Australians, New Zealanders Pay Homage to ANZAC Heroes
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
In the early hours of a chilly April morning of 1915, some 30,000 New Zealand, Australian and British troops landed on the broken terrain of Gaba Tepe and Cape Helles beaches of Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula.
The landing, which represented Australia and New Zealand’s entry into the First World War, resulted in one of the most costly but heroic battles in modern warfare history.
Turkey’s entrance into the war several months earlier on the side of Germany and the Central Powers had effectively closed off access of Allied shipments to Russia via the Dardanelles Strait.
Consequently, the Russian flank was severely weakened and was on the verge of collapse, since most of Russia’s northern ports were ice-locked.
Winston Churchill, then lord of the Allied admiralty, set out to solve the problem with an aggressive surprise assault by the Australian and New Zealander forces.
The Commonwealth soldiers’ mission was to capture the Dardanelles for the Allied Forces, but this improperly trained infantry of volunteers had never been prepared for landing from sea and was ill-equipped to defend itself against the ongoing barrage of shelling and machine-gun fire from the defending Turks.
The Australian New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldiers also lacked sufficient artillery shells and had no grenades, but they tenaciously resisted the merciless attacks from the Turkish troops that commanded the heights above them, awaiting reinforcements that would never come.
By the end of the first day, more than 8,500 casualties had been reported among the valiant ANZAC servicemen, and 3,000 Turks lay dead on the rugged cliffs, with still no reinforcements in sight.
The battle continued for eight agonizing months, with the combined death count mounting to nearly 20,000, 11,000 of whom were Australians and 4,000 New Zealanders.
When help finally came from the Allies, it was too little too late.
As the deadly cold of December began to set in, the ANZACs were at last pulled off the peninsula when Britain decided to abandon the futile campaign and regroup the surviving troops to fight along the Western Front.
But the tragic events that occurred on that Turkish coast were forever engraved in the hearts and souls of the Australian and New Zealand people.
Each year, Mexico’s Australian and New Zealand community gathers at the Australian Embassy to commemorate the anniversary of that fateful landing in Gallipoli with a solemn, early-morning memorial ceremony.
As a lone bagpiper plays a haunting Highland lament, ambassadors and other diplomats from New Zealand, Australia, Turkey and other nations pay their respects to the memory of the brave ANZACs killed in the costly war maneuver by laying wreaths at an altar set up in their honor.
Unlike many military anniversaries, ANZAC Day does not commemorate a military triumph, but rather a day of remembrance for those who fought and died at Gallipoli. It is a day to commemorate the triumph of human valor and resilience and, of course, the ANZAC spirit. Over time, it has also become a day on which New Zealanders and Australians acknowledge the sacrifice, contribution and suffering of all those who have served and died for their countries in times of war.