Each new generation has had its own take on Anzac Day. The twists and turns have been numerous, not unlike the nature of the saga that unfolded at Gallipoli after the Anzacs invaded that rugged piece of Turkish coastline. Happily, on the 100th anniversary of that landing, we are probably closer than ever to recognising the real significance of Anzac Day.
First and foremost, it is about the individual stories and sacrifices of those who fought and died for this country. The children who will march tomorrow proudly wearing the medals of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers will be honouring those men who responded when their country called.
Other generations have had different perspectives. At times, Anzac Day threatened to become irrelevant. Many soldiers returning from the two great global conflicts of the 20th century turned their backs on anything to do with war. The euphoria that had accompanied their departure for the theatres of war was a bitter memory. Many of another generation, which reached adulthood during the Vietnam War, chose to make Anzac Day a symbol of militarism. Yet another, more benignly, elected to bind what happened at Gallipoli to the building of nationhood.
Each of these strands of thought has some truth to it. The sacrifice of those who fought and died at Gallipoli and later in a war that was manifestly avoidable raises questions about patriotism. But not to the extent of diminishing service to country so willingly undertaken. The campaign may also have played a part in nation-building through an instilling of pride and unity, though not as much as has sometimes been portrayed. Underpinning everything, however, is an ever-growing regard for the New Zealanders who did not hesitate to commit to their country's cause. The hardships each endured for this selflessness and the sacrifice of many will, rightly, be the focus tomorrow.
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It is something of a paradox that as the years of peace since those great conflicts have lengthened, so the interest in Anzac Day and what it stands for has intensified. At the same time, interest in the Gallipoli campaign has grown. Central to this is the question of whether the sacrifice of the Anzacs was always bound to be in vain.
The answer is readily apparent to anyone who has stood on Chunuk Bair, as New Zealand soldiers did during the crowning achievement of the campaign. Controlling that ground opened the way to the seizure of the Dardanelles, the free passage of the British Navy to Constantinople, and the elimination of Turkey from the conflict. A sea route for supplying Russia, Britain's ally, would have been opened, and there would no longer be the threat to the Russians of a further Turkish offensive in the Caucasus. Winston Churchill's plan was, therefore, a well enough reasoned attempt to circumvent the stalemate on the Western Front.
The problem lay in the execution. But that was never the fault of those individuals who fought and died there. Their commitment was unwavering. Regard for and recognition of that has never been stronger than now, 100 years on.