Anzac Day - Simpson Prize 2014
Lack of sleep and the enormity of the day yesterday has prevented the blog going up earlier. It is always a unique experience when taking a bunch of teenagers to an event like this. Each year they critically examine their experience and all bring their own perspective. Commemoration is powerful but it also resonates in different ways for people. I am always fascinated to see how our Simpson Prize winners react, and even more so the ensuing debates on the long bus ride to Istanbul. The greatest comfort is that the debates, no matter the opinions, mean that these young people are thinking, evaluating and finding their relevance to the Anzac story. That relevance and understanding is the future of the Anzac story and how future generations will connect this legacy to other conflicts.
Of all of my experiences on the Peninsula the dawn service was perhaps the most isolating acts of commemoration. As I walked through the Beach Cemetery on my first afternoon at Gallipoli I felt connected, for the first time in my life, to these soldiers. Turkey had always been a distant place in my mind; to be honest through most of primary school I probably wouldn't have been surprised if I had been told that it was in the middle of Russia immediately adjacent to a nuclear testing facility for stuffed rabbits. As a nine year old it never occurred to be that the ANZAC landing was an invasion. I'm not proud of this, but these soldiers always seemed so distant, particularly the Turkish soldiers. I'd just go back to drawing some 'reflective' picture about a place I couldn't even spell. But when I stepped onto that beach for the first time my steps slowed and as I saw the first grave marker one thing caught my eye, that 'man' in the ground was 22. That's how old my brothers are. What made this kid lying in the ground any different to my brothers, apart from the childish insistence that this just wouldn't happen - not to my family anyway? I placed my first cross at this grave. At that Dawn Service, however, I felt distant from the experiences of these soldiers.
At 1:30am when we arrived, the stadium-style commemoration space was like a tray of fish fingers, packed with young Australians and New Zealanders in their yellow sleeping bags. The Dawn Service was a unique experience that I have definitely benefited from, but it is not how I will view commemoration any more. As I walked through these cemeteries I realised that each of these names was attached to a community - not in the stereotyped way that everyone had a gal back home to fight and die for and was happy to die, because some of them just didn't, but in a way that allowed me to view each of the deaths as ripples within our society. Each ripple continued to affect and influence lives, even those of people living today who had never met these soldiers as became apparent on this trip. Some of these people, I believe, found comfort in pilgrimaging to that service for their own personal reasons and I definitely enjoyed being at the Dawn Service and participating, but an organised act of public grief just didn't ring true of my own experiences. These soldiers were all real people and they were all imperfect so to me, in the same way I found the legend failed to tell the story of every soldier, I found that that these services detracted from the soldiers as humans themselves.
From this point we must chose our own reason to remember, as these services enabled me. If anything I encourage people to research the stories of a handful of ANZACs, to reach further through the pages of history books and grab the hand of a digger, perhaps even a relative, and pull their story into the next century of ANZAC legacy. 'To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die'
Lest We Forget,
Emily Leggitt (Queensland)