It wasn’t a picnic for them – it shouldn’t be for us


By the time you read this it will probably be 94 years and maybe a few hours since the first Australian was killed at Gallipoli Ñ  Captain William Annear, shot through the head around 4.30am, which is around dawn in the northern hemisphere, leaving us two hours late with our dawn services in the southern hemisphere.

But never mind: it’s the thought that counts.

And that’s the wonderful thing about Australians. They do still think about it. Really think. Which is why it’s ridiculous to imagine we should be entitled to a public holiday on Monday, just because Anzac Day falls on a Saturday.

The diggers on the beaches would have liked that – a holiday on the Monday following, especially considering that most of them died on the Sunday; the day of the landing. They never got their day off, and somehow it seems insulting to imagine we’re entitled to one so we can loaf around on their bones.

And what’s Monday, April 27, got to do with anything anyway? That’s almost as bad as the Poms, who moved their memorial services because they were inconvenient to business.

The Poms don’t commemorate Anzac Day. Not publicly. They commemorate Armistice Day, which is November 11 every year, because the Armistice ending World War I was signed that day.

When I was a lad entire British cities rolled to a halt at 11am on Armistice Days, for a two-minute silence. Cars stopped at the roadside; engines were switched off; salesmen on one side of the counter stood facing customers on the other, all silent for two minutes; people stood still on the pavements.

That was three or four years after the end of the war, when I was four years old. By the time I was 15 no traffic stopped, pedestrians kept walking and salesmen and customers kept talking.

And because it was inconvenient, expecting people to interrupt their work to honour the 1.5 million British dead in two world wars, they moved the commemoration to the nearest Sunday and called it Remembrance Sunday. Oh, they still have two-minute silence at 11am on November 11, but you’d be hard pressed to notice Ñ and certainly not by the silence.

My point is Ñ let’s not do that. Let’s still gather at dawn on our beaches and Ñ even if we are a little bit out in our timing because it’s coming on to winter here and coming on to summer in Turkey Ñlet’s remember that about the same time as we’re listening to the Last Post on idyllic beaches, under magnificent skies, the ghosts of Captain Annear and his mates, and his men, are being mown down on the hostile shores of Gallipoli, probably thinking they’d really, really like a day off.

Great Scott Ñ I’m surprised we aren’t tired of days off at this time of year! It starts with Good Friday, and ploughs on through Easter Monday, including Anzac Day (most years) and May Day and grinds to an unlikely halt on the Queen’s Birthday, giving a note of accuracy to claims that the Aussies would turn the sinking of the Titanic into a holiday if they could find a way.

Well, the sinking of the Titanic is one thing; but Anzac Day is quite another. And one thing it’s not; or it shouldn’t be, is simply a holiday … a day for a picnic.

It wasn’t for them, and it shouldn’t be for us.