I was a young girl when I first heard the Kingston Trio singing Pete Seeger’s song, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and I thought it was the saddest song I’d ever heard.
In New Zealand every town has a war memorial of some kind. Written on each memorial – whether that be a school gate, concrete or marble column, stone or brick arch, hall or park – are the names of soldiers who died in both the First and Second World Wars.
Standing in front of a war memorial in a small country town, population numbering all of fifty, and reading name after name etched in concrete, is chilling.
Where have all the young men gone?
ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corp. and in New Zealand and Australia, April 25th is ANZAC Day; a national holiday and a chance to reflect on the cost of war. And try not to get too down about it.
25th April, 1915, is when the young New Zealand and Australian soldiers made a dawn landing by ship, disembarking in a cove in Gallipoli, Turkey, only to face immediate and unexpected gunfire from Turkish soldiers stationed on the cliffs above. Many soldiers died within the first hours of that landing, some not making it on to the beach, others making it on to the beach, but getting cut down before they could make it any farther.
On May the 2nd, one of the Kiwi soldiers who was killed that day, was my Great-Uncle Joe. His first taste of war had lasted a mere seven days.
As I write this, it is May 2nd – the 8th anniversary of the death of my mother; Joe’s great-niece. He was 24 when he died, she was 82.
Long time passing.
Over the next few months in Gallipoli, over 130, 000 young men were killed. Not just ANZAC soldiers – French, British, Irish, Newfoundland and Indian soldiers also died there.
ANZAC Day is also a day to remember the Turkish and Arab troops who were defending their country. Their casualties were the highest of all – 250,000.
Joe’s older brother, Alf, died in France in 1918, nearer to the end of the war. Two of my great-grandmother’s sons, therefore, book-ending a bitter war.
On ANZAC Day, poppies and leafy wreaths are laid. Dawn services are held (again, in remembrance of the ANZAC’s dawn landing at Gallipoli). Thoughts fly to that grim time as well as other past and present wars that rage over this planet. God help us.
It is ANZAC Day’s dawn service. Thousands stand silent in autumn’s darkness as dawn slowly gives way to daybreak and the Last Post is played. As the bugle’s final note falls over the sombre crowd, it sounds like grief. The note fades, its echo in the mind, lonely, unfinished, unresolved. A reminder that it’s not over. The horror of war has yet to cease. World peace, a vain hope.
As we leave the Dawn Service, daylight breaking up the dark sky is yet another reminder of our broken world. Spelt backwards the word war, turns into raw. War, a raw, open wound, still bleeding all over this world of ours.
When will we ever learn?