Armistice Day

A highlight – one of many – during our month-long Australian trip last month was a brief visit to Canberra’s Australian War Memorial. It’s an imposing building in extensive grounds and an amazing view into the city.

 We were there in the school holidays and it was very crowded; even so, it was very quiet indoors, a mixture of awe at the sheer volume of numbers killed, and reflection on their sacrifice. I was glad to see how many children were engrossed in the stories on display, people need to remember. Find out more:https://www.awm.gov.au/

I like sculpture and was impressed by this memorial to Private John Simpson who served at Gallipoli. Using one of the donkeys brought in for carrying water he transported wounded men under fire, day and night from the fighting in Monash Valley to the beach at Anzac Cove.  He was killed while carrying two wounded men on 19th May 1915 and buried on the beach at Hell Spit.

Here’s another animal memorial ‘Explosive Detection Dog and Handler Sculpture’ ‘In this sculpture I have sought to express the close bond that exists between dog and handler….’ (Artist Ewen Coats)

At the heart of the building is the Hall of Memory above the Pool of Reflection  and on either side, the lists of the fallen – endless lists you think at first, 102,000 names. One of the first names we saw as we slowly walked along and looked at the World War I memorials was a man called Slade and after that the Resident Engineer photographed them all. We found fourteen of them and wondered if they were relatives as we know at least one mid-19th century Slade went to Australia.

The Gallipoli Campaign was commemorated two years ago and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ part is well-documented, and rightly so.What I hadn’t really taken on board is that although the campaign is linked to the Anzacs in the public mind, just how many men died in total.

Gallipoli casualties (not including illness)
Dead Wounded Missing
or
POW
Total
Ottoman
Empire
56,643 97,007 11,178 164,828
United Kingdom 34,072 78,520 7,654 120,246
France 9,798 17,371 27,169
Australia 8,709 19,441 28,150
New Zealand 2,721 4,752 7,473
British India 1,358 3,421 4,779
Newfoundland 49 93 142
Total Allies 56,707 123,598 7,654 187,95

When I was a child I was very much aware of WWI because I had great-aunts galore who remembered it vividly. The story that stays in my memory is of my favourite great-aunt who, in 1916, was lying awake at night with her very new fifth child when she looked up and saw her eldest son, Clive, standing at the end of the bed. He had lied about his age and enlisted when he was sixteen and when she saw him she knew what it meant. When the telegram arrived he was still not quite eighteen.

I thought about Aunt Liz and Clive at the AWM when they played someone singing Waltzing Matilda and that got to me. It’s a song I love and I always cry when I hear it, remembering that it’s the theme music for ‘On The Beach’, the film of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel – still the best film in this genre. Here’s the original trailer – worth watching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAwI5ONywME

 

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