Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand. It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I. Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.
At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations, engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:
We are the ANZAC Army
We cannot shoot, we don’t salute
What bloody good are we ?
And when we get to Ber – Lin
The Kaiser, he will say
Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !
What a bloody odd lot
to get six bob a day.
By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs. At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price. Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II. American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.
A century ago the first peacetime Anzac Day was observed. With the pride of victory there was also the sadness of loss and a determination that the ANZAC dead who had fallen in the War would not be forgotten, and they have not been. Gratitude is one of the noblest of human impulses, just as ingratitude is one of the most ignoble, and gratitude to war dead is a reminder of these facts.