ANZAC Day 2020

ANZAC: soldiers from the  Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Today is Anzac Day and it is probably a very subdued one given the state of the world at this point in time. It 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“. 

Observed on 25 April each year, Anzac Day was originally devised to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who served in the Gallipoli Campaign, their first engagement in the First World War (1914–1918).  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anzac_Day).

ANZAC Memorial in Weymouth

The ANZAC Forces left their mark in Gallipoli, with 8,709 from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand sacrificing their lives in what was a disaster from the start. However, this disaster did not ruin the fighting prowess of the ANZAC’s in future conflicts and they left their mark wherever they fought. The courage of those soldiers from the Southern Hemisphere is the stuff of legend, and in Australia and New Zealand they are commemorated with pride. 

At the Kemal Atatürk Memorial in Canberra, the following words are attributed to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and they pay tribute to the Anzacs and reflects his understanding of the cost of war: 

“Those heroes that 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 here 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 bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
 

I do not have any ANZAC ancestry, but by a quirk of fate I adopted one. Many years ago while visiting Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol I photographed the newly relaid ledger stones that were originally placed on the graves of the men buried in “Soldiers Corner”.

Unfortunately over the years some of the stones were damaged and all were removed in the 1920’s. Renewed interest in the First World War saw the stones replaced on the graves but unfortunately many were missing and irreparably damaged.  The CWGC then restored the plot in 2018 and it was unveiled later in the year. One of the newly replaced ledger stones was for Private William Walker A.I.F and it was decided that the unveiling of his new grave marker would be used as an occasion to re-open the newly restored Soldier’s Corner.   I was fortunate enough to be able to see the new plot and meet with some of his family that I had corresponded with through the Lives of the First World War project.  Pte Walker is now one of “mine” too and I have added a poppy to commemorate him at the Australian War Memorial Virtual Wall of Remembrance.

You can read about the occasion in the blogpost that I made for the unveiling

As we face a world wide pandemic it is worth remembering that many of the men and women that were in the forces would loose their lives in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and over 100 years later we are facing a similar pandemic, although so far it has not as severe as the Spanish Flu was. 

And while ANZAC Day is really about Australia and New Zealand, it is commemorated around the world in recognition of the terrible price that we pay for war, and that as veterans we are all connected irrespective of whether we are ANZAC, Canadian, British, Indian, Muslim, American or Ugandan. 

DRW © 2020. Created 25/04/2020

Cannock Chase War Cemeteries

Following my visit to Burntwood, we decided to drive down to Cannock Chase War Cemetery, as well as The German Military  Cemetery  close by. The CWGC has a very informative information board at the cemetery,  and it is well worth reading it to gain some sort of context to the two cemeteries.

What makes this cemetery unique is that the majority of allied troops in it are New Zealanders, a number of whom succumbed to the Spanish Flu in 1918. There are also the graves of 286 Germans who died in Brocton Internment Camp and Hospital.

Like all CWGC military cemeteries, it is a study in linearity and order, and the alignment of the graves always fascinates me.
It is strange though to walk in a cemetery were there are so many men from both sides, and at the end of the day, when the war ended, their ideological differences were of no more consequence. 
I walked the rows, photographing as I did. Unfortunately the weather kept on changing as dark clouds covered the sun each time I wanted to take images, so my pics do vary in consistency.
The major difference between a the German and Allied forces is that while the headstones may look the same, they differ in the shape of the top of the stone, as well as the amount of detail on the stone.
Having taken my pics I was now ready to head towards the German Military Cemetery just a bit further up the path.  This cemetery is uniquely German, and is the first I have ever seen. The next closest one would be in Continental Europe.  
It was very difficult to get a sense of the cemetery as we arrived shortly before it closed, so I really only had a bit of time to dash around and grab pics without straying too far from the exit.

There were a number of aspects of this cemetery that I must mention, the first is the Zeppelin memorial that commemorates the crews of SL11 (03/09/1916), L32 (24/09/1916), L31 (02/10/1916) and L48 (17/06/1917) .

The other aspect that interested me was the “Hall of Honour” with the statue of “The Fallen Warrior”, sculpted by the eminent German sculptor, Professor Hans Wimmer. It is a powerful piece, and there is something stark and dismal about this space. It almost has an abandoned look about it, or maybe that was the intention?

 Then it was time to visit the graves. There are 2143 World War One burials here, and 2786 from World War Two.

The cemetery is quite a large space, with the two sets of war dead separated by a sunken walkway, each headstone generally has 4 names on it, two per side, or sometimes 3.

In the case above the one is an unknown soldier, and there are a number of unknowns buried in the cemetery too. The stones are of a Belgian granite, with white engraving, and these give the cemetery a very stark feel about it. This place was very different to the CWGC cemetery I had visited earlier.

The picture was very different on the the next day when we went to visit. It was cold and grey and the light levels were low, making the cemetery a sad and poignant place. Inside my mind I kept on hearing the words from a traditional lament from the German Armed Forces: Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden (“I had a comrade”), (that piece may be heard on Youtube). It was an odd feeling though, almost as if there was a lot of sadness and loss associated with this quiet place.

Then it was time to head to our next destination; RAF Cosford, where many of the aircraft that had fought against this foe were on display to those who came to see them, and of course there were also aircraft that some of these men may have flown. Many of those buried here are aircrew from the bomber raids. 

I believe that a ceremony of Remembrance is regularly held, although it does not draw as many as a CWGC service does. But I know people come here because every here and there was a bouquet, or a poppy, a sign that while the dead lay in foreign fields they are always close to the heart of those who mourn their loss.

The question is: do I feel the same way about this cemetery as I do for the many CWGC cemeteries that I visit? It is a difficult question because of the way the war was conducted, and there is an element of “who was the winner and who was the loser?” But at the same time, I feel a lot of sadness for these men, just as I do for the soldiers of the Dominions who are buried far from home, or for the nurses that travelled to hospitals to perform their duty, or the men of the SANLC who died when the Mendi was sunk. At the end of the day they all had hopes and dreams, possibly family, or a puppy, they were humans, and they are no more, and for that alone, they deserve to be remembered. This cemetery was probably the most different war cemetery I have ever seen. It will remain with me for a long time.

 
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