Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: This Anzac Day

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  • B Jones,

    My daughter's doing Anzac Day at school - last night I found a copy of her great great great uncle's photo and service record, and printed it off for her. A 26 year old former architect, he was in the Ambulance Corp (I think) and at Gallipoli from the start to the finish, after which he was sent to the Western Front. That having not finished the job, he "committed suicide due to temporary insanity" in 1918. This is for him:

    I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.

    In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you'll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.

    Siegfried Sassoon: Suicide in the Trenches

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Ianmac,

    Not to mention that Britain wouldn't have enabled a rather obnoxious group of religious zealots to take power in the Arabian peninsula.

    I'd imagine the Ottoman Empire would have collapsed at some point in the 20th century though, with substantial ructions given the huge area of land (and oil) they controlled.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I felt an unexpected surge of pride in celebrating ANZAC day (I'd just pinned on a poppy) when Checkpoint announced the 'Anzac of the year' was Louise Nicholas. Came out of left field, but if that's what the RSA et al really want to celebrate this year, I'm pretty bloody pleased.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    there were also iwi, disposessed of their land, their populations already ravaged, who wanted no part of the Empire’s war, and Maori who absconded from conscription for the same reason.

    Rua Kenana - 1916 was notable for the armed invasion of the Urewara :(

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Just thinking,

    Had a wee read of The Neglected War about our invasion of Samoa. What a drunken shambles. Stole the treasury and drunk the proceeds, canned Germans without trial, stole their businesses but then let the crops rot. Imprisoning Samoan wives & mothers with infants for staying with her Chinese husband. And then the flu.
    Onward Christian Soldier marching as to ....

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1158 posts Report Reply

  • Mike O'Connell,

    In Dunedin, there's a great exhibition Rule of Law and War at the univeristy's law library, a special display highlighting interesting legal matters of contemporary relevance.

    Worth having a deeper read on just how extreme was NZ law’s reaction to the First World War in Andrew Geddis' post on Pundit, Lest We Forget (cross-posted from the University of Otago Law Library) - the forced conscription, jail for sedition and heavy restrictions on 'enemy aliens'. Even visiting the pub was no easy matter.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 385 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Attachment

    One of the commercialisations that really got my goat was this one. And to top it off, they’re made in bloody Belgium.

    [edit] Oh, yes, the man on the cover is wearing an American uniform as well.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to ,

    I still maintain that the treaty of Waitangi, is New Zealand’s real foundation for nationhood. Not the sacrificing of young men to the empire.

    True. The one good thing to come out of the failure at Gallipoli was that NZ & Australia started demanding from London a bigger say in their affairs.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Jenny Kirk,

    " But there were also iwi, disposessed of their land, their populations already ravaged, who wanted no part of the Empire’s war, and Maori who absconded from conscription for the same reason." .......
    Yes - and some of those iwi (Tainui in particular) were jailed at North Head (Takapuna) for years because their leaders at the time (Princess Te Puia for one) said they had no business to be fighting in this British War. There is no commemoration to their brave stand. That is also a part of NZ's history which continues to be ignored.

    Northland • Since Sep 2013 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    People use the word 'sacrifice' a lot to refer to the war dead. The defining feature of true sacrifices, to me, is that they achieve nothing. No one says that though.

    (I've spent yesterday and today sitting through rehearsals for tomorrow's ceremonies in Wellington. If I'd known how cartoonish parts of it would be, well, I still might have come - I'm comfortable with my own remembrance - but I would have been more prepared for the cognitive dissonance.)

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Interesting Checkpoint interview just now with the Australian author of Anzac's Long Shadow. Staggeringly, the Abbott government is spending $300 million on this year's extravaganza.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    I felt an unexpected surge of pride in celebrating ANZAC day (I’d just pinned on a poppy) when Checkpoint announced the ‘Anzac of the year’ was Louise Nicholas. Came out of left field, but if that’s what the RSA et al really want to celebrate this year, I’m pretty bloody pleased.

    Yes. I heard that and thought, well, that's a good thing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to James Butler,

    People use the word ‘sacrifice’ a lot to refer to the war dead. The defining feature of true sacrifices, to me, is that they achieve nothing. No one says that though.

    Every statistical casualty can be converted to political capital. In declaring himself to be a pacifist on ABC radio a few years back the Australian poet Les Murray explained that it was because he didn't believe in "human sacrifice". To illustrate his point he offered that "Even a crappy old idea like Britannia can start to look pretty good if you pile up enough dead bodies around it".

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    An Aussie lad-mag hijacks Anzac for a bikini cover.

    *headdesk*

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    I struggle with all the aspects of ANZAC day and the way we view war itself. So much is boys own heroism. So much clinical analysis of strategy and tactics and weaponry and ...

    And I'm fascinated by much of that as well.

    But my father served in the Dutch army during WWII and I know almost nothing about his experiences. Except the very gaps tell a story, not a fun exciting boys own story.

    And I've read and seen enough first-hand accounts to know those who experienced war hated everything about war, including what it did to them. Nothing of that history is jolly boys own.

    Yeah the last 100 years is complex. There is no straight line from then to now. And what we know now about that time is no less complex.

    I do still feel the strength of lest we forget. I do still get the sense that those who experienced war never want anyone else to have to suffer that. The idea that we should only ever send our young men and women to war as the very very last resort is still there.

    But somehow today's ANZAC doesn't feel right. Yet again politicians are sending our young into a war we don't really understand, being led by commanders we barely know. Have we actually forgotten?

    The night before and I'm still not sure if we'll go to the dawn service.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I think it’s also true that the official messaging of 2015 has smoothed out the century since into something far less complex than it really was.

    I've never felt that connected to the "official messaging", but that might have more to do with the way Anzac Day actually went down in our house. I remember spending my childhood getting up in the dark, remembering to be very careful not to do anything to annoy my father whose sadness was like a fog. And which he never, ever talked about.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    An Aussie lad-mag hijacks Anzac for a bikini cover.

    I'm sure the Veterans Affairs Minister in a Government that slashed the VA budget by $100 million and announced plans to further cut veteran pensions last year will be suitably outraged,

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    Russell asked me to post my tweets, so here they are.

    My great-grandfather, George "Sonny" Skerrett, Gallipoli survivor, interviewed for the occasion of his 100th birthday in 1992:

    "Ashore, it was frightful. Terrible.... The Turks applied for the armistice to bury the dead. I went out with four doctors, couldn't do much for them, just bandage them. There were 4000 Turks buried that day, I never saw anything like it in all my life. I cried all day, all afternoon, I couldn't stop. Six of my mates, we did everything together, swum and played tennis, they were all out there dead. I looked for them but never found them. Some of the bodies had been lying out there for over a month, and they just fell to pieces in the 100 degree heat.... We were shelled continuously, shrapnel shells falling on both sides. Why I never got hit I'll never know. I still remember the beach. There were a couple of thousand men lying there in all shapes and sizes and forms, all wounded and sick.... We could only treat a certain number of them. The badly wounded, they'd say, you go and find someone else to look after, and they just lay there and died.... I still think about Gallipoli quite a bit. It accomplished nothing.... War's terrible, everybody loses. The only ones who win are the people who make the bombs and shells and the bullets."

    Because, as a family, we knew how Sonny felt about his experiences, it's this sort of deep regret, sadness and anger that I've also always felt during Anzac Day. I hope that isn't changing to any great extent. I was given great pause by the "Flanders Fields Commemorative" chocolates I saw today, asking if they were made with mud, terror and amputated limbs. Gah.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    But my father served in the Dutch army during WWII and I know almost nothing about his experiences. Except the very gaps tell a story, not a fun exciting boys own story.

    A good mate started giving me (via facebook messages) stories of his family's lives during wartime in Holland. Absolutely remarkable - horrific in so many ways. I hadn't realised how many people starved in WW2 (more than died in combat).
    The last 6 months - when the outcome was not in doubt - in Holland were the most terrible. His dad didn't talk about it, but one of his uncles did.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I’m surprised Aldi didn’t jump on that bandwagon as well.

    Also, the use of war to sell stuff has gone on as long as we've had wars:

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Danielle,

    I was given great pause by the “Flanders Fields Commemorative” chocolates I saw today, asking if they were made with mud, terror and amputated limbs. Gah.

    I find the day similarly conflicting. My granddad was toe-tagged as dead during the Passchendaele campaign, serving with the 1st Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Only reason he made it out to become my granddad (or anyone’s granddad for that matter) is because his brother, also serving, asked a medic if he could take his brother’s body out of the trenches once the wounded were all taken care of – so that he could have a proper burial. Turns out he was breathing when unloaded from the ambulance and the rest is history.

    That’s the only bit we were ever told about – how his brother saved him. And beyond that – he took no questions either.

    My husband’s father served from 1939-1945 in the New Zealand Army – two deployments to Europe, then in the Pacific. He’s passed now too and out of respect, we never asked for details because he never offered them, even though he was highly ranked and decorated. When he passed, although he never participated in one ANZAC commemoration (that we know of) and was not active in the RSA – NZ’s most famous RSA piper at the time turned up and played at his funeral.

    We are sad everyday of the year for all those touched by war. Even more sad this year, given NZ has just announced that we have joined yet another war on foreign soil – a war for which our PM doesn’t even know the name of the opposition leader.

    Lest we forget .. rings very hollow to us. And that makes us even sadder.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to nzlemming,

    The Belgians actually had two world wars in their country (without provoking them in any way). They're still digging up mustard gas. Aren't they entitled to sell a few chocolates?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    That may have been the case when you were a lad, but on our recent stay in the UK we were shocked and pretty horrified at how obsessed with WW2 the UK appeared to be.
    As far as I could tell, this suited the ends of the State very well. First, there were all the attempts to recreate the sense of “all in it together"-ness of WW2, as some sort of “isn’t this GFC jolly” thing. Thus all the "Make Do and Mend", "Dig for Britain", and all the "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters.

    The language was hideous. All of it was “… for Heroes”. So there was “Help for Heroes”, “Hounds for Heroes” (I thought this was some charity that arranged for returned soldiers to get retired greyhounds, but now I come to look it up, I find it’s slightly better, in that it provides assistance dogs to returned soldiers with disabilities), and, more locally (we were living on the edge of an Air Force village in Buckinghamshire, so doubtless got more exposure than most) the Horses, Hounds and Heroes Family Fun Day. Yes, really.

    I suspect the UK's WW2 obsession has more to do with national myth and a yearning for a simpler time of national solidarity than it does anything else. The 70 years since the end of WW2 have mostly been marked by loss of global power and influence, internal civil division, and extended periods of economic gloom.

    It's not coincidence that the popularity of 'keep calm and carry on' exploded around the time The City imploded and took the economy with it, and all the politicians stood around the hole, lost for words and looking like the exposed powerless incompetent idiots they mostly are. I don't think 'the state' really drove it at all.

    I saw Paul Mason talk in 2012, after the riots, and just before the jubilee celebrations and the start of the olympics. He mused that he considered that things might 'get interesting' around those times, implying that there might be some sort of renewed flare-up of civil disorder. As it turns out, he was 180 degrees wrong, and both events actually worked more to 'solidarity' the country than otherwise. However, it will be interesting to see how things work out this year with the election and all: The Kippers are on the rise, and Scotland is looking somewhat unsettled.

    As for “… for Heroes”. These charities were set up when it became clear that the standard of care provided for badly-wounded and disabled returning servicemen and women was absolutely inadequate. It never quite became a front-page national disgrace, mainly because the right-wing press were never inclined to join the necessary dots, but they're basically filling a hole the the state can't/won't.

    There were sustained attempts by politicians here in the UK to hijack the WW1 centenary last year and turn it in a more jingoistic direction, but fortunately they mostly failed.

    You're right that there are troubling signs: the military toys in the shops seem to be aimed at younger children than I remember from my youth, and are more 'real', than they are fantasy/historical (it ain't robots and aliens who are the villains...). But I don't really see how an air base open day is different to the Navy base open day I went to in Devonport a few years back.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    In Oz as a young lad, we had remembrance day on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, because it was funny to keep shooting people for a few more days and hours until it came to a tidy number.

    The story we got told was of the troops having the first Christmas truce, and then not being allowed to again because it was bad for morale to learn the "enemy" were just scared young kids like yourselves. That men don't actually want war at all, from the first moment they have to live it. That it's only fear and ignorance makes people fight. Rather red teachers union in Victoria, all too many relatives names on the town war memorial.

    But it's all much worse than that in reality. We conscripted 18 year olds to invade countries on the far side of the planet, then had them run at machine guns and left the resulting corpses to rot in the mud. They didn't even have helmets for a start, because a nice hat was cheaper. It was disease killed most of them, because they had to live in an open sewer, and everyone had trench-foot and lice that constantly itched and hurt.

    But the thing they talk about, it's the boredom. War is the same faces, the same food, the same tiny bit of trench or same tent when you're rotated out, nothing to talk about, nothing to do. You wait for weeks, or months, the odd person you vaguely knew getting blown to bits, and then you kill some people who look just like you and your mates, and then they make you do it over again. In WWI, the people it broke, wandering about asking how to get home, we shot them as cowards.


    The soldiers didn't make a sacrifice, the country sacrificed all those young men for the glory of the British Empire. To run at machine guns until they ran out of ammunition, which the central powers finally did late in 1918.

    Since Nov 2006 • 611 posts Report Reply

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