Today is ANZAC Day. I thought I should explain that for aussiehunter’s growing international readership. ANZAC Day is special for Aussies and Kiwis. The name ANZAC come from the military forces raised to aid Great Britain in WWI – The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The genesis of ANZAC Day was the horrific loss of life and maiming arising from that war and, in particular, the disastrous military operation at Gallipoli.
Why do Aussies and Kiwis pay such attention to a century-old military disaster? ANZAC Day is not a celebration or glorification of war. Not a bit. It is the heartfelt demonstration of respect for all those who served and sacrificed in all conflicts up to the present day.
Appropriately, the idea of ANZAC Day began as a simple grass-roots movement by a few people in the years following the end of WWI. One of the key figures in that, but by no means the only one, was Padre White who today is seen as the face of that initiative.
In a nation still grieving the tremendous loss of life and terrible suffering of those who returned home forever maimed by what they had witnessed, the idea of paying respect for that sacrifice took root in the community. Within a few years, as the number of people attending the new dawn service grew and grew, the politicians suddenly claimed it and the day became organised on a national level. The originators, like Padre White, quickly faded into the background and obscurity.
However, I am proud to say that, in the small country cemetery of the village of Herberton, we have the grave of Rev Arthur Ernest White. His wish, after a lifetime of devotion and service, was to be buried with a gravestone that simply states “A Priest”. That wish has been honoured but, next to the well-kept grave, a small plaque alerts visitors to just who the priest was. Each year, there are little unofficial gatherings of people keen to pay their respects to Padre White, none so fitting as on ANZAC Day. The photograph of the Reverend’s grave was taken on the afternoon of ANZAC Day some years ago. The shadow of his simple headstone throws a long shadow on the grave, which seems appropriate.
Today, with the CV-19 lockdown of our communities there were no organised gatherings for the ANZAC Day dawn service. However, in homes and streets all over our nations, people gathered everywhere in small, isolated groups in the pre-dawn darkness to pay their respects, as they have always done. It is wonderful to see such a demonstration of deeply embedded community feeling demonstrated in the need to show respect. Just like those early ceremonies in the years after WWI, the community does not need the politicians and generals to tell it how to do that.
LEST WE FORGET