Whether ‘Tis April or November…Just Remember.
“Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.”
Taken from the poem “1914” by Rupert Brooke.
These words were written by a soldier poet. But he did not die on the field of battle. He in fact died from sepsis as the result of a mosquito bite he had received some time earlier. The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve passed away peacefully on a French Hospital ship one afternoon. There was little time to mourn him and far less time to waste. The expedition he was part of could not send his remains home much less communicate swiftly with his family. They were under orders to depart immediately and so Rupert Brooke was buried six hours after his death in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. The date was the 23rd of April 1915 and the planned destination of the expedition – Gallipoli.
This is the time of year that we would observe the Armistice. That very end to the Great War “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. It is the Remembrance Day that all of the Commonwealth observes but as a New Zealander, even in November when I see the shirts of Twickenham punters smarting their poppies, I can’t help but think of Anzac Day. While the Remembrance Day takes center stage in the likes of England and Canada, it was the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign that rings so loudly with Australians and New Zealanders. It’s because it’s a defining moment in our history. It’s not just another battle in a global campaign. It is quoted as “birth of national consciousness” and that’s what it was. If we had been suckling at the teet of tired monarchy based institutions then the weaning occurred in a moment. For although Gallipoli was to become an eight month long campaign and doomed to fail there is a sense that from the moment our troops landed on that Byzantine peninsula we found our place in the world and did a whole lot of growing up. I think we had little choice.
I saw a photo my wife had taken in London as part of a recent work trip. She had captured the thousands of ceramic poppies that surround the Tower of London which were placed there to represent the Great War’s fallen Commonwealth soldiers. With that image I was taken back to the dawn service that is held every year at the cenotaph in the Auckland Domain on the 25th of April. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 888,246 war dead for the U.K and Colonies. 80,000 were ANZACS. For obvious reasons it is our first true hardship of the war that we remember and not the call for ceasefire. When the centenary for Gallipoli comes round next year I imagine there will be a large and poignant tribute. It would be some pilgrimage to be part of…and then some.