Anzac Day. Here's Aussie curmudgeon Xavier Herbert writing about it back in 1975, in his great (if flawed) novel Poor Fellow My Country. A little long, but it's worth it to read Herbert flay flag-wavy phony patriotics to the bone (wonder if Johnny Howard and our currently-obeying-Prime-Minister-Murdoch little Abbottoir have ever read this book):
And there at length it was that Day of All Days to the Australian Nation, Anzac Day. The Christ may have been born on December 25 and died on the first Friday after the Full Moon that falls on or next after March 21; Captain Cook may have first set eyes on the continent called Terra Australis on April 29 and renamed it New Wales and the property of King George III of England; Captain Phillip may have landed with his lags to found the Nation on January 26; the Diggers of Eureka may have hoisted the Five-starred Flag for the first time on December 3 (and been shot down and jailed for it); God may even have finished building the Earth on Saturday evening and proclaimed every Sunday a holiday thereafter; but nothing that ever happened on any day, anywhere, at any time in history, compares in importance to Australians with the Day of Anzac.
Why is it? No one ever really found out. From its Inauguration schoolchildren (white) have been asked to write essays about it for prizes, perhaps in the hope that out of the mouth of some inspired babe someday the truth will come. The nearest anyone has ever got to it, of all that has been spouted annually, like the periodic puking of geysers, out of the mouths of Priests, Parsons, Poets, Politicians, Boy Scouts, and Bemedalled Soldiery, is that On That Day The Australian Nation Was Blooded. An English term that, Blooded, in the huntin’, fishin’, shootin’ tradition, referring to the actual bespattering with a victim creature’s blood of a novice huntsman to mark his first bit of slaughter. But how can it be appropriate to the so-called Tradition of Anzac when it was the victims who were bespattered and the blood their own?
But to say those Heroes of Anzac were victims, is to deny them their undying heroism and risk bringing down upon one’s head not simply the wrath of the God of War but what is ten times more thunderous, at least in Australia, that of the R.S.S.A.I.L.A. or as it is more generally called, perhaps because it’s much more easy when you’re drunk, on Anzac Day, the RSL – and who would dare? Therefore let the story of how it came about be told …
There was a podgy little Englishman [i.e. Churchill, Yuri adds helpfully] , lived in England, who thought he was a military genius because he was descended from the Duke of Marlborough, had seen service in the British War of Suppression of the Boers as a newspaper correspondent, and as Home Secretary had taken part in the so-called Sydney Street Siege, London, in which poor madmen dubbed Anarchists were shot for refusing to believe in the glory of institutions like, say, Marlborough House (a famous photograph shows the fat little fellow directing the shooting in a top hat). Well, this little man was a Big Man in the British War Office, and conceived the bright idea that on April 25, 1915, the Turks could be knocked out of the war by someone’s sneaking up behind them over the Heights of Gallipoli and bayoneting the Sultan into the Bosphorus, and even if it didn’t do the immediate enemy, the Hun, much harm, it could mean adding the Ottoman Empire to that of Imperial Britain. The right boys to do it were almost right on the job, the Aussies, a mob who called themselves the Imperial Force, yet were wasting their time and substance in the brothels of Sister Street, Alexandria, Egypt. A tough lot – as you might expect of the descendants of the sweepings of the British Prisons of a hundred odd years before. So the brothels were emptied, and the thing happened at four on that Morning of Glory according to plan. The little fat man would have been in bed at the time; or if awaiting word on how it went, indulging in a disgusting gustatory habit he was famous for, eating sandwiches made with a mixture of Marmite and sardines. Would he have been put off by the terrible news when it came? Some men would have hanged themselves in the privy with their braces. But such men would not be the descendants of dukes.
That fat-arsed old Sultan of Turkey, called Mohammed Reshad Effendi, was not as silly as he looked from the British War Office. His nation had been repelling invaders while the War Office chappies were still painting themselves with woad. Do the Turks celebrate Anzac Day; and if so, is it as one of the silliest things the Unbeliever ever tried on them, with laughter and dancing in the streets, or with a silence and a sense of guilt at having taken simpletons like those poor Aussie boys who’d come boasting halfway round the world at such disadvantage? But even if they’d laughed while they watched the impending blooding of the Heroes in their own blood through the sights of their artillery hidden in those supposedly empty hills, could they be blamed, men being what they are?