ANZAC DAY COMMEMORATION
On a morning like this 99 years ago, as the dawn mist was lifting off the northern waters of the Aegean, the last chivalric battle in the history of war began on the beaches and pine covered ridges of the Gallipoli peninsula.
Young men, locked in fatal embrace on a lonely battle field not more than a few square miles, wrote a saga of courage, honor and sacrifice to reverberate for generations to come, teaching us, lest we forget, the value of peace and friendship.
What makes Gallipoli unique? It was neither the biggest nor the bloodiest battle field of the Great War.
But somehow, it captures and distills all that is at once horrible and human about war. And it does so in such a confined space that it defies logic by its sheer intensity.
However, all the shelling and shrapnel, bullets and bayonets that tore the flesh could neither kill nor subdue the humanity’s soul which still shined through death and destruction.
In that battle, where the trenches were within shouting distance, the enemy was no longer a faceless cog of a war machine.
They were men. Men with hopes, with longings, some with children, with beloveds, men with stolen futures. And they knew that. They knew the fate they shared and they fought a gentleman’s battle, as it could be.
That is why the Mehmets and Johnnies came to respect each other.
The war engendered compassion, empathy and friendship, which, to this day, lives on in the grandchildren of the fallen heroes of Gallipoli.
But, I am not romanticizing war.
In the lyrics of Scottish born Australian song writer and singer Eric Bogle, it was death, blood and fire. It was about the armless, the legless, the wounded and maimed.
For us, it was the last castle of a besieged nation who had been burying its sons from Galicia to Hejaz.
We were fighting to defend a homeland.
We were not fighting the Australians or the New Zealanders. We were fighting imperialism that had finally come to assault our beleaguered country.
We lost our finest in Gallipoli. We buried an entire university in that land.
Today, a stanza carved on the face of a cliff overlooking the straits calls the unknowing traveler to halt and hear.
Traveler, stop. This soil, you come to tread unawares
Is where an Age was sunk.
Lean in and lend an ear, this silent heap
Is where the heart of a nation beats.
Indeed for us Gallipoli was the first pulse of a nation reborn. It was an awakening, a glorious first step towards a modern republic raised from the ashes of a dead Empire.
Thus, our recollections of Gallipoli are sad but not bitter.
Thus, we stand here with you today in solemn remembrance of the gallant young men to whom we owe so much.
Their memory we shall ever cherish, their legacy will guide our nations united in our determination to never let this happen again.
The soil of Anatolia is no stranger to fallen heroes. But it embraced most tenderly those we left behind in Gallipoli.
At this juncture, I would like to quote the timeless words of Atatürk, who had best expressed the true feelings of the Turkish people:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, 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.”
These words we quote each year should be seen as fresh flowers laid to our sons’ graves every April.
I salute with deepest respect and gratitude their eternal memory.
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