Gallipoli, a place of surprising beauty which, like much of the Turkish coastline, would probably have been a tourist resort were it not for the horrors of a century ago that deem it sacred turf.
Kokoda, eleven days of hell. Let’s just say I wasn’t match fit for that one. But, as one of my travelling party kept pointing out with annoying perkiness, at least I wasn’t shot.
Dachau, the site of the concentration camp barren even now, as if the land itself cannot forget the state sanctioned genocide that happened on its watch.
Ground Zero, which reshaped war, so that it could be visited on us anywhere, at any time, with anything from passenger planes to pressure cookers and household hardware.
* * *
War seems such an inefficient way of settling people’s differences.
On days like today, the one hundredth anniversary of our ill-fated assault on the Gallipoli peninsula, we try to make sense of it all.
It’s impossible to find reason in so many lives cut short. The pain of that loss stretches generations and, for some, is never reconciled.
So we fall back on something else, the notion of the Anzac spirit, forged under gunfire, when our young soldiers found out what they — and, by association, we — were made of.
We speak of qualities like courage, tenacity, fairness and, above all, mateship, as if we have them in unique measure.
We promise to honour our dead and live by their example.
It’s one of the rare occasions we sing the second verse of our national anthem, with its promise of ‘boundless plains to share’ with ‘those who’ve come across the seas’. The boundless plains of Christmas Island, perhaps.
Contrast that with Turkey, which thirty years ago recognised part of the Gallipoli peninsula — a graveyard for so many more of that nation’s war dead than ours — by a foreign name, that of a one-time enemy. Anzac Cove.
Or with Ataturk’s pledge to Anzac mothers in 1934: “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.”
* * *
They were young men in 1915, some so young they had to lie about their age.
They weren’t necessarily clear about their reasons for going to war. Some spoke of adventure. One was in love and didn’t want to go but his brother went so he did too. None of them, it seemed, considered the prospect of death.
Who does at that age?
* * *
I believe in the Anzac spirit. I believe it shaped our young nation and gave it direction. I believe it comes to the fore in each of us in times of trouble. But not necessarily in times of fortune. And we have a lot of those times.
I love the mournful bugle call that is The Last Post. I love its last incongruous note. It could easily finish on its penultimate note. But it adds one more, a high note, giving the tune an unfinished yet hopeful edge.
To those on the battlefield, it signalled that the fighting was done. Till tomorrow.
That’s what it says to me. There is always tomorrow.