Thursday, April 26, 2007

ANZAC Day Draws 100,000 Australians Together To Remember Our 100,000 War Dead

By Darryl Mason

In 110 years of international war fighting, Australia has lost more than 100,000 soldiers, with hundreds of thousands more wounded in battle, many of whom were left permanently, physically or mentally, maimed.

In a haunting coincidence, 100,000 Australians are estimated to have gathered today to remember ANZAC Day, and to pay tribute to the dead from the dozens of wars and conflicts Australians have fought in through the past 11 decades. They gathered in groups by the dozens and the tens of thousands, with the greater percentage of those paying tribute under the age of 30 years old.

While ANZAC Day has, traditionally, focused on the Australian defeat and withdrawal from Gallipoli, in 1915, more media attention this year has rightly turned to the tragic human destruction of the Western Front and the successful battles Australians fought in France, which helped to end World War 1.

There's an excellent collection online here from the Australian War Memorial on 'Australians In France' during that period.

And, finally, the media has woken up to the fact that more than 500 indigenous Australians served in World War 1, and more than 5000 served in World War 2. Hundreds more fought in Korea and Vietnam.

Yet, most Australians are unaware of the enormous sacrifices they made, and the inhuman treatment they received at the hands of governments aligned to the English Crown who refused to recognise their service for decades. They were denied medals, war pensions and the land grants that were made available to almost all Australian veterans of World War 2.

Today, 'Koori' diggers marched in a separate ANZAC Day march in Redfern, though there was no official recognition of the event by the state or federal governments. Perhaps next ANZAC Day the prime minister find the time to visit such an event.

The coverage by ABC Radio & Television of ANZAC Day has been truly superb, particularly features on the 7.30 Report and Lateline over the past few days.

Here's some of the highlights :

Gallipoli Landings Remembered, 92 Years On

Australian War Brides In The US Finally Granted Dual Citizenship, 60 Years Later

Surviving Rats Of Tobruk Get To Keep Their Special Meeting Hall After Benefactor Buys Melbourne Building For Them - Diggers Donate The $1.7 Million They Received To Charity

POW Reunions Help To Heal The Old Wounds - For The Diggers And The Children Of Those Who Didn't Survive

Here's a quick summary from the 7.30 Report of just how monumental the contribution of Australians to the English side of the war in the Middle East and Europe actually was :
From an Australian population then no more than five million, 300,000 men enlisted. Half were wounded. 60,000 died and were buried on the battlefield, most in the green fields of France and Belgium.

...almost 40 per cent of all Australian males aged 18 to 44, enlisted.

From a population less than one quarter of today's, 60,000 of these young Australians would die in battle. More than half would be wounded or gassed, the lucky ones taken prisoner.
The numbers of killed and wounded are breathtaking, all but incomprehensible.

It is stunning to visit small outback Australian towns and villages today and to learn that from local populations of only 200 or 300, more than 40 or 50 men went to World War I, with children as young as 13 and 14 travelling to larger regional towns to sign up under fake birth dates so they could go on 'the great adventure'.

Some small towns lost, literally, most of their young men in the war. World War I devastated Australian society in ways that are rarely discussed, and all but destroyed the Australian economy, leaving the nation hundreds of millions of pounds in debt.

ANZAC Day has been more popular with Australian youth in recent years than at virtually any other time in the past 90 years. But they do not come to celebrate fighting, or war, as the surviving diggers would not want them to. They come to say thank you, and to pay their respects to the men and women who did what they believed they had to do, and what they were told to do, in an Australia of the past that today seems both familiar and remarkably distant.

More than 4000 Australians are currently serving in the Australian Defence Forces today, in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands, East Timor, and more than a dozen other locations around the world.

Youth Swell The Ranks On ANZAC Day

From Byron Bay To Baghdad, The Diggers Were Done Proud

"I've Got To Be The Proudest Blackfella In Australia"

ANZAC Day In Images

Australia Vs New Zealand Dispute Over Origin Of ANZAC Day

Former War Time Enemies Gather As Friends

Two Australians Injured In Iraq Insurgent Attacks On Eve Of ANZAC Day

Excellent Collection Of ANZAC Day Images

An ANZAC Day Special (Photos And Articles)

Tens Of Thousands Gather In Sydney Despite Teeming Rains