Why do we glorify Anzac Day?

What do North Hobart and the Adelaide Crows have in common? Well they happen to be the only two clubs in Australia who have club footballs in the primary school at Villers Bretonneau.  There are three other footballs there – all the mighty Sherrin. Other significant features such as the Victoria Café, Rue de Melbourne, and the sister town relationship with Robinvale all suggest that this town has a great link with Victoria.

Anzac Day at Villers B saw us rising at 2.50am to make sure we received a good seat.  Shades of the G on the night before the big one. Like the G crowd there is a great sense of enthusiasm and expectation.  Expectation of the occasion – what is it about VB  that makes it such a poignant event? What is all the enthusiasm about? How does it engender visitations by so many Australians?

To me VB (what an acronym for an Australian digger!) epitomises the making of THE nation more than Anzac Cove and the battle there in 1915. My theory is below.

Why is it that we glorify a defeat?  To me that is un Australian.  We glorify victory in every other sphere (think America’s Cup) – in fact one could say we even go overboard so why do we glorify what was a complete disaster?  Surely our ability to conduct and win and show concern about our own casualties was more of a nation building event than a massive defeat engineered by the cavalry-trained pompous British generals.  We did it for the King but was it for our country that was being built by second and third Australian born?

This was a question asked by many in the bitter wind at the service at VB.  The temperature was about zero.  When you consider that 460,000 Australians were lost in the Western Front and we had some magnificent victories that were guided by Monash et al surely this is the significant step in the making of a nation.

The people at VB believe that without the Australians their town and their individual lives would have been lost. Whilst not making the makings of the nation surely this would be regarded as more significant for a young people than losing a battle that was not of our making?

Between 4450 and 5000 people attended the service at VB and it is gaining momentum which positively proves the enormity of the Western Front as a place in the history of Australia.  Because VB is so significant  in the lives of so many Australians  perhaps it is time that the education systems of the various states  decided on an education program for our younger generation to realise the importance of places such as VB, Fromelles, Hamel, Passchendaele.  For the Queenslanders it is already in place.

Although it was minus degrees we did not feel the cold because of the importance of the occasion and the involvement of so many young Australians in the service itself.  Students from all States took part.

“Wots the score?” The most favoured sentence on our return to VB after the ceremony.  We were greeted at the door of the Victoria Café by an Australian tourist who said “Bloody Collingwood won by a point”.  We were on a high to then but such is the significance of our great game anywhere in the world during the season that any news of a Collingwood defeat is greeted with delight. Those of us who attended this service will also remember who won the Anzac day match as well. Such is the power of our game.  As an aside did you know that 67 Australian Rules players were killed during the Great War?  I read it in a book at VB.

For many people in our party the moment was poignant in the fact that they had lost family members 94 years ago. Grandfathers, Great uncles were all up there on the honour board which is the backdrop to the Memorial.

Good old Australian traditions at the end of the service, where we were given tea and coffee and a croissant to ward away the cold and talk more about the significance of the Western Front to us Australians.

I believe the more people that visit VB and the surrounding areas the more we will enhance the importance of the Western Front to future generations.

I have been to see my Grandfather’s name on the honour board as one of the unknown soldiers. I am at peace.

About Bob Utber

At 75 years of age, 'Citrus Bob' Utber is doing what he wanted to do as a 14-year old: writing, talking and watching sport. How good is that!?! He lives in Mildura with his wife and 'furry kids'; a labradoodle "Freddy Flintoff" and a groodle named "Chloe on Flinders".

Comments

  1. Terrific piece, Bob. The achievements of Monash and the AIF at Hamel and Amiens were pivotal in breaking the stalemate on the Western Front and bringing WW1 to an end. Logically that is more worth celebrating than a defeat like Gallipoli.
    But we all know examples in our own life where sentiment and emotion outweigh logic. I am not enough of a historian to know the original reasons for the choice of the Gallipoli landing as the date for Anzac Day. My guess is that it was because it was the first rather than the best. At Gallipoli the ANZAC’s played a lead role, whereas on the Western Front they were one among many. Though Monash is widely regarded as the best General on any side in WW1.
    One factual correction – “From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.” (Australian War Memorial website).
    Your Crows won for you, even though the Bombers fell short. Thanks for your insights.

  2. Dear Bob, thanks for that piece. It was moving, thoughtful and reminds me to come that way next time I am in France.

    Yvette

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