corp. It is held on 25th April every year and is a public holiday. There are dawn services to remember the fallen and tradition has it that surviving veterans then retire to either their local RSL (Returned Services League) Club or a pub to drink beer and play a gambling game called two-up for the rest of the day.
Why 25th April? On that day in 1915 the newly formed Australian and New Zealand Army Corp landed on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsular as part of a larger allied force intent on capturing it from the Turks who were Germany's allies. Whoever controlled Gallipoli controlled the strategically important Dardanelles - a narrow finger of water, which like the Bosphorus separates Europe from Asia. To put it mildly the landing was an utter balls up to use a military term. The Aussie and Kiwis found themselves confronted by steep terrain which was well defended by the Turks, who lets face it had the added incentive of repelling the enemy from their homeland.
War is a foreign concept to guinea pigs at the best of times. When was the last time you heard of a bunch of guinea pigs invading Poland for example, or trying to drive the Taliban from Afghanistan? Mind you, an elite group of guinea pigs have probably got as much chance of doing that as the so called Coalition. World War I is particularly incomprehensible to me. Something to do with Arch Duke Ferdinand and those serial trouble makers the Serbs, or maybe if there really is a God it was His way of reducing the human population, quickly followed up by the flu epidemic. What a waste, all those poor souls marching across no-mans-land into a wall of lead. and for what? Anyway, back to Gallipoli. The Aussies and Kiwis fought bravely up the slopes and died in their hundreds. Ultimately the Turks were too well dug in and too determined not to be shifted and the campaign ground to the inevitable and rather typical WWI stalemate. Then early on the 20th December 2015 the last of the ANZACs made a "tactical withdrawal". Less than three weeks later the British did the same and the whole Dardanelles farce was over. More than 8700 Aussies were killed, 2721 Kiwis, 9798 French, 34072 British and over 86000 Turks.
Popular myth has it that the ANZACs landed at the wrong beach and that it was all the fault of bungling British generals, but it is just that - a myth. The ANZACs landed pretty much where they were supposed to and they were under the command of senior Australian officers. In the end it's hard for a guinea pig to understand why 25th April has become such an important day to Australians. Indeed it seems now to be more of a national day than Australia Day - 26th January. The day marks an abysmal military defeat despite the courageous efforts of the troops, though casualties were light when compared to the British and the Turks. Even the French lost more men, and I didn't even know that the French were at Gallipoli. They were certainly light compared to Australian losses in Flanders which numbered over 43000, 6673 in October 1917 alone.
Each year on 25th April at what is now called ANZAC Cove in Turkey a special dawn service is held to remember the casualties, both ANZAC and Turkish and it has become almost a rite of passage for young Australians to attend at least once in their lives. Sadly up to four or five years ago the Dawn Service had gained a reputation for attracting the "AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE OI! OI! OI!" flag waving, beer swilling, Bundy Rum guzzling crowd, but this seems to have been stamped out now thank goodness. However, it seems to this particular guinea pig that the Australian media is desperately trying to stir up some sort of Nationalistic fervour with a whole lot of propaganda about the Australian role in various wars, starting a fortnight before ANZAC day and ending (if we're lucky) about a week afterwards. The main point that they like to ram home is that the Gallipoli campaign was Australia's coming of age - the day we became a nation. The Aussie flag is everywhere. The newspapers are full of photographs of folk at ANZAC Day parades with the flag wrapped around them, well I'm sorry but I find that people who wrap themselves in their national flag have often got something unpleasant to hide - rather like my male staff's underpants.
I don't know how many of my fellow Aussies would agree with me but I think a far more relevant day of remembrance and celebration of nationhood would be 22nd July 1942. This was the day the the Imperial Japanese forces landed in Papua New Guinea. The Japanese already had Malaya's rubber plantations, Borneo's oil and Java's quinine, but New Guinea had no resources that they desired, it was merely a convenient platform for attacking Australia, possibly with a view to an invasion. They badly wanted to get hold of Port Moresby whose airstrip would put them within easy bombing range of allied bases in northern Australia.
The Australian troops here fought a fighting retreat along what is known as the Kokoda Trail - a narrow, mountainous, muddy, malarial jungle track running about ninety kilometres from Buna on the Solomon Sea to Port Moresby on the Coral Sea, with a village of Kokoda being roughly the mid-point. This time the Australians were fighting for their homeland, not invading someone else's patch. The fighting was often at close quarters in steep jungle terrain with visibility limited by the dense vegetation. Rain was torrential, mud was thick and sticky and the Japanese were pushing the Aussies back relentlessly towards Port Moresby. Nevertheless the invaders were slowed by the gutsy rearguard action and they were taking heavy casualties. Gradually the tide turned and the Japanese began to withdraw as the Australians got the upper hand as reinforcements arrived and Japanese supply lines began to falter. The Japanese were pushed back to defensive positions on the north coast where they remained until a joint USA and Australian assault defeated them at the battle of Buna- Gona. Approximately 625 Australians lost their lives on the Kokoda trail , while the Japanese lost about 6500. Who knows how many of the local population were killed, but if it were not for hundreds of local men - dubbed Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels by the Australian soldiers many more Australians would have died. The Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels did all they could to help the Australians, carrying their equipment and caring for the wounded.
In any case, my point is that this truly was a nation defining (and probably saving) act of heroism on behalf of a group of Australians. Had the Japanese succeeded in battling through to Port Moresby its highly likely that we who now live in the Land Downunder would all be driving Japanese cars, talking on Japanese mobile phones, listening to our Japanese made I-pods and eating sushi...........errrm, wait a second.................
Ich know nussink about var. Der only sink vurs fighting for are der schnuggles und der cuddles.