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Anzac Day Reflection

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Anzac Day Reflection

by The Rt Revd Grant Dibden | Anglican Bishop of the Australian Defence Force

Can you imagine what it was like for Australians during WWI?

Out of a population of five million: 62,000 were killed, 150,000 wounded and 400,000 returned from war. So about one in three households had someone directly affected by the war. And the war hurt the Australian economy. Markets for key exports, like wool, were lost. Wages failed to keep pace with the rising cost of living and the government chose to fund the war effort by increasing the note issue (sounds like quantitative easing) and by taking out loans.1 It was a very, very difficult time even for those who didn’t go to war.

You would think that coming out of such a difficult time, when people needed a boost, that we would celebrate a great victory like that of the 800 Australian Light horsemen’s mounted charge across three kilometres of open ground against 4,000 entrenched infantry who were supported by artillery and machine guns to retake Beersheba in 1917 with the loss of just 31 Aussies. Or the Australian battle at Villers-Bretonneux described by a British General as 'perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war'. But that isn’t what we did. And even today most Australians know little of these victories.

But Gallipoli we know about that! Our most solemn remembrance looks back to an occasion of defeat and terrible loss, to Gallipoli, where 16,000 ANZAC soldiers landed and 4,000 of them became casualties on the first day. Where wave after wave of young troops were ordered over the top of their trenches in futile frontal charges . . . and 10,000 were buried. We remember that.

Why has our defeat at Gallipoli become nation-shaping? Why is it that us Aussies, who are notoriously irreverent, show a reverence as we commemorate annually the defeat that was Gallipoli? I think it’s because Gallipoli symbolises for us the qualities of courage in the face of great adversity, of ‘reckless valour in a good cause’, of ‘endurance that will never admit defeat’, of caring for your mates, and of sacrifice.

The histories record that the soldiers at Gallipoli consistently volunteered for the most dangerous missions. They wanted to show their worth rather than stay alive as cowards. And it’s recorded numerous times that wounded soldiers refused to take more than one or two sips of water because others on the battlefield needed it.

That’s what we respect. That’s what we appreciate and value: the honour, the courage, the selflessness, the sticking at it to get the job done under such harrowing circumstances, the personal sacrifice.

Great events are distinguished by the quality of human endeavour they call upon, by the examples they create for ordinary men and women, and by how they inspire us.

100,000 Australians have died in wars. The vast majority aged between 18 and 25. The service men and women, whether they were young ANZACs, young nurses in the chaos of Singapore, national serviceman in the jungle of Vietnam, or special forces soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, died in the service of this nation. And while we don’t glorify war, we do remember the sacrifice of those who went before us . . . because there is something noble about sacrifice, isn’t there?

Sacrifice, love and hope are woven right through the ANZAC story and they resonate with what Jesus did for humanity. And the sacrifice of Jesus is still at the centre of the symbolism of ANZAC Day with its crosses for the fallen, the sacrificial language, the reverence.

A little over 100 years ago thousands of people gave their lives so we might enjoy life today. A little over 2,000 years ago one perfect man, God the Son, gave his life so that all of humanity who turn to him might enjoy life for all of eternity with Him.

Lest we forget

1 ‘The damage inflicted on the Australian home front by the Great War’ 3 Nov 2018 Joan Beaumont accessed on 20/4/20

2 World War I correspondent Charles Bean

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