Anzac Illuminations, Auckland War Memorial Museum. Photo: Su Leslie 2012

Anzac Illuminations, Auckland War Memorial Museum. A silent display of war footage projected on the museum facade which attracts thousands of Aucklanders each year. Photo: Su Leslie 2012

April 25th in ANZAC Day here in New Zealand and Australia; our most important national day of remembrance, for all Australians and New Zealanders

“who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”

 A bit of history you can skip over if you already know it

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps; a term – and an entity – that came into existence in World War One. The ANZACs first major engagement was the ill-fated and disastrous attempt to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, in what is now Turkey, from troops of the Ottoman Empire – with whom the British Empire was at war.

The Gallipoli offensive – involving troops from Britain, India, Canada and France as well as Australia and New Zealand – began at dawn on April 25, 1915 with thousands of soldiers landing along the rugged, hilly coast of the peninsula. The objective was to charge Turkish posts (which unsurprisingly were on high ground), and capture key points along the landmass. That offensive, and each subsequent attack over the following EIGHT months, failed to capture significant ground. The defeated and exhausted remnants of the Allied expeditionary force were finally evacuated in January 1916.

Around 120,000 troops lost their lives during the Gallipoli Campaign (Allies and Turks); 8709 of them were Australian; 2721 were Kiwis. That may not sound like a lot, but remember that New Zealand’s total population at that time was only about a million people.

ANZAC troops fought and suffered terrible casualties in all the major WWI European battles too, but Gallipoli shaped our national psyches like no other.

What ANZAC Day means to me

I’m a child of the ’60s, a mother, an internationalist rather than a patriot. Yet I commemorate ANZAC Day, not out of glorification of war, but because it is such a stark reminder of human suffering. The Allies failed at Gallipoli; and in sending wave after wave of soldiers ashore, their commanders killed and maimed almost 200,000 mainly young men. ANZAC Day reminds us, not of boys-own, gung-ho, biff, pow, comic-book war, but of mud and blood and fear and misery. And in that, it has become a force for peace.

Strange Fruit, by Turtle Donna Sarten at the Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington.

Turtle Donna Sarten, ‘Strange Fruit’. Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington, 2013. The ‘strange fruit’ of the title is 3890 military dog tags – one for each of the New Zealanders who served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972. Vietnam was a war people wanted to forget, yet the suffering of veterans is immense and ongoing. I’ve written more about this work here. Photo: Su Leslie

Art and remembrance

Art makes some of the clearest and most powerful statements about the world. Art which draws on, and references the military can be particularly powerful.

Helen Pollock, 'Victory Medal' 2010. Photo: Howard Williams

Helen Pollock, ‘Victory Medal’ 2010.Feet lined up in ‘Standing To’ formation; scarred, naked, battle-weary. Photo: Howard Williams.

NZ Sculpture OnShore is a biennial sculpture exhibition that raises money for Women’s Refuge. It is held at Fort Takapuna, a Historic Reserve that was once part of New Zealand’s coastal defense and has a long association with the military. In this blog post  I’ve looked at some of the artistic responses to the site over the last few exhibitions.

NZ Sculpture OnShore ANZAC Day blog post 2014

NZ Sculpture OnShore ANZAC Day blog post 2014. Click on the image to see more of the post.

To me, these are beautiful and poignant works. I’d like to know what you think.


ANZAC Day: art and remembrance

11 thoughts on “ANZAC Day: art and remembrance

  1. Really enjoyed your post Su. The art works give a very different take on war and rememberance. I particularly like the ‘war footage’ picture. I wrote my own ANZAC day post from the perspective of our small town, it certainly is a big day for us all.


    • Thanks; the Illuminations on the Museum have been going for about five years, and it’s becoming so much a part of how we remember.


  2. As a pacifist with an aversion to anything connected to war, I had no real interest in visiting Gallipoli. But my time there, wandering around the graves of boys the same ages as my sons, turned out to be one of the most moving experiences of my life. Ataturk’s words on the memorial there had me sobbing: “Those heroes who 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 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 bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.” Still brings tears to my eyes…


    • Wow; such beautiful words. It was becoming a mother -and mother to a son – that has made me take note of ANZAC Day and other remembrance events. I think motherhood splits the soul and allows part of us to always see through the eyes of the “other” – our child/children.


  3. ‘For some, it was the last sun that should set,
    For many, their last glimpse of fecund day
    A splendid sun, dipping, reluctant yet,
    Into blue water west of Mudros Bay;
    And they – new burnished coin to squander free
    In ‘that red purchase’ on Gallipoli….’

    ~Clarence Michael James Stanislaus Dennis


  4. Pingback: ANZAC remembrance: battlefield nurses | Zimmerbitch: age is just a (biggish) number

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s