This morning I got up at 4am and rode to Hyde Park Corner to participate in the Australian and New Zealand Army Core dawn service to commemorate the Aussie and Kiwi soldiers who have gone to war for their countries. The service starts at dawn to match the time that the ANZACs first hit Gallipoli beach in Turkey 93 years ago. Eight months of bitter military stalemate later 2721 New Zealand, 8709 Australian, 33,072 British, 10,000 French and 87,000 Turkish soldiers were dead.
New Zealand has had worse days while fighting for King and country but the Gallipoli campaign was the first.
In 1914, New Zealand’s population was just over one million. When the war began 124,211 men joined up and 100,444 went overseas. This was a staggering 10 percent of NZ’s population. 40% of all men aged between 18 and 45 signed up. Per capita New Zealand made the largest contribution to World War 1.
The last ANZAC dawn service I attended in London was on a hungover Saturday morning in 1998 just after I first arrived in London. That service was at an Australian memorial in Battersea Park and only a few dozen people turned up to hear legendary Australian orator Clive James speak. From memory he talked about how modern historian’s views about the Gallipoli campaign had changed and as he was saying what they had changed to a slow low flying plane flew over and I missed it all.
Today’s service at the new New Zealand memorial on Hyde Park Corner was attended by a much larger crowd as ANZAC commemorations seem to be undergoing something of a global revival. This service was a much more religious affair with lots of prayers and songs to Jesus the so called “prince of peace” etc. I guess it’s hard to tell young men to run towards machine guns if they don’t believe they will go to a better place when it inevitable goes badly wrong for them.
None of my Aussie/Kiwi mates who said they would come actually made the early start. Excuses included: sleeping, over-sleeping laziness trumping patriotism and just getting back from Nam.