April 25th in ANZAC Day here in New Zealand and Australia; our most important national day of remembrance, for all Australians and New Zealanders
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.
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.
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.
To me, these are beautiful and poignant works. I’d like to know what you think.
First of all, thanks to Seonaid at Breathofgreenair for inspiring me to write this post with her comment about Anzac biscuits on my recent post about Anzac Day and remembrance in New Zealand and Australia.
For those of you who don’t know – Anzac biscuits (think cookies North American readers) – are a delicious sweet biscuit made with flour, rolled oats, coconut, butter, sugar and golden syrup. Legend has it that the biscuits are so named because they were sent by women in Australia and New Zealand to their men-folk serving in World War I.
From what I can gather, this isn’t quite true; the ANZAC troops were issued with an army biscuit (known at the time as a ANZAC wafer or ANZAC tile), but this bears no relation to the biscuit we know now, and according to the Australian War Memorial website:
is essentially a long shelf-life, hard tack biscuit, eaten as a substitute for bread. Unlike bread, though, the biscuits are very, very hard. Some soldiers preferred to grind them up and eat as porridge.
It seems that the first recipe for the biscuit we know today appeared in 1921, according to Professor Helen Leach, of the Archaeology Department of the University of Otago:
The combination of the name Anzac and the recipe now associated with it first appeared in the 9th edition of St Andrew’s Cookery Book (Dunedin, 1921) under the name “Anzac Crispies”. Subsequent editions renamed this “Anzac Biscuits” and Australian cookery books followed suit.
ANZAC biscuits are commercially available in Australia and New Zealand, but frankly I don’t know why anyone would bother to buy these when they are so cheap, easy and quick to make. In fact, here’s a recipe.
1 cup flour
1 cup white sugar
1 ¾ cups desiccated coconut (the coarsely shredded type is great for texture)
1 ½ cups rolled oats
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons boiling water
NB: this recipe also specifies ¼ cup chopped walnuts, but these are not traditional and I tend to omit them
Preheat the over to 160 degrees Celsius. Mix the flour, sugar, coconut and rolled oats in a bowl.
Melt the butter and golden syrup together.
Stir the baking soda into the boiling water, then mix the butter and baking soda mixtures together (NB: either do this in a new bowl, or make sure you’ve melted the butter in a large pan as the mixture bubbles up. I find that adding the baking soda to the butter then immediately pouring this over the dry ingredients works fine).
Combine wet and dry ingredients thoroughly.
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture (NB: I use a dessert spoon for bigger biscuits) into balls and place on well-greased or baking-paper-lined oven tray.
Press flat, allowing room for them to spread.
Bake for 25-30 minutes (NB: maybe my oven is hotter, but I find they are cooked after 15-20 minutes – even the larger biscuits I make).
Cool on a wire rack and store in an air-tight container.
* This recipe comes from Jo Seagar’s All Things Nice. Random House, Auckland, 2002.
It was ANZAC Day last Wednesday (25th April). Outside of Australia and New Zealand (and increasingly the UK, for reasons I’ll explain later), not many people have heard of ANZAC Day. Fewer still understand what is all about.
Here in the Antipodes, ANZAC Day is possibly the most significant NATIONAL holiday we have. National in the sense of being specific to our country – rather than a reflection of our wider cultural adherence to broadly Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter.
I know that the Australians also have Australia Day and we New Zealanders have Waitangi Day; both of which commemorate events that represent the beginnings of the formalisation of European dominance over the indigenous peoples of the two countries. But increasingly ANZAC Day has come – for many on both sides of the Tasman – to better represent each country’s sense of nationhood.
I’m going to quote Wikipedia here, because it’s a pretty succinct account of what ANZAC Day is:
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates 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.”
The date is the day, in 1915, when Australian and New Zealand troops landed, as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force, on the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is now Turkey, in an attempt to capture it from the troops of the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with Germany in World War I.
Gallipoli was a monumental military cock-up. Instead of the envisaged swift, decisive Allied victory, fighting continued for eight months before those Allied troops left alive were evacuated. Forty four thousand (44,000) Allied troops died at Gallipoli (from the British Empire and France); eighty seven thousand (87,000) Turkish troops also lost their lives. For two relatively under-populated countries in the Pacific, the 8,500 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders who died represented an enormous loss (remember too, that thousands more were fighting and dying in muddy battlefields in France also).
ANZAC Day then, has come to symbolise a moment in time when two of Britain’s newer colonies felt themselves emerge as distinct nations – shaped and scarred by terrible suffering.
When I was a child, ANZAC Day was a public holiday, but most people I knew regarded it as little more than a welcome day off work. Those who attended the dawn parades seemed to mainly be returned servicemen and women, their families and those in the military.
Ironically, the further we have travelled from the actual Gallipoli landing, the more people feel the need to remember. There are no WWI veterans left to take part in the parades and services; and dwindling numbers of WWII veterans. Now it is their descendants who rise before dawn, pin the medals of grandfathers and great grandfathers onto their own or their children’s chests and go out in the cold to take part in increasingly well-attended commemorations that are held all around the country. That includes the small city-fringe community I live in, where the gates of the local park serve as a war memorial, naming the dozen or so farm boys who left very rural Greenhithe to go to war but did not return.
ANZAC commemorations have traditionally also taken place at ANZAC Cove itself, and increasingly in the UK as young Kiwis and Aussies on their OE (overseas experience) join with other ex-pats to remember not only the sacrifice of their forefathers, but affirm their own cultural identity.
2015 will be the centenary of Gallipoli. Already it’s been announced that there will be a ballot for places at the ceremony at Anzac Cove, such is the interest amongst Antipodeans young and old. In Auckland where I live, the mayor has announced a programme of remembrance, which includes funding for memorials, museum exhibitions and events. New Zealand – and likely Australia too – are preparing themselves for a momentous occasion.
While interest and participation in ANZAC Day has grown, there has always been discomfort with the notion of defining nationhood in terms of military sacrifice. Amongst other things, it highlights the way different conflicts have been perceived – something that’s central to the beautiful and moving installation, Strange Fruit, by Turtle Donna Sarten, currently at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington.
I’ve written about this installation in another blog, so won’t repeat myself here except to say that Strange Fruit consists of 3890 military dog tags; each of which has been hand-inscribed with the name of one of the New Zealanders who served in Vietnam during the period 1964-72.
Unlike in earlier conflicts, Vietnam veterans did not return home to parades celebrating their sacrifice. They experienced the embarrassment, silence and sometimes hostility of a public which had comprehensively turned against the war. In New Zealand, veterans have lobbied tirelessly for recognition not only of their service, but even more importantly, of the physical and psychological damage they suffered – including exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange and PTSD.
In the stillness of a stark white gallery, Donna Sarten has invited visitors to contemplate war and sacrifice and remembrance, through the lens of a recent conflict that in many ways divided this country as much as World War One united it, and perhaps re-defined our sense of nationhood as much as Gallipoli originally formed it.