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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
However, I have tr avelled to the battlefields
of the Wester n Front in France and
Belgium and visited many of the militar y
cemeteries and memorials that dot the
landscape of the Somme valley and
I will never forget the impact of the
cemeter y at Pozieres, one of the fir st
we visited. The tight rows of headstones
drove home a very strong message about
the cr uelty and futility of war. This was
duplicated wherever we went.
Finding the gr aves of distant r elatives and
knowing a little about their stories only
increased the sense of loss that a nation
-- and countless mothers and father s --
As a teenager in the '60s and a tertiary
student in the early part of the '70s, I was
disturbed at times by a declining respect
for Anzac Day in those very strong anti-
I could never come to ter ms with the
sacrifices men and women made in times
of conflict when they knew that ever y
action they under took, any step they
might take, could lead to their death or
permanent disability and disfigurement.
I could not believe that those who had
ser ved in times of war would return
from those experiences with a pro-war
Walking around the battlefields of Europe ,
and I am sure for those who have visited
Gallipoli, Kokoda or any other field of
war, the feeling would be the same. The
senselessness of it all is so confronting.
I have often asked myself what I would
have done if I had been pitched into
battle -- at The Nek or Lone Pine; the
devastating charges at Fromelles, Pozieres
or Passchendaele; the sea battles in the
Sunda Str aits ; the bombing r uns over
Europe; the death marches at Sandakan;
the trials of imprisonment and slavery
on the Thai Bur ma Railway; the freezing
conditions of Korea or the energy sapping
heat of Vietnam ; the unpredictable war fare
of Iraq and Afghanistan -- just to name
Hundreds of thousands of Austr alians have
had to face up to that reality; I haven't.
For those men and women who endur ed
this, no matter their reasons for ser ving,
the memories must at some stage tur n to
the terrible effect of war.
I cer tainly believe that the celebr ation of
Anzac Day is an acknowledgement of the
ser vice of these young men and women,
so many of whom did not r eturn home.
It is a time for remembering sacrifice, for
r emembering sur vival and for continuing to
tell the story of our country's commitment
to a just and fair world.
The centenary of the landing at Gallipoli
will be the commencement of three year s
of commemor ating the centenar y of other
momentous battles of World War I. As
each is celebrated, the terrible waste of
war will be remembered, the lasting effects
on families will be recounted, the impact
on small towns and large cities will be
recalled and the reasons all of this occur red
will be debated.
There is a place for each of these,
par ticularly the latter. Anzac Day for me is
a time to r eflect on the tragedy of war, on
the self-sacrifice of so many, on cour age ,
on pain and suffering, on despair and
The Anzac centenar y will enable this to
occur in a special way.
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Director of Schools, Ray Collins, has long
had a deep interest in the campaigns, and
the cost, of World War I. He shares some
reflections to mark the centenary of the
landing at Anzac Cove.
That iconic scene in Peter Weir's film,
Gallipoli, of the members of the Austr alian
Light Horse charging out of the trenches
into the murderous machine gun fire of the
Turks at The Nek will be called to mind as
the centenar y of the landing at Anzac Cove
is commemorated this coming Anzac Day.
For some , more recent images from Russell
Crowe's film, The Water Diviner, which
explores the Turkish aspect of the landing
as well as the Anzacs, will be in people's
thoughts as memorial ser vices take place
around the world.
Each film's focus is on a par ticular battle
of the Gallipoli campaign that has stood
as symbolic of the Anzac spirit and of the
ter rible carnage war creates. In Weir 's film,
it is the absurdity of the charge at The Nek
and the willingness of men to charge into
battle, knowing cer tain death awaits them.
In Crowe's film, it's the battle at Lone Pine
where the fighting was incredibly intense
and so many Austr alian and Turkish lives
were lost in hand-to-hand fighting.
Impor tantly, both reflect on the despair
that war creates, in the Mel Gibson
character sprinting to stop the car nage and
the waste of life that was occur ring and in
the overpowering grief of a mother who
has lost all three sons and effectively, her
As Austr alia prepares for the
commemoration of this momentous
event, there will be many strong feelings
expressed in relation to the impor tance of
the landing at Gallipoli. Some will see it as
continuing a rise in nationalism that began
to resurface in the 1980s and which brings
with it a tendency to exaggerate Australia's
role in the World War I conflicts and to
place too much impor tance on its impact
on our country's development as a nation.
Some will see it as an impor tant step
in the ongoing need to remember the
sacrifices made by ser vicemen and women
who responded to their nation's call in
various conflicts with a sense of duty and
commitment to the democr atic freedoms
we all enjoy.
Some will see it as the glorification of war,
other s as a gross over-expenditure of
taxpayer s' funds at a time of austerity.
I have never been to Gallipoli, although I
have always wanted to go. I have also had
walking the Kokoda Tr ack on my itinerary
but age and a bad back have eliminated
Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Ray Collins.
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