Anzac Day 2009 Dawn Service
Address delivered by Chaplain Collin Acton, RAN at the Anzac Day Dawn service, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
As we gather in this solemn place, the cradle of our national soul, and we wait and watch for the first rays of light and warmth to push away the darkness, we call to mind the great and terrible sacrifice made by Commonwealth and Turkish forces during the nine month campaign at the Dardanelles.
In the dark hours immediately preceding the landing at Gallipoli, the noted War Historian C.E.W. Bean wrote,
“It’s a great gamble, the whole thing really... and a lot of Australians - boys who began their life on the Murray or in a backyard in Wagga or Bourke or Surry Hills will be left lying in Turkey...”
You can hear Bean draw breath as he goes on to say,
“Some of the positions tomorrow I believe have to be taken, and “taken at all costs.”
And it cost...
nearly 2000 men in the first twenty-four hours.
You can hear the horror of this in the words of a 3rd Brigade soldier who wrote these words to describe the scene that confronted him at the landing beach,
“Oh God, the sight of the dead and wounded absolutely covering the little sandy beach, there is an enormous staff of medical men there but it is absolutely impossible for them to attend to all so that many a life expires on the beach for want of looking after.”
This morning - we remember with pride and deep sadness, the very great human cost of that campaign to Australia and to our friends across the Tasman in New Zealand.
We are struck by these young Anzacs, their extraordinary courage, cheerfulness, loyalty and good humour as they contended with constant shelling, rifle shot, shortages of rations and water, disease and death.
We are also mindful that for every one of these dear young men who struggled, suffered and died, there was waiting at home a mother, father, perhaps a wife and children, for others a sweetheart, brother or sister and friends. This is the other face of attrition in war. Those waiting at home for news of a loved one, fussing and worrying, caring and crying, endlessly searched the casualty lists and steeling themselves for the arrival of ‘that’ feared telegram.
Friends, this is an important time to pause and consider the price of conflict and war - not only at Gallipoli 94 years ago but right up to our present time. This cost is borne not only by those who do the fighting, but also it is a cost to those who wait at home and it is a cost to those who at the highest levels commit our troops to war.
This morning is also an important time to pause and reflect on what this commemoration means for us and a nation.
If you were to take a few moments to look around you, you will notice that we are a diverse group of people who have gathered here this morning. We’re tall and short, male and female, indigenous Australians, from convict and free settler descent, or recently arrived, from a multitude of places. Some of us are religious some are not - but we are all here, standing in the dark and cold. Yet even as we stand here in this darkness and the cold waiting for the day to break, we sense that there is something special in this moment, something precious and sacred in this liminal space.
The story of Anzac touches a deep part in all of us. It is a story of sacrificial living and giving and loving, and it resonates deep within the human soul.
The good humour and cheerfulness of the Anzac digger even in the midst of terrible suffering and hardship is good and noble. The courage and compassion of both the Turks and the ANZACs seems fitting and right but these are more than examples of how good people ought to conduct themselves in adversity.
In the midst of that terrible savagery and human suffering we catch a glimpse of something so powerful that is able to transfigure the awfulness of that grubby, disorganised carnage.
The Anzac story resonates with a powerful underlying drama of the great religious story. The precious thread of sacrifice, love and hope are woven right through the Anzac story.
Jesus once said to his friends, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This is a powerful word and it challenges us to put aside the mere self-interest and ‘me first attitude’ of modern life. It asks us to willingly give, even when we know that we wont get something in return. It speaks of the possibility of a better way of being men and women in community. It highlights what is good and true and right as we consider the shape of our nation in the years that lay ahead.
We see glimpses of this selflessness all around us. We can see it in the faces of our sailors, soldiers and air men currently on operation overseas and in Australia. We see it in the faces of our indigenous peoples who in spite of 200 years of struggle and hardship, continue to graciously offer the right hand of friendship. We see it in the self giving and selfless love of those who bind up the wounds in our community. We saw it in the faces and actions of countless fire fighters, emergency service workers and a multitude of support people who opened their homes and lives to assist fellow Australians during recent bush fires and floods.
Friends, the Anzac story invites us to make this rich and bold heritage part of our own story, to add this depth and history of loving and giving to our own lives as we seek to live and work for the common good of our community.
As we honour those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, so too we ought to honour and serve Him who gave his life that we might be set free from the clutches of our last great enemy – even death itself.
For those who died and to Him who loves us,
Whether in stormy seas or calm,
whether in the face of an enemy or friend,
may God your Creator, your Redeemer and Sustainer,
be the truth on which your life and death are built,
your hope that cannot be destroyed,
your freedom from which love and justice flow
and the joy that has eternity within it.
May peace be with you and those you love and care for,
now and for always.
Chaplain Collin Acton, RAN